During a photo-op recently at a stretch of Union Pacific railroad tracks in Los Angeles, Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed shock at the accumulated garbage: busted-open cargo containers, looted packages, cardboard boxes, and acres of trash. "I'm asking myself, what the hell is going on? We look like a third-world country," he said.
The governor needs to leave his fancy Sacramento-area compound more often to, you know, see what's going on throughout our state. Union Pacific executives offered the most shocking information regarding the detritus left behind by vandals who raided slow-moving freight trains as they head to an intermodal facility near downtown LA.
In a letter to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, the company pointed to a 160-percent increase in criminal theft in the county since last December. The disorder doesn't only involve pilfered packages and wanton vandalism, but includes "increased assaults and armed robberies of UP employees performing their duties moving trains."
Here's the kicker. Out of hundreds of arrests, Union Pacific "has not been contacted for any court proceedings." This shouldn't be news to Newsom. Months ago, fellow writers and I met with business interests who are trying to solve the absurd backlog at the Los Angeles area ports, and they detailed the very scene that the governor recently discovered.
Business leaders described an administration that was more interested in placating unions than dealing forcefully with the port logjam—and uninterested in enlisting them to hammer out a solution. That's a common theme, whether we're dealing with crime, ports, or COVID-19 shutdowns. The governor's team doesn't have the bandwidth to tackle the issues that are eroding our quality of life. Maybe he's too busy plotting a state healthcare takeover.
The governor announced his usual solution, which involves new task forces and increased spending. His Real Public Safety Plan "includes $255 million in grants for local law enforcement to increase presence at retail locations and combat organized retail crime," which is fine, of course. But, as usual, Newsom can't stick to the basic problem without getting a bit off track.
Just as his water plan is more about restoring habitats and his infrastructure plan tilts heavily toward bicycle lanes and transit, Newsom's rail-safety plan focuses on "getting guns and drugs off our streets." This is the difference between lefties such as Newsom and traditional liberals such as Jerry Brown. The latter would push for similar goals but would tend to basics first. You know, stop the thefts rather than worry about gun control.
That's a crucial point to make with regard to Gascón and other progressive prosecutors. For too long, police unions largely elected district attorneys, who generally turned a blind eye toward police misbehavior, overcharged people for minor crimes, and lobbied for tough-on-crime laws that fueled an over-incarceration crisis. The justice system tilted too heavily in the direction of the government, which has led to many injustices.
Reform was overdue, but prosecutors still are responsible for prosecuting criminals. The rail thefts and recent surge in brazen smash-and-grab retail robberies remind us that DAs need to implement justice reforms artfully. There still are plenty of dangerous characters out there. Practically speaking, soaring crime rates—and widely publicized dystopian scenes, such as the one that Newsom witnessed—erode public support for sensible reforms.
Meanwhile, the homeless situation has been terrible for a while but is encroaching on our everyday lives. I recently picked up a friend at his newer suburban apartment—and a vast homeless encampment spread across the neighboring field like a grim scene from some impoverished distant country. People now reportedly leave their cars unlocked in San Francisco so that when thieves ransack them, at least they don't smash the windows.
California remains a lovely state, but it increasingly embodies other third-world characteristics. For instance, it has the largest population of super-wealthy people in the nation, as any drive near the Pacific coast will remind us. But it also has the highest percentage of poor people, using the Census Bureau's cost-of-living-adjusted figures.
The progressives who control this state are obsessed with such South American-style inequality, but they seem more fixated on leveling (or chasing away) the rich rather than improving conditions for the poor and middle class. There's an obvious reason, given that their government-centric policies have driven up the cost of everything, eroded public services, and helped create the economic chasm.
Furthermore, they've made it tougher for people to work in service to unions and bureaucratic interests and cost-prohibitive to start a business. That's another characteristic of poor, backward nations—government functionaries have inordinate control over ordinary people's lives and extremely lucrative jobs are found in government agencies.
These problems started long before Newsom became governor, but they're getting noticeably worse under his charge. I'm pleased he finally is noticing the state's escalating third-world conditions, but who feels confident that he has any clue what to do about them?
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.