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Why We Will Save California – OpEd

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Like a lot of Californians, I have a full and happy life. My wife and I own a home in the Berkeley Hills from which we enjoy watching the fog roll underneath the Golden Gate bridge, and blanket the bay. Our children are healthy and happy. We enjoy comfortable lives seemingly far from the chaos and suffering in California’s downtowns.

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But over the last few years, the rising chaos and suffering have increasingly troubled me. In 2018 I ran for governor to make the case for abundant housing to address homelessness. In 2019, I called for a State of Emergency on homelessness and mandatory psychiatric care or rehab for addicts and the mentally ill who break the law. 

And in 2021, I co-founded a statewide coalition with parents of homeless drug addicts, parents of children killed by fentanyl, and recovering addicts, to advocate for a statewide psychiatric and addiction care system (“Cal-Psych”), a crackdown on open air and online drug markets, and a change from the state’s de facto “camp anywhere” policy to a ban on illegal camping.

I thought we were making progress. In September, I button-holed Governor Gavin Newsom in San Francisco, and told him about Cal-Psych, explaining that it was a way to centralize psychiatric and addiction care. He told me, “I look forward to talking more about it!” When Joe Rogan asked me in October if I thought Newsom cared, I defended the governor, saying that I thought he did.

But Newsom has failed to increase housing, refused to fight for universal health care, and has rejected the idea of a statewide psychiatric and addiction care system, choosing instead to double down on the same policies that created the homelessness crisis in the first place.

As a result, chaos and suffering are increasing nearly everywhere in California, even in small towns. Half of all fires in California’s cities are in homeless encampments, even though the unsheltered homeless are less than 0.005 percent of the state’s population. Firefighters and EMTs revive, at great cost, fentanyl addicts who overdose and nearly die — and then put the poor souls right back on the street again. And violent crime is rising because the police are understaffed and demoralized.

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California spends much more than other states on homelessness and mental illness and yet has worse outcomes. Homelessness increased 31 percent in California, over the last decade, while it declined 18 percent in the rest of the country. Recently, a drug-addicted 16-year-old girl, the age of my daughter, was allegedly raped, repeatedly, before overdosing on fentanyl, in an open drug scene in downtown San Francisco.

Why won’t Governor Gavin Newsom take action to shut down the open drug scenes, and restore order? And what must be done?  

Why Newsom Doesn’t Care

In October, HarperCollins published San Fransicko, which assembles a significant body of evidence to show that what we call “homelessness” results primarily from untreated mental illness and addiction, not poverty and high rents. 

That book, my reporting on Substack, and my video interviews, helped change the national conversation. In mid-December of last year, San Francisco Mayor London Breed called for a crackdown on open air drug dealing and even “tough love.” Shortly after, I was invited to address the city’s Commonwealth Club. 

But a few days before my Commonwealth Club talk I discovered, and was the first to report, that Mayor London Breed had secretly and illegally created a supervised fentanyl and meth use site in United Nations Plaza in downtown San Francisco.

The site was part of a new, so-called “Linkage Center,” the centerpiece of the mayor’s plan to supposedly direct homeless addicts to rehab, but the site has only worsened open air drug use, drug dealing, and violent crime, and sent just a handful of people to rehab.

The bottom line is that San Francisco city government has put the business interests of violent drug dealers above the needs of vulnerable 16 year-old homeless female drug addicts.

When cities can no longer properly govern themselves, it is the role of the governor to intervene, but instead of using his State of the State address last week to lay out a vision for California to realize its incredible potential, Newsom was dehumanizing, disrespectful, and dishonest, and not just on the issue of homelessness.

At a time when just nine percent of African American students, and 12 percent of Latino students in Los Angeles public schools are proficient in eighth-grade math, Newsom began by patronizingly praising his appointees for their racial identies, sexual preferences, and immigration status, not their achievements. 

In his speech, the governor talked tough on forest fires — even though he cut the budget for fighting them, and the area treated for fire prevention declined by half, during his time in office. 

Newsom took credit for job growth even though California has a 6.5 percent unemployment rate, which is three percentage points higher than the national average, and three times higher than other states.

We Californians have the highest income tax, highest gasoline tax, and highest sales tax in the United States, and yet suffer blackouts and abysmal public services. California’s residential electricity prices grew three times faster than they did in the rest of the U.S., in 2021.

Last summer Newsom issued emergency rules allowing for the burning of dirty diesel fuel to prevent blackouts for 2.5 million people, and yet is moving full-speed ahead with plans to shut down Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which provides reliable, pollution-free power for three million Californians, and whose closure could result in catastrophic blackouts.

In other words, Newsom gave the speech a presidential candidate would make to Democratic primary voters in Iowa — not the speech a governor who cared about California would make.

Naturally, Newsom made no mention of the two issues he had campaigned on in 2018, universal health care and adding 500,000 new housing units a year. It’s easy to see why. Health care legislation recently failed due to his lack of care, courage, and clarity. And new annual housing construction has been just one-fifth of what he promised, for the same reasons.

Nor did Newsom discuss the shocking failure of California’s public schools. We spend more per capita than most other states and yet under half of our public school students are proficient in reading while just one-third are proficient in math. Those are the statistics of a failed state, and a failing civilization.

Newsom refuses to do what must be done because that requires standing up to the interest groups he believes he needs to become president. “He wants to be on the biggest stage,” confessed a former Newsom aide to The Los Angeles Times. “The obvious what-next for a governor of California is president of the United States.”

The governor’s political ambitions stand in stark contrast to the gritty realities on the street. While Newsom and his aides were pitching to reporters last week that his State of the State speech would be “upbeat,” the parents of the 16 year-old girl killed by fentanyl dealers were quietly grieving her death.

Courage To Care

The suffering and chaos resulting from California’s vacuum of leadership led me to once again decide to run for governor. I am heartbroken at the humanitarian disaster in the streets, angry that the politicians keep making things worse, and inspired by our vision for saving California.

It is fair to say that I am an underdog. Newsom defeated last year’s recall election by an astonishing margin: 62 – 38 percent. He has $25 million in the bank. And he is gifted at dividing Californians, and demonizing his opponents, in ways that distract from his failures.

But I am not a longshot. I would not have decided to run again if I didn’t feel we could come in second place in the open primary election on June 7, proceed to the November 8 general election, and defeat Newsom. By then, I will have won a mandate to implement Cal-Psych and finally solve the homeless crisis which Newsom has, over the last 20 years, made worse. 

Newsom and the interest groups that control him will no doubt attempt to demonize me with liberal voters, but I have long supported LGBTQ rights, the right of women to make their own decision on abortion, strong gun safety laws, universal health care, decriminalized marijuana and psychedelics for medical and spiritual purposes, and strong action on climate change, alongside more funding for the police, the continued operation of our last nuclear plant, and mandatory treatment of addicts and the untreated mentally ill homeless as an alternative to jail or prison when they break the law.

Under my leadership, California will deal with the homeless drug addiction and mental illness crisis in a humane and efficient way and give us the momentum to build the societal consensus we need to achieve changes on other, long-delayed reforms around energy, water, and the environment, and schools, housing, and infrastructure. 

My parents were teachers and my mother a representative of the teachers union. As governor I will work with all parties, including interest groups like the teachers union. But I will not be hostage to them. I will fight for the higher-quality, better scheduled, and more personalized education system our children need. That will require that parents have more choices. But it will also require consequences for the schools that are failing to educate our children

I believe that most Californians are sick and tired of being divided, whether by Left and Right, or by race and sex, and will support an agenda that brings us together. We need law and order, but we also need psychiatric care. We need more housing, but we also need to protect our quality of life. We need cheap and reliable energy, but we also need to make progress on climate change.

I am a lifelong Democrat but changed my party affiliation to “No Party Preference” last year out of disgust with both parties. Initial polling show our agenda draws equal numbers of independents, Democrats, and Republicans. As such, not only can we win, we can create the governing majority California needs.

None of this will be easy and in fact will be hard. I expect my name to be dragged through the mud, and I don’t expect it to be pleasant. But it’s hard things, not soft ones, that bring out our best, as individuals and as movements. And I am heartened by the overwhelming response from my friends and supporters to my announcement.

My family and I will be fine, no matter what happens. Indeed, our lives will be more comfortable if we lose than if we win. But the lives of the people suffering around us won’t be fine no matter what. Many more people on the street will die, often in gruesome fashion, unnecessarily.

In the end, our lives are not our own. All of us, not just Helen, our movement, and me, are being called to serve. With this announcement, we are answering the call. We hope you will, too. 

Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress. Follow him on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD.

One thought on “Why We Will Save California – OpEd

  • April 29, 2022 at 3:59 pm
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    I whole heartedly agree with most of this article and would like to help with your campaign.

    Reply

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