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The Golden State is Living America’s Dystopian Future

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California is living America’s dystopian future

by Stehanie Lemenager for The Conversation

CALIFORNIA — The Golden State is on fire, which means that an idea of American utopia is on fire, too.

Utopias are the good places of our imagination, while dystopias are the places where everything goes terribly wrong, where evil triumphs and nature destroys her own. Frequently utopias and dystopias are the same place, because perfection may not be possible without someone suffering.

Ursula LeGuin writes about this paradox in “ The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas ,” a story about the moral dilemma of living in a city called Omelas whose prosperity is made possible by one child’s pain. As the story’s title makes clear, most people don’t walk away from the beautiful place, even when its secret is known.

California often finds itself the Omelas of the American imagination. For some, it’s the beautiful place where having it all means shafting someone else, as in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” about Los Angeles’ theft of water from the Owens Valley. Or as in the magical theme park, Disneyland, which substantially underpays some of its workers.

The novelists Octavia ButlerEdan LepuckiKarl Taro GreenfeldPaolo Bacigalupi and Claire Vaye Watkins are among the many who have imagined the Golden State as a dystopian novel. In their novels, California is either on fire, in extreme drought or both. They all picture California’s descent as a combination of climate crisis and social unrest.

For these authors, climate change hints at the dark secret of the perfect place, of bad decisions that all America shares. Their novels suggest that if California looks like a dystopia before other American places, that’s because it’s often in the lead.

“California is America fast-forward,” sociologist Manuel Pastor says.

‘Ecology of fear’

The wildfires that ravage California light up America’s screens with terror. Suburban homes are stripped to their foundations; Samaritans lead horses from burning barns.

The historian Mike Davis reminds us that California has long seemed an “ecology of fear” for Euro-Americans. Settlers from Northern Europe and the East Coast did not understand Southern California’s climate, which is prone to unpredictability and drought.

“It is Walden Pond on LSD,” Davis writes, meaning that it is a psychedelic version of American nature spots like Walden Pond, in New England.

The unfamiliarity of California’s climate led to poor decisions about where to build from the start. Now Californians, like most western Americans, live too close to their wildlands, which are drying into tinderboxes.

“In the United States, there are now more than 46 million single family homes, several hundred thousand businesses, and 120 million people living and working in and around the country’s forests,” writes the journalist Edward Struzik, in “Firestorm,” his book about “how wildfire will shape our future.”

America has created the combustible environment called intermix, where residential and commercial uses spill into wildlands. America craves inexpensive electricity, too, which means that overhead power lines run through forests and chaparral.

Overhead lines have sparked some of the worst recent fires in California and other American places like New Mexico and Tennessee.

California utility company PG&E estimates the cost for converting overhead to underground lines at US$3 million per mile. While cost estimates vary, such a project surely will be expensive and might take a century to complete.

Overhead infrastructure wasn’t made for extreme weather, like the estimated 80 mph winds that inspired a rare “extreme red flag” warning in Southern California.

Pleasure in the state’s demise

On fire, California is a dystopian novel that the rest of America reads avidly, and at times with schadenfreude, that feeling of joy that a person may take in another’s suffering.

California ranks as one of the happiest states in the U.S., at number 13. But California came in last in a 2012 poll on which states Americans like.

Maybe it’s the happiness that annoys others, which some perceive as phony (“tofu,” “silicone” and “dyed hair,” said Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, about what is wrong with California).

There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments! When California was on fire in 2018, with thousands missing and dozens dead, President Donald Trump tweeted that the state mismanaged its forests. He tweeted the same thing during the recent fires, with more force. Schadenfreude? Arguably, the nation is struggling to address the fire challenges of the intermix, and California is ahead of the rest.

California supposedly is most hated by conservatives. But it nurtured the careers of conservative icons Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh, plus a pair of conservative ballot measures, Prop 13 and Prop 187, that cut taxes as well as services to immigrants.

It is also the birthplace of modern progressive movements, from the United Farm Workers to environmentalism. California has been a seedbed of American political passions, to the Right and Left. Perhaps that’s why it arouses passion – and envy.

Confronting the secret

Dystopian thought criticizes what it loves in an attempt to make it better.

If California is living a dystopian novel, it is also a first responder to the fires of a changing planet.

Some of the state’s utility companies are getting smarter about infrastructure fixes. Evacuations are going better in the places where evacuations happened before. Californians voted in a landmark cap-and-trade bill to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and now they are trying to improve on it.

The state’s climate policy and renewed support for investment in public education signal that it is getting past the nation’s racial generation gap, where older white voters don’t see themselves in a demographically browner youth and resist funding them.

Living in Omelas means either compromising with injustice or learning how to make the world better before others even know that it’s broken.

Stay tuned.

Stephanie Lemenager is a Professor of English Literature at the University of Oregon.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.


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California

Low Income Buyers Don’t Have Credit Cards – and Some Stores Don’t Accept Cash

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by Jackie Botts for CalMatters

CALIFORNIA — One state lawmaker says cash-free stores are discriminating against low-income customers, who often don’t have bank accounts.

Last May, Burger Patch first opened its doors in midtown Sacramento with a sign that said, “No Cash Accepted.” The owners of the organic and vegan burger joint were worried that a cash register might invite theft.

But customers kept showing up with only cash. Sometimes the cashiers would accept it, working around the digital system; other times, they’d simply give the customer a free meal. About a month in, Burger Patch changed course, deciding to install a cash register after all.

“We want to be able to have everyone come and eat here no matter what,” said Zia Simmons, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened.

“We want to be able to have everyone come and eat here no matter what,” said Zia Simmons, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened. “We don’t want to ever have to be like, well if you don’t have a card, you can’t eat here.”

A small, but growing number of businesses are no longer accepting cash. Owners say that accepting only credit cards, debit cards or digital wallets like Apple Pay is more efficient and lowers the risk of being robbed. Electronic forms of payments are gaining popularity with consumers.

But the cash-free trend has raised concerns that such shops exclude customers who rely exclusively on cash. Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo, says this amounts to discrimination against people without credit cards or bank accounts, who tend to be low-income. 

“I don’t think it’s intentionally discrimination. But that’s in fact what they’re doing,” Hill said. Cashless stores “may be the thing of the future, (but) it’s not there yet.”

That’s why Hill introduced a bill last week to require that all brick-and-mortar businesses in California accept cash. 
If passed, California would become the third state, after Massachusetts and New Jersey, to ban cashless businesses before they become widespread. San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York City passed similar ordinances in the past year, and Washington, D.C., is currently considering a ban.

A customer pays with a credit card at Burger Patch, a vegan burger joint in Sacramento. Photo by Jackie Botts for CalMatters

California residents with limited resources are far more likely to use cash. While 7.4% of California households do not have banks, the rate among households earning less than $15,000 per year is 27.3%, according to a 2017 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

People of color, immigrants and disabled people are also more likely to be excluded by a cashless economy. In California, 20.5% of black households and 14.5% of Hispanic households do not use banks, according to the survey data. The rate is 24.8% among households that speak only Spanish at home and 20.7% among adults with disabilities. Single mothers lack access to bank accounts at a rate more than twice that of single fathers.

“When retailers don’t accept cash, they’re effectively locking out workers in low-wage jobs, communities of color and our homeless neighbors,” Andrea Zinder, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, which has endorsed the bill, said in a statement. 

People between the ages of 25 and 44 pay with cash less often than people who are older or younger — about one-fifth of the time, compared with one-third, according to a 2019 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Under the proposed law, cashless transactions would be legal, but if a business turns away a customer who only has cash, it could face a civil penalty between $25 and $500. Online retailers would be excluded, as would car rental businesses.

No groups have filed opposition against the bill yet, but Hill expects that retailers may put up a fight. Around 10% of the nearly 100,000 businesses that use Square, a financial check-out service, are cashless, according to a recent national study from the company.

California Retailers Association has not yet taken a position on the bill, said President and CEO Rachel Michelin. An uptick in retail theft has spurred some smaller retailers to turn towards electronic payments to avoid keeping cash behind the counter. She said the bill might be “premature” given that she hasn’t observed a widespread trend in stores going cashless, other than in more techy areas like Silicon Valley.

Sen. Jerry Hill speaks in support of his bill SB 38, which would support volunteer firefighters if passed
Sen. Jerry Hill speaks in the capitol. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Hill said the issue came on his radar when he walked into a restaurant in San Mateo last year.

“I saw there’s a sign there that said ‘we don’t accept cash.’ That kind of shocked me and surprised me,” Hill said. “That seemed almost like they were discriminating against those who did not have the ability to pay an electronic transaction, and for me that raised a flag.” 

The store was Sweetgreen, a build-your-own salad eatery with a sleek tech aesthetic, where a typical bowl costs upwards of $10. The chain phased out cash transactions in 2017 but reversed course last year.

“Going cashless… had the unintended consequence of excluding those who prefer to pay or can only pay with cash,” the company explained in a blog post last April. “To accomplish our mission, everyone in the community needs to have access to real food.”

Amazon’s cashier-less automated convenience store, called Amazon Go, also decided to phase in the ability to take cash after facing backlash.

To Hill, that’s evidence that companies can transition back “without great difficulty.” 

“I don’t know if (this bill) is as big of a deal for (retailers) as those who are now discriminated against because they cannot pay with cash,” Hill said.

Jackie Botts is a reporter at CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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California

Equality California, Silver State Equality Endorse Mayor Pete Buttigieg

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Photo from peteforamerica.com

LOS ANGELES — Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization, and its Nevada-based affiliate Silver State Equality has announced their endorsement of Mayor Pete Buttigieg for President of the United States.

“The decision was reached unanimously by the groups’ joint presidential endorsement committee following a lengthy process that included a detailed questionnaire, thorough evaluation of the candidates’ viability and policy positions, staff engagement and interviews with the candidates” they said.

For the first time, California’s primary will be held on Super Tuesday in March, and California voters will begin casting mail-in ballots on Monday, February 3, the same day as the Iowa Caucus.

The 2020 Nevada Caucus will be held on Saturday, February 22.

Equality California and Silver State Equality released the following statement from Executive Director Rick Zbur:

“In our twenty-one-year history, we have endorsed hundreds of openly LGBTQ candidates, but never for president of the United States. That changes today.

“From his comprehensive plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 to his commitment to make our schools safe and supportive for LGBTQ students to his specific funding and policy priorities to protect and empower the transgender community — especially transgender women of color, who face an epidemic of violence and persecution — Mayor Pete Buttigieg has the boldest, most comprehensive agenda to achieve full, lived equality for all LGBTQ people of any presidential candidate in the nation’s history.

“This will be the most important election in our lifetimes — and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have spent every day of the last three years attacking LGBTQ people and the diverse communities to which we belong: immigrant communities, communities of color, the transgender community, women and religious minorities. Mayor Pete is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump, win back the White House and help lead the fight to create a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ people.

“While we did not endorse Mayor Pete simply because he’s gay, the historic nature of his candidacy has already had a transformational impact on the LGBTQ community. Electing the first openly LGBTQ president will send a message to millions of LGBTQ youth across the country that no dreams are too big and no leadership position is too high.

“The challenges we face are great. But with the power of hope and a bold, progressive vision for the future, there is nothing we cannot achieve. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

In particular, Equality California and Silver State Equality were impressed by Mayor Buttigieg’s comprehensive plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, his understanding that making schools safe and supportive requires bold investments in teacher training and mentorship programs for LGBTQ students, his specific policy and funding priorities to protect and empower the transgender community, his plan to transform the criminal legal system into one that truly promotes justice and instead of one that furthers racial injustice and his proposals for fixing our broken immigration system by protecting refugees and asylum seekers and providing millions of LGBTQ undocumented people, their friends and family with a pathway to citizenship.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg released the following statement in reaction to Equality California and Silver State Equality’s endorsement:

“I’m honored to receive the endorsements of Equality California and Silver State Equality, two organizations that have been unrelenting in their fight for LGBTQ+ people and our push for full equality. My campaign is based around a shared future of belonging for all Americans, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. President Trump’s attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, especially our trans members, have shown us that the fight for equal rights did not end with marriage equality. I will be the President to continue that fight for equality for all Americans.”

Every top tier 2020 presidential candidate sought Equality California and Silver State Equality’s endorsement — a testament to the LGBTQ community’s role as a key voting bloc in California and Nevada, both important early states, and across the country. The Trump-Pence Administration is an existential threat to the LGBTQ community and the diverse communities to which LGBTQ people belong, and Equality California and Silver State Equality’s top priority in 2020 will be defeating Donald Trump and Mike Pence and putting a pro-equality president back in the White House. Both organizations have committed to supporting the Democratic nominee in the 2020 general election.

Although Equality California and Silver State Equality determined that Mayor Pete presented the boldest, most comprehensive plan for full, lived LGBTQ equality and is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump and win, the organizations were also impressed by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer, who both have extremely strong, compelling pro-equality policy agendas and participated in robust interviews with the joint presidential endorsement committee. Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Yang also submitted questionnaires outlining their strong support for LGBTQ civil rights and social justice.

Prior to dropping out of the race, Senator Kamala Harris participated in Equality California and Silver State Equality’s endorsement process, submitted an extremely strong, compelling questionnaire and participated in events with Equality California. After two decades of working with her, Equality California has immense respect and admiration for Senator Harris, and LGBTQ Californians are lucky to have her fighting for civil rights and social justice in the U.S. Senate.

2020 will be one of the most consequential election years for LGBTQ people in modern American history, and Equality California and Silver State Equality plan to run substantial get out the vote efforts in elections up and down the ballot. In 2018, Equality California ran a robust statewide get-out-the-vote campaign to educate and mobilize pro-equality voters in California’s primary and general elections, helping to win crucial swing districts and flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

For a full list of Equality California’s 2020 endorsements to date, visit eqca.org/elections.

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California

Heavy Winds Cause Power Outages in Hollywood Hills

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HOLLYWOOD — Heavy winds triggered a series of power outages across Los Angeles for DWP customers Monday morning.

Thousands of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers were left without power Monday morning when heavy wind gusts triggered a series of 15 power outages.

In all, more than 6,800 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers were affected in across the San Fernando Valley including the Valley Village and Mission Hills areas, and in the Hollywood, the Hollywood Hills, Mid- Wilshire and Pacific Palisades.

High Wind Warnings were in effect through noon in the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Fernando valleys.

The California Highway Patrol issued a SigAlert at 1:56 a.m. for lanes 4 and 5 of the westbound Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway near Reseda Boulevard in Porter Ranch after tree branches fell into lanes and a car was rendered unmovable after hitting them.

There were 11 incidents reported to the LADWP in the L.A. Metro area involving 6,200 customers and another four outages in the San Fernando Valley affecting 660 customers, spokeswoman Deborah Hong said.

That includes customers in Hollywood, the Hollywood Hills, Mid- Wilshire, Pacific Palisades, Valley Village and Mission Hills, according to the DWP’s Twitter account.

Repair crews were out making repairs since early in the morning, Hong says.

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