Hard Times In The High Desert

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

The High Desert region north and east of Los Angeles sits 3,000 feet above sea level. A rough, often starkly beautiful region of scrubby trees, wide vistas and brooding brown mountains, the region seems like a perfect setting for an old Western shoot ’em up.

Today, it’s the stage for a different kind of battle, one that involves a struggle over preserving the American dream. For years, the towns of the High Desert–places like Victorville, Adelanto, Hesperia, Barstow and Apple Valley–have lured thousands of working- and middle-class Californians looking for affordable homes.

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Salinas Dispatch: A Silver Lining in the Golden State

Appearing in:

Forbes

From a distance, a crisis often takes on ideological colorings. This is true in California, where the ongoing fiscal meltdown has devolved into a struggle between anti-tax conservatives and free-spending green leftist liberals.

Yet more nuances surface when you approach a crisis from the context of a specific place. Over the past two years my North Dakota-based consulting partner, Delore Zimmerman, and I have been working in Salinas, a farm community of 150,000, 10 miles inland from the Monterey coast and an hour’s drive south of San Jose.
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Who Killed California’s Economy?

Appearing in:

Forbes

Right now California’s economy is moribund, and the prospects for a quick turnaround are not good. Unable to pay its bills, the state is issuing IOUs; its once strong credit rating has collapsed. The state that once boasted the seventh-largest gross domestic product in the world is looking less like a celebrated global innovator and more like a fiscal basket case along the lines of Argentina or Latvia.

It took some amazing incompetence to toss this best-endowed of places down into the dustbin of history. Yet conventional wisdom views the crisis largely as a legacy of Proposition 13, which in effect capped only taxes.

This lets too many malefactors off the hook. I covered the Proposition 13 campaign for the Washington Post and examined its aftermath up close. It passed because California was running huge surpluses at the time, even as soaring property taxes were driving people from their homes.

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Can California Make A Comeback?

Appearing in:

Forbes

These are times that thrill some easterners’ souls. However bad things might be on Wall Street or Beacon Hill, there’s nothing more pleasing to Atlantic America than the whiff of devastation on the other coast.

And to be sure, you can make a strong case that the California dream is all but dead. The state is effectively bankrupt, its political leadership discredited and the economy, with some exceptions, doing considerably worse than most anyplace outside Michigan. By next year, suggests forecaster Bill Watkins, unemployment could nudge up towards an almost Depression-like 15%.

Despite all this, I am not ready to write off the Golden State. For one thing, I’ve seen this movie before. The first time was in the mid 1970s. The end of the Vietnam War devastated the state’s then powerful defense industry, leaving large swaths of unemployment and generating the first talk about the state’s long-term decline.

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