I recently tested author Thomas Wolfe’s famous expression: “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
Of course, Wolfe’s point was that if you attempt to return to a place you remember, it will be different than you recall. My return visit to Santa Barbara last month strikingly confirmed the accuracy of that statement — and the importance of the upcoming election to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
My wife Dee and I bought a home in Montecito in 1997 and sold it in 2017. We moved to Nashville, which has become home to an expatriate community of former Californians — most of whom fled because of the increasingly oppressive political dominance of California’s leftist unions and the blatant arrogance of its all too secure elected elites.
For us, the move was fortuitous as our former home was destroyed in the 2018 flood. Luckily, the new owners were not home at the time.
But our former homesite is now a four-acre field, and visiting it elicits an eerie sense of unease. Much to my surprise, I had a similar sensation when visiting downtown Santa Barbara.
Standing on State Street, I felt as if I were in a scene for the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I had left Bedford Falls and returned to find Pottersville. All right, I know Santa Barbara is not a den of sin and villainy, where prostitutes freely roam the streets. But it is far different than the place I left.
The small shops we used to frequent along State Street were boarded up. Paseo Nuevo, once bustling with activity, was bustling no more. Anchor tenants Nordstrom’s and Macy’s were gone.
Down the street, Saks 5th Avenue was closed, and the Borders bookstore was now a Marshalls’ discount clothing store.
State Street itself was blocked off traveling north/south so restaurants could expand their seating into the street during the pandemic. A great opportunity to take advantage of perhaps the most agreeable climate on Earth. It had a nice feel, except for the general dirtiness and the scattered groups of homeless people.
Homelessness has become endemic in California, and you can’t help but feel sorry for these individuals, many of whom obviously have serious mental health issues. But there was an underlying aggressiveness or hostility about them that aroused feelings of both sympathy and fear.
So I had a hard time getting friends to dine downtown.
Everyone wanted to eat in nearby Montecito. Always a sleepy but very affluent town, Montecito is sleepy no more. It’s a scene. All of West Los Angeles seems to have migrated to my former hometown. The street was packed with luxury autos. The restaurants (which are admittedly great) were also packed.
Maybe it’s the allure of being in the presence of elites like Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry and her Royal Highness Meagan Markle, but Montecito is aglow with status and wealth —far more than in the recent past.
The decline in downtown Santa Barbara and the ostentatious affluence in Montecito are emblematic of a growing and very disconcerting problem. Increasingly, there are two Californias, one of extreme poverty and one of extreme wealth.
The Census Bureau reported in September that California had the highest level of functional poverty in the U.S. California also has the second-highest homelessness rate in the nation according to the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California.
But California isn’t all about poverty. It’s also the wealthiest state in the nation. Unfortunately and perhaps not surprisingly, great wealth combined with great poverty, has produced the nation’s fourth highest level of income inequality.
This is a result of bad policy and years of arrogant unchallenged political leadership. The very progressive policies Californians have been told for years would reduce poverty and homelessness have had the opposite effect.
You can’t overtax and overregulate employers without placing a once thriving working- and middle-class economy on the brink of collapse. You can’t make it nearly impossible to build new housing with overly restrictive zoning, oppressive environmental requirements and excessive building fees without limiting the housing supply and driving prices beyond reach for even the middle class. Gov. Newsom’s tyrannical economic lockdowns exacerbated the underlying problems.
Hence, the importance of that upcoming recall election. On Sept. 14, voters will have an opportunity to begin reversing California’s decline, and there is a candidate who could make a difference – Larry Elder.
Known as “the Sage from South Central,” Mr. Elder is an Los Angeles native from a minority working class family, who became a lawyer, author, filmmaker and nationally syndicated radio host.
Mr. Elder is in the recall election because he believes “Californians can connect the dots between (Gov. Newsom’s) extremist policies and failing schools, brown outs, violent crime, deadlier ‘fire seasons,’ homelessness, businesses leaving the state and taking jobs with them, and the rising cost of living.”
His ideas about education, crime and the economy are focused on individual initiative, social responsibility and reviving California’s working and middle classes.
Gov. Newsom and his elitist cronies have been a disaster for California. Californians deserve good paying jobs, affordable housing and a shot at a better future. It’s clearly time for a change.
As Mr. Elder says, “Join me. We’ve got a state to save.”
Andy Puzder is a former Montecito resident and the former CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.