You’d forgive Californians for rolling their eyes. When a vaguely apocalyptic combination of wildfires and power blackouts left vast swaths of the state without electricity and breathable air last month, a bevy of stories in national media outlets from The Atlantic to The New York Times declared the state officially unlivable.
A “very un-Californian nihilism has been creeping into my thinking,” wrote California-based New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo. “I’m starting to suspect we’re over. It’s the end of California as we know it.”
The hyperbole from most of the national pieces was as predictably familiar to longtime Californians as Thanksgiving, when visits from out-of-state relatives result in a game of passive aggressive California bingo: “Don’t you miss seasons?” — “B!”. “Wow, so much traffic on a holiday” — “I!” “Good lord the sales tax here …” “BINGO!”
The “California is over” national media trope has been its own cottage industry for decades. We were over after the Manson murders, the Rodney King riots, the record budget deficits of the late 2000s, the collapse of the whole boutique-cupcake phenomenon.
But to many Californians, deep down in places we don’t like to talk about, this time does feel different. The twin threats of climate change and the state’s housing affordability crisis — both slow-moving disasters we feel increasingly helpless to address — have changed the mental calculus for an entire generation of residents.
Why pay twice as much for a home here as elsewhere in the country to breathe bad air, endure hours-long commutes and then have our power turned off so we don’t catch on fire? Polling and migration data show younger and lower-income Californians are increasingly deciding it’s just not worth it.
On this episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” CalMatters’ Matt Levin and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon interview Manjoo about whether California has reached a true tipping point, and why the state can’t fix some of its fundamental flaws.
CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.