Why the productive Middle Class leave California

Other states and Israel can learn much from California’s tragic decline. A bullet-pointed Primer of 17 points that tells it all. Op-ed.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer ,

Riots in Los Angeles, California
Riots in Los Angeles, California
REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

The great medieval Jewish philosopher and poet, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, was based in Spain and aspired to live in Israel someday. He ultimately realized his dream. Famously, he wrote: “My heart is in the East, and I am at the utmost corner of the West.” I relate to those words. I am at the utmost corner of Gavin Newsom’s and Nancy Pelosi’s west, and I see first-hand why the productive middle class, including so many among my non-Jewish friends and even congregants in my own synagogual community, leave California.

My own personal “Aliyah Bet” goals are no secret and never have been, impacted alas by the complexities of my wife of 21 years, the love of my life, having been taken home to Gan Eden by G-d, ensuing realities attendant to a new marriage with new family and health matters. Herewith a bullet-pointed primer, short and sour, as the California Dream has faded from gold to brass to tarnish to rust:

1. Productive people approaching retirement find themselves on fixed incomes (pension, social security, etc.). So they will take in the same amount of annual income regardless of where they live. But if they are in California, that income is taxed by the state also, not just by the federal IRS, and at a rate that can be heaviest of any state, as high as 13.3 percent. By contrast, no income is state-taxed in more popular destinations like Nevada, Texas, and Florida.


That’s it in a nutshell. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Amid virtue-signaling, the universe of Woke initiatives and solutions backfire. The rich have every reason to maintain the system and its Democrat political infrastructure, as they preach a camouflage of socialism and D.I.E.
2. The California weather is beautiful. But — unlike colder northeastern and midwestern states — Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Florida also offer competitively mild winters and year-round pleasant weather. Democrats may have a monopoly on California, but California does not have a monopoly on moderate weather.

3. Car gasoline in California is extra expensive because of anti-smog and other “Green” regulatory add-ons that are funded by imposing taxes on the states’ residents. The difference can be as much as $1.50 a gallon. Over a year that can come to $500-$1,000 for a two-car family.

4. California has many statewide regulations promoted by the Woke Left. For example, although this food-shopping regulation now has been mostly suspended during the COVID pandemic, it otherwise has been hard to get single-use plastic bags instead of paper unless you pay an extra 10 cents per reusable plastic bag. If you need five or eight bags at a large family supermarket shopping, that is close to a wasted dollar. If you shop twice weekly, that is a dollar or two. Over a year, that is another $100 sacrificed to the Woke altar, and some shoppers also feel they are made to feel guilty in front of virtue-signalers on the check-out line. Interestingly, reusable bags carry a greater probability of transmitting disease than do single-use bags.

5. Traffic on freeways that used to flow rapidly now is very much like the Manhattan rush hour: stop-and-go. Orange County commuters have as much as a daily two-hour drive to Los Angeles, and then 90 minutes back (slightly less traffic as the night wears on). The 405 Freeway might better be called Error 404. It is the same to and from the San Fernando Valley. Since the Obama years, many no longer can find work near home as they used to, and therefore need to commute from the Valley to L.A. city proper, and then vice versa. The freeway hours take a toll on the human body and spirit.

6. The homelessness issue has worsened and intensified. Because of the warm climate, many homeless move to California from colder states. Moreover, California publicizes, with virtue-signaling pride, the many and variegated “entitlements” (i.e., handouts) and the vast array of social services it offers healthy and capable people who choose instead not to earn a dime. That attracts even more to come and sup on the taxpayers’ teats.

The Rich legally avoid paying taxes not by scamming or cheating but by employing skilled financial advisors and tax-law experts who “know the ropes.” The middle class pay the freight. As the steady surge of Homeless stream to California, induced by news that California pays and offers what other more conservative “red” Republican states do not, politicians find they must increase financial allotments to keep up with ever-increasing demands for “entitlements” and services. The bill is passed to the middle class. The middle class leave that bill in the mailbox as they move to Florida, Arizona, Texas, and Nevada.

7. The Left virtue-signals further by coddling The Homeless like pets, but most of these unfortunate souls are not lacking shelter because they have been “priced out” of real estate. Rather, they typically are mentally ill, and compassion should dictate that they be escorted from the streets and treated. Instead, the Left emphasizes “protecting” their supposed “civil rights,” and they are permitted to occupy sidewalks in formally authorized homeless encampments.

News reports of dramatic and disturbing-to-read incidents appear too frequently, in which some psychotic Homeless person attacks someone rather horribly from “out of nowhere.” The Homeless typically urinate and defecate publicly because, realistically, what else can they do when their excretory systems demand excretion? It is not good even when there is no pandemic. Amid a pandemic, it is even worse.

8. The state has a disproportionate number of zoning laws that limit construction of multi-unit dwellings (e.g., apartment houses). These laws preserve real estate values and desirable panoramic views. As a result, there is a severe housing shortage, especially in the wealthiest virtue-signaling Woke communities like Silicon Valley, Malibu, Beverly Hills, and San Francisco districts that are home to the Nancy Pelosis and Gavin Newsoms. The housing shortage is exacerbated by the flow of Illegals (“undocumented immigrants”) from south of the border, which continues unabated — and will not stop because the Democrats correctly have discovered that illegal immigration changes the electorate, replacing historically solid conservative Republican majorities with ersatz Democrat majorities that will last for generations as long as the needy are kept perpetually dependent on Government.

Of course, the Illegals themselves may not vote, but the Democrats are playing the long game. Over a decade or two, Illegals eventually get legalized by amnesty, and their kids anyway get deemed legal, while their grandkids are born on American soil and thus are citizens. Accordingly, the population flow of people who have no assets and rely completely on government “entitlements” (i.e., handouts) increases, while the available housing remains static. As a result, the law of supply-and-demand results in extremely high housing costs, both purchase and rental.

9. With similar impact to the above, liberal-left regulations impose rent controls on landlords to stop them from pricing out their tenants. As a result of this humanitarian concern, landlords stop renting out their apartments and instead convert them to condominium units that they sell. That takes even more rental housing off the market, resulting in even higher rental costs for units available.

10. Because of liberal-Woke forestry policies, tree trimming and logging are severely regulated. As a result, the underbrush builds up and frequently may not be cleared out as a matter of law. Dead trees, even dead branches, often may not be cut down or pruned. Such “Green” regulations result in devastating forest fires that become nationally dramatic wildfires, even as trained firefighters with advanced tools cannot drive their land equipment to sources of the fires because they may not cut down trees to widen pathways for roadways to accommodate access for serious firefighting equipment. Beyond the obvious tragedy of it all, the state must expend enormous financial resources to pay for it all and to rebuild. The middle class receive the bill.

11. Major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco now have adopted extremely “progressive” crime policies. Accused criminals now are released without bail on a “compassionate” theory that innocent people otherwise end up sitting wrongly in custody, awaiting arraignment for crimes they never perpetrated. As a result, apprehended real criminals return to the streets instantly and repeat their crimes, often almost immediately, while not honoring promises to appear later for arraignment.

The pandemic has camouflaged certain numbers, as courts and police have reduced arrests, bookings, and jail and prison populations. Meanwhile, even as criminals are coddled, police are harangued and shamed, threatened with defunding and subjected to abuse and harassment. This induces police to submit record-high resignations and to file for record-high early retirements. In addition, the anti-police culture deters police on the beat from “sticking out their necks” and getting directly involved in more perilous matters that are susceptible to their “looking the other way.” The result: crime rates in the state’s larger cities have increased notably in violent crimes like homicides and car thefts.

12. Amplifying the crime problem, Proposition 47 largely decriminalized theft and drug crimes by reducing those and a number of other “non-violent” felonies to misdemeanors. AB 109 allowed for approximately 30,000 felons to be released from state prison with most going on probation rather than parole. This bill removed the option of prison sentences for crimes such as auto theft, drug felonies, and domestic violence and replaced it with county jail time or rehabilitation services. It is in the nature of law enforcement throughout the country for prosecutors to “bargain down” charges to lesser crimes in return for guilty pleas. When the charges begin lower, the “plea deals” result in recidivist criminals who have no criminal records for next time. They do not get punished. So they do it again.

13. Because of the vast increase of Illegals (“undocumented immigrants”), more people in California now require access to the same living resources, but infrastructure has not been built at a pace to keep up with increased demands on those resources. As a result, there are water shortages, for example, exacerbated by a recent few years’ of drought, which happens historically not because of “man-made climate change” but because California is naturally a desert. Consequently, there are laws uniquely restricting water faucets and toilets’ water flow — restrictions that do not exist in other states. Thus, while shopping on a commercial website like Amazon, a consumer’s effort to buy a plumbing device, even a simple faucet washer or aerator, or a certain kind of light bulb, gets met with a notification reading: “This product may not be shipped to California.”

14. The Left’s move to enforce “green energy” has resulted in state mandates to utility companies to redirect spending and reprioritize budgeting. For example, amid the advent of modernity, certain electric utilities were taking down electric lines that were on electric poles and were burying those wires underground. The green energy mandates required them to reallocate their budgets for solar energy and the like. They had to stop their spending on burying overhead electric wires. As a result, sparks from electric wires have started horrific wildfires, like the Paradise (ironic name of city) wildfire of two years ago that burned down a city but never would have happened if the wires had been redirected under the ground.

15. Meanwhile, the solar energy so far has not proven to be as reliable or as abundant as green energy advocates had assumed, asserted, and assured — and the state therefore now regularly runs into power outages year-round, especially in summer, leading to consciously planned “brown outs” for which residents receive advance-warning emails, postal mails, and telephoned “robocalls” to advise them that, on such-and-such date and time in the next week or two, their energy will be cut off for, say, six or eight hours. That pre-planned “brown out” means no house lights, no TV, no air conditioning, and no washing machine and dryer for those six or eight hours. Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida do not have this situation.

16. California now is instituting a statewide curriculum change in the public schools, requiring a year of “critical ethnic studies” for students to graduate. This Woke educational innovation will teach greater understanding and appreciation for certain minorities who are important demographic participants in the state but inexorably will re-characterize Caucasians as part of the White Privilege class, and it is anticipated that exotic movements unrelated to the California experience — like Zionism or Christopher Columbus’s journeys — will be taught by inadequately supervised classroom teachers as “racist” movements that disadvantage the “indigenous.”

Meanwhile, standards for teaching reading, cursive writing, basic mathematics, and common grammar are more compromised than ever. California’s public schools are regularly ranked in the bottom quarter of America’s states’ schools, while the schools now are teaching gender dysphoria to children, confusing them as to whether the boys really are girls inside because they like to sing or dance or paint, and whether the girls really should have surgery to become boys if they play with toy trucks or like to climb trees.

Many parents who are not even religious now willingly incur costly tuition to remove their children from the state’s free public schools and move them into Catholic parochial schools and Jewish yeshiva day schools; others pull their children out of the public schools and move them into high-tuition non-sectarian private schools. The ones who lose out — for life — are the ones whom the curricular changes supposedly are meant to “benefit.”

17. The expanded population of Illegals dramatically has increased the number of school-age and college-age young people who must be educated. All reasonable Californians — regardless of political ideology — agree they must be educated. If they are not educated at public expense, the cost would be so much worse later if there would emerge a demographic who never gained reading, writing, and math skills. However, their weaker English skills consign them to the bottom of classes, while increasing class sizes — always an impediment to enhanced learning.

Likewise in terms of college, seats are set aside for the children of “the undocumented” to be admitted to state-supported schools (including the University of California system that includes superior colleges like UCLA and Berkeley, the California State University system that historically has offered excellent colleges just a notch below like Northridge and Fullerton, and the community college system). Those students are less prepared for college, while the children of the actual taxpayers who support those schools are compelled to attend out-of-state public colleges or in-state private colleges because fewer places are available for them in the state-supported schools for which their parents pay. While some of The Rich pay the coach on the rowing team to sneak their kids in, the middle class pay the ultimate bill — or flee.

That’s it in a nutshell. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Amid virtue-signaling, the universe of Woke initiatives and solutions backfire. The rich have every reason to maintain the system and its Democrat political infrastructure, as they preach a camouflage of socialism and D.I.E. — diversity, inclusion, and equity — that does not directly disadvantage them, their colleagues, or their families. The poor remain too unsophisticated to grasp that the rhetoric singing their praises buries them and consigns their children to the same structural disadvantages they face.

I have been here since 1987, and the unfolding social disaster has been fascinating to observe. As other American states observe carefully, they can learn much from California’s tragic decline.

Israel, which began rejecting Left-Labour-Socialist dominance with Menachem Begin’s election in 1977 and then proceeded towards even more free-market capitalist attitudes during the Netanyahu years, likewise can avoid much of the same pain by observing and noting the dangers of too much taxation, tolerating illegal immigration, over-regulating private enterprise and personal choices, failing to enforce criminal laws, over-emphasizing “green energy” where it conflicts with common sense, and sacrificing the quality of its schools on the Woke altar.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer is Contributing Editor at The American Spectator, an adjunct professor of law, Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California, and has held prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations. He was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and served six years on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His writings have appeared on Arutz Sheva,The Weekly Standard, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom, and The Jewish Press. Other writings are collected at www.rabbidov.com .Adapted by the writer for Arutz Sheva from a version of this article that first appeared here in The American Spectator.




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