I remember days long ago when I sat watching Western movies, after adjusting the rabbit ears on my 19-inch black-and-white TV. I can’t count the number of times the plot centered around a bad man salting his gold or silver mine in order to sell it to an unsuspecting homesteader or cow puncher. There were also a fair number of stories about a hard-working, but inexperienced Easterner-turned-miner who thought he had struck it rich. Unfortunately, when he took a bag of his newfound wealth to the assayer’s office, the man behind the counter laughed and informed him it was fool’s gold, or pyrite. In those days, movies always ended on a positive note, where the disadvantaged lead character continued to work hard and ended up striking it rich anyway, while getting the last laugh.
It was not many years after those TV-watching days had gone by that I interviewed and secured a job at Litton Guidance and Control in Beverly Hills. It was 1961, and California was still benefiting from the massive industrialization and technology innovations that had been initiated to support winning World War II. The state had the weather and open land to support advances in aviation, electronics and almost anything else. It might seem odd now, but in order to support all the activity, round-topped Quonset huts were put up on what is now prime real estate. For the first six months, I worked at the original company site located at 336 N. Foothill Road. Each day, I would drive past Beverly Hills City Hall to what was an industrial area. I often think about going back and finding out what stands at that location today, but I never seem to do it.
My department was moving to Woodland Hills. The facility was to be located on Burbank Boulevard, between Canoga Avenue and Desoto Avenue. Bordering on Canoga Avenue was a horse ranch, while Pierce College owned the land on Desoto Avenue. On the north side of Burbank Boulevard, where the Warner Center is now, was a corn field. I used to call the west San Fernando Valley the shopping and restaurant capital of the world. With Litton, Rocketdyne, Atomics International, Hughes and other large companies creating a need, small machine shops and supply houses dotted the landscape, along with furniture stores and restaurants. It seemed like anything you needed was available on the way home from work.
California had it all. Unfortunately, we have allowed it to slip away over the years, a small amount at a time. Like death by a thousand small cuts, no single thing can be declared responsible. But as property values, taxes, labor rates and other business expenses slowly increased, companies started moving their operations to other parts of the country. If you drive around the west San Fernando Valley today, you will see that it is a very different place. The old Rocketdyne facilities on Canoga Avenue are shopping centers. The Litton facility on Burbank Boulevard, now owned by Northrop Grumman, is being sold off one piece at a time. Hughes left their facilities in the North Valley, and General Motors left Van Nuys a long time ago. Plus, Lockheed even left Burbank for Georgia and moved the Skunk Works to the Antelope Valley.
Well, times do change, but have our elected officials noticed what has been occurring? Have they tried to reverse the exodus of major industries? Instead, they seem oblivious to all that is currently going on and appear to be making the state’s problems even worse. This past winter, God gave us a break from the drought and blessed our area with a good amount of rain. Water falling on our natural landscape in the winter and the subsequent growth it created must have surprised our elected representatives, because they all sat back, did nothing and waited for the inevitable effect of summer heat — the drying out of all the new vegetation, which then created massive amounts of fuel for the coming fire season.
Then our Sacramento mental midgets passed AB 1054, which created a fund for public utilities to access if they cause more than $1 billion in property damage, and also set up another useless advisory board to make recommendations on wildfire prevention. So far, the only thing this has done for us (or to us) is the shutting off of power by the public electric utilities, supposedly to keep us safe. California leads the nation in wanting to turn off your air conditioning in the summer to help manage the power grid load, forcing the population to live with brownouts and blackouts in times of high demand because the utilities have not upgraded their capacity, and finally turning off the power in fire season. Yeah, I heard — supposedly to keep us safe. Yet from their perspective, the best part is that you get to pay the bill.
If you were in charge of locating a major company to a new area, would you select a location in California, which cannot guarantee power for your operation and has promised that there will be times when power is unavailable? I bet you would be looking at another state. Plus, what about water? It was reported in the California Globe on Nov. 3 that the El Dorado Irrigation District will be unable to pump water to customers when the power is out. Our local SCV Water Agency informed us on Facebook that a number of their generators have had to be relocated. These generators are used to power the pumps that fill our water tanks and have contributed to making water available during the recent power outages. But what if the power outages are more encompassing and sustained for a much longer period? What then?
Even with the drought officially over and ex-Governor Brown now able to shower, California still faces the prospect of legislated water rationing by two bills he signed before leaving office. Since 2000, when the Sacramento Delta pumps were shut down due to the delta smelt, eight water bonds totaling $30 billion have been passed promising more water availability. So where did all that money go? Why hasn’t a solution to the water problem been implemented? We need to bring water down to Central Coast farmers and Sothern California cities rather than dumping it into the ocean, as is the current practice.
The reason California has a power and water problem is simple. Residents have been too complacent. We have accepted the corruption and ineptness of our elected officials. If you think I am referring to a single level of governmental bureaucracy or party affiliation, you are dead wrong. In recent years, California has become known for fires, homelessness, poverty, a return of medieval diseases and rat-infested cities. California will continue to lose its shiny, golden image as long as the individuals representing us are unwilling or unable to fight for what is best for California’s residents and the future health of our state.
Think about it. Only you and I can turn California golden again. We must demand change at the ballot box, in town hall meetings and in governmental public gatherings. No amount of “salting” California’s advertising pamphlets will prevent new businesses and potential new residents from discovering that California has become the Pyrite State.
I hope you will take my words to heart and join me in making California the Golden State once again. I’m confident we can do it. If we just keep pushing diligently in that direction, we will write the end of this movie plot just like they did in those old black-and-white films — by striking it rich and getting the last laugh.