New Year’s resolutions often include losing weight, spending more time with family, finding a new job, improving relationships, and more. Well, we should also be asking what New Year’s goals California has for 2023, or for that matter, the next 10 years.
Last week, while we were recovering from the holidays (and, for me personally, Christmas tamale coma), the U.S. Census released population data revealing that California lost population for the second consecutive year. More than 340,000 people left the state. And, yes, this number accounts for immigration and births. Meanwhile, the populations of Texas and Florida both grew by over 400,000 people. California’s 170-year population growth trend has ended.
The question is: why?
First, because the quality of life matters. And sadly, nothing shows the deterioration of that quality more than the increase in homelessness.
In recent years, California and local governments have thrown billions of dollars at the problem only to make it worse. Santa Clarita has seen a 30% jump in homelessness.
People in our community are fed up. They feel empathy and compassion for the homeless. But they are disgusted with the filth on our streets. Parents are upset that their children must see hardcore drug use and human waste in their parks and playgrounds. And frankly, they are fed up with officials who have not adequately addressed the inhumane practice of encampments. Meanwhile, local businesses must deal with the attendant crime and costs.
It’s a complex issue. But we start by boldly addressing the root causes: mental illness, addiction, insufficient housing supply, and a lack of policy tools.
There is one bright spot. Last year we passed Senate Bill 1388, “Care Courts,” which will allow a family member, mental health provider, or first responder to petition the court to order an evaluation of an adult with a suspected mental health condition, which could lead to court-ordered treatment, including housing. I believe it is the most meaningful legislation to address homelessness ever passed.
Second, people are leaving California because they don’t feel safe. Hardly a day passes without hearing about tragic crimes in our community. From the DEA seizing a record one million fentanyl pills in Inglewood to the Los Angeles Police Department warning communities about street robberies and follow-home attacks, crime is out of control. Last October, there were six shootings within 10 days in Santa Clarita.
The last legislative session had a few successes. We defeated zero-dollar bail, and the governor vetoed government-approved “injection sites” for Los Angeles County. I helped pass several bills that empower victims, including expanding access to programs to help victims of domestic violence. However, there were some failures. SB 357 – which makes loitering with the intent to commit prostitution no longer a crime – is now law. The saddest part about SB 357 is that it removes a tool law enforcement used to stop human trafficking.
Finally, people are leaving California because they cannot afford to stay. During the previous six years, three of my brothers have moved because of the cost of living and for better opportunities in other states, and that breaks my heart. I’ve lived in California my entire life, and my family has been here since 1911.
As a member of the Assembly, I introduced three bills that would have helped more middle-class families afford child care and school supplies and cut taxes for small and micro businesses (Assembly Bill 91). They never made it out of committee. Then my bill to create a working group to study ways to bring down residential, commercial and industrial property insurance made it out of committee but was VETOED by the governor.
I don’t believe there is a single issue that drives people away — it’s a combination of these things. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill said, “all politics is local.” If California doesn’t address the issues Californians care about most, then those Californians will be booking U-Hauls… if they can.
My New Year’s resolution is to dig deeper into the above issues, expose the existing policies that exacerbate them, and provide common-sense solutions. And I’ll do it right here, on the first Saturday of every month, in The Signal’s “Right here, Right Now” column.
Suzette Martinez Valladares is Santa Clarita’s former assemblywoman, wife, girl mom, avid DIY’er and now a monthly contributor to The Signal’s “Right, Here Right Now,” which appears Saturdays and rotates among local Republicans.