Why California Is On A Knife's Edge
Now, all eyes are on the Los Angeles mayor's race
For two decades California politicians have promised to spend more money on mental health care, drug rehabilitation and housing, but the problem has only grown worse. Between 2010 and 2020, California’s homeless population increased 31% even as it has declined 18% in the rest of the US.
One reason Californians have not demanded change is because many of us are able to escape the chaos in the cities by living in hilly neighborhoods in a manner similar to the rich in the 2013 sci-fi movie, “Elysium,” where the wealthy leave Earth to dwell in a satellite in space, while the poor persist in violent shanty towns back on our planet.
I am one of those Californians. I am based in the Berkeley Hills and, like everyone who lives on a hill, I can go about my days without ever coming across somebody screaming psychotically at invisible enemies, overdosing on drugs or defecating on the sidewalk.
Over the last two years, when I would tell my neighbors I was writing a book on the homeless crisis, several wrinkled their faces and whispered, “That’s why I don’t go downtown.” On Twitter, many people who claim to be progressive believe they have successfully debunked our documentation of human depravity in downtown San Francisco by posting selfies of themselves in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, or atop Lombard Street, where there aren’t homeless encampments.
But one of the biggest and least discussed reasons that Californians don’t demand change is what one might call the “Big Lebowski Syndrome,” or BLS, for short. In the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic, the main character, Jeffrey Lebowski (played by Jeff Bridges), calls himself “the Dude.” The Dude captures the liberal slacker energy of many Californians when it comes to homelessness.
When you raise the issue of, say, people camping on sidewalks, many progressive Californians say, “Take it easy, man,” one of the Dude’s aphorisms. When you point out that it is neither compassionate nor safe to let mentally ill people and addicts sleep on sidewalks, many progressives just shake their heads. Take it easy, man. But even the Dude loses his cool when things become too chaotic, as has happened in California’s cities of late.
Nearly three weeks ago, California voters seemed to finally be saying “no more” to rampant crime and homelessness. On June 7, San Francisco’s uber-liberal voters recalled the city’s progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin for no longer prosecuting many crimes, including open air drug use and dealing. And, in the race for Los Angeles mayor, more voters initially seemed to have chosen Rick Caruso, a Republican-turned-Democrat developer over Rep. Karen Bass, a longtime leader of the state’s progressive Democratic machine.
But with the mail-in votes now being tallied, it’s clear that California’s future still remains on a political knife edge.