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The Destruction Of California?

They don’t come to northern California for the bubbly, the marijuana or the luxury hotels and they don’t enjoy picnic lunches along the Russian River. There are more than 150,000 of them in the whole state, most of them sleeping in the streets of L.A., San Francisco, Ukiah, you name it. If they come for any one reason it’s for the weather, which an indigent wanderer from Missouri described to me as “survivable.” He added, “in winter you don’t see snow here.” This February afternoon on my redwood deck, it’s 83 degree in the shade. It was in the 80s yesterday. 

If I had no place to live and no work in Kentucky, Michigan or Vermont I’d make the trek to California to stay dry and as warm as could be inside a tent or in a bedroll under one of the bridges in Santa Rosa or someone other city. I’d be in the company of some confederates addicted to speed and heroin. Others might have an STD or the flu. But at least we’d be in the same boat.

Sonoma County, which likes to call itself “Wine Country,” has been losing population because of the fires and the smoke, the shortage of housing and the high rents that make them unaffordable for men who work in the vineyards and who often commute from as far away as Vallejo and Sacramento, and women who labor in the hospitality industry, also drive long distances and aren’t paid minimum wage. 

Even if they were paid a living wage they would not likely be able to afford to live in Sonoma County, which the botanist Luther Burbank described in a letter to his mother as “the chosen spot of all this earth.” Burbank implored her not to repeat his comment to anyone; if she did, he was afraid that loafers and alcoholics would descend en mass and destroy Sonoma. Chosen spots have a way of advertising themselves.

Once the best-selling author Jack London moved from Oakland to Sonoma and began to write about it in letters and in his novel The Valley of the Moon, there was no holding back the waves of migrants who came to farm, ranch, toil in the lumber industry or fish for salmon. 

But even the optimistic Jack London knew hard times were coming. In The Iron Heel, he predicted the advent of a dictatorship in the U.S. and in The Scarlet Death he described a pandemic that obliterates most of humanity. Were he alive today he’d have plenty of material to inspire him, including the homeless problem, which has been described as “intractable.” Even charitable and compassionate Christians who help those who sleep under bridges and on the streets tell me “There will always be homelessness.” Still it has not always been a problem here.

It wasn't when I arrived in Sonoma County in 1975, just in time to observe the decline and fall of the apple industry, and the exodus of a generation of young people who couldn't see opportunity in their future if they continued to live here. My parents arrived before me, bought land, and joined the “back-to-the-land movement” which every so often goes through a rebirth. That cycle seems to have come to an end. Young wanna-be farmers flock to Sonoma only to find that they can’t afford to live or work here, and so they move to Oregon and Washington.

Fifty-five years ago Professor Raymond Dasmann wrote a polemical book titled The Destruction of California in which he warned readers that “the worst is yet to come.” He added that most Californians “have only a partial picture of their home state,” that “No person sees the complete picture” and that “The accepted picture is misleading.” In my home county, where hope has become a mantra, and citizens repeat ad nauseam, the slogan “Sonoma Strong” the homeless crisis—which officials have tried to hide and ignore— is a harbinger of a grim future Jack London might have imagined in a dystopian novel. He also would have urged Californians to try to see the whole picture and not accept the official version of the Golden State. Imagine the destruction of California? It won’t be a pretty picture. 

33 Comments

  1. Jonah Raskin September 4, 2020

    Thanks for explaining the aluminum thing. Be well stay safe.

  2. Douglas Coulter September 3, 2020

    My journals on crazyguyonabike.com under thegimprider are still viewable but I am blocked (see forums, alerts, “I Must Move On”) for the melt down of the no longer touring Neil who runs such a great web site for bicycle tourists
    My expedition tent is first photo.
    Just an IPad with old browser and poor wifi I must find a new site for journals

  3. Jonah Raskin September 3, 2020

    Douglas – with you permission I would like to send your poem that begins “I once met a gent” to the editor of the Bohemian newspaper and ask him to publish it.
    The only part I don’t get is this “It’s the fabric of life on aluminum bone.” what do you mean by aluminum bone? Also if you are agreeable can I describe you as a man who has ridden the rails? Thanks, Jonah

    • Douglas coulter September 3, 2020

      My tent has aluminum poles, made by Hilleberg to support expeditions to both polar regions and can withstand 85 mph winds. They are not cheap.
      Yes please share it, I have no computer and limited internet access under Covid law
      As I shared above my rail experience is limited but I’ve been everywhere by Amtrak

  4. Eric Sunswheat September 3, 2020

    Probably will rail bicycle the rails.

    August 25, 2020
    https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/indian-railways-introduces-rail-bicycle-video-for-inspection-monitoring-tracks-repairs-piyush-goyal-644818

    Great Redwood Trail Act — calls for a trail beside miles of the North Coast rail – eventually connecting SF and Humboldt Bays.
    https://www.redwoodempire-tu.org/great-redwood-trail

    January 31, 2020
    https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/first-new-segment-of-the-great-redwood-trail-project-opens-in-ukiah/

  5. Douglas Coulter September 2, 2020

    I once met a gent
    who lived in a tent
    Paid no rent
    Left no dent
    Where ever he went
    Was time well spent
    And now I know what he meant

    It’s the fabric of life on aluminum bone
    Wherever I am I’ll be calling it home
    Each camp that I pitch each camp that I break
    Each sunrise I watch each breath that I take
    Over every mile that is fresh to my eyes
    So far from the bustle of big city lights
    The smell of burnt diesel the smog and the noise
    Replaced by the whisper of natures sweet voice
    The couch the TV the microwave dish
    Can’t compare with a campfire and freshly caught fish

  6. Jonah Raskin September 2, 2020

    I have never ridden the rails and at 78 & 1/2 I probably never will, especially with a landlord who won’t evict me no matter what.

    • Douglas Coulter September 3, 2020

      I rode on the side of boxcars to Healdsburg in the summer for swimming in Russian River. Caught them just south of Coddingtown early 1960s. Lots of fun and never more than 25mph I did get banged up some jumping off at over 15 mph

      Long distance hobos now require info on what train or you end up in the wrong place. Can be charged with felony. A rough crowd to hang with most carry guns.
      I froze crossing Donner in 1970s sitting under trailer on a flat car. Took 16 hours from Hwy 20 to Reno as we stopped for every passing train. Not a repeat offender

  7. Jonah Raskin September 2, 2020

    I like the internal rhymes – ripe/ guttersnipe and whiff/ bindlestiff – I like that word (bindlestiff) which I know from Jack London’s The Road, about his adventures as a hobo in the 1890s, going from Oakland to East Coast where he was arrested as a vagrant and went to prison for 30 days – you probably know that book.

    • Douglas Coulter September 2, 2020

      Jack made riding the rails sound romantic but just like cowboys it was nasty high risk work. Unfortunately few modern hobos would work when sitting with cardboard is so lucrative.

  8. Douglas Coulter September 2, 2020

    The Fragrant Vagrant. A parody of Bird On A Wire
    I’m the fragrant vagrant
    Catch a whiff of this bindelstiff
    Is it true you won’t share a pew with me
    Such a ripe guttersnipe
    Smelling sharp cause I sleep in a tarp
    You might hope Id use some so oh please

    If I sit too near on the bus
    You gag and wheeze make quite a fuss
    If I should enter your store
    You fear customers might run out the door

    I suppose that your nose
    Informs you I’m one of those
    And your world must dispose of me
    You might think, cause I stink
    That your god won’t even blink
    As you press me to the brink so cruel

    As a tricycle hobo I have traveled the USA studying the homeless populations since 2004. Many of my journals have been redacted on CGOAB and when I asked about it I was banned. I will need to find a new host for my homeless journals. Thegimprider
    Treat humans like animal don’t be surprised when they start to act like animals.

  9. Pat Patterson September 2, 2020

    hello Professor Raskin.

    This is pat, or Bruce Patterson. You did a spot-on review of my 2nd book, turned round in my boots. Called me “self-destructive” and, upon reflection, I saw you were right. Having reached the age of 70 pushing 71, I feel like I’ve cheated death so many times I owe it. Yet, after some months operating behind enemy lines, you learn how to pretend you’re already dead seeing how dwelling in your fear can eat you like a guppy if you let it.

    Anyway, good you’re still writing. Also good being reminded of old Sonoma Co. I worked a lot of dirt in a lot of places, and I loved it back before the freeway and it got turned into SF’s San Fernando Valley. How easily we forget that no society no matter how rich and sophisticated can survive without farmers and ranchers as owner operators. Corporate framing is to sustainable farming what 15 Billion Dollar aircraft carriers are to mass transit. Pity the young.

  10. James Marmon February 22, 2020

    RE: TRUMP’S VISIT TO CALIFORNIA LAST WEEK

    Trump warns California lawmakers to fix homelessness crisis or ‘we’re going to do it’

    President Trump warned California lawmakers that he would be forced to “clean up” the state’s homelessness epidemic if they are unable to, during a briefing in Los Angeles.

    “If they can’t do it themselves, we’re going to do it,” Trump said during a briefing on the upcoming 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. “The federal government is going to take it over, we’re going to do it.“

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/trump-warns-california-lawmakers-to-fix-homelessness-crisis-or-were-going-to-do-it

  11. Jonah Raskin February 22, 2020

    It’s a complicated issue and world wide, too. I wonder how and if California will resolve it? I hope to write more abut the subject. Thanks for comments.

    • Professor Cosmos February 22, 2020

      Alot is happening now, finally.

      Bruce A didnt suggest jails, he suggestrd involuntary conservatorship holds and work camps modeled on the old systemsat MSH and NSH (patients working on farms, etc). I see others are advocating that too. I dont like it much.

      BTW, in a few years massive numbers of coastal residents will be displaced. Land use planning for that should now begin in Mendo, a county likely not too impacted by sea level risings and probably to become a host to refugees.

    • Harvey Reading February 22, 2020

      It seems complicated because that is how it is presented to us by the ruling class.

      • Harvey Reading February 22, 2020

        If we insist on keeping kaputalism, at the very least we should institute periodic purges of the wealthy, say every three decades, and redistribution of their wealth among the lower strata of the population. That way the greedy can play with their wealth, earned on the backs of working people, for only a short time, followed by their deaths. Over a period of several decades, we might longer be bedeviled by kaputalism and greedy, usually brain-dead, kaputalists.

        • James Marmon February 22, 2020

          You sound almost as bad as Bolshevik Bernie, is it just age or what?

          James

          • Harvey Reading February 22, 2020

            I suspected my words would annoy brain-dead conservatives, like you. And, you’ve a nerve to speak of age, my fat little fascist Trump supporter. Are all your comments approximately the same because of failing memory?

  12. Larry Wilson February 22, 2020

    Homeless people are human beings, not trash. As long as the USA protects the rights of people to travel within its borders California will have more than its share of homeless. The most humane and cost effective solution is to provide safe camps with water and sanitation and security and food. Once a network of safe camps is established, laws against camping in public spaces can be enforced vigorously and our downtown areas will not be defacto homeless camps. Social services can be provided to reach out to those homeless who are willing to try to improve their lot. Homeless with children are obvious a different population and should be in a camp with schools and playgrounds. The druggies and deadbeats will always remain so. They need to be separated from the others and sent to a prison camp when they violate the rules. The alternative is the status quo.

    • Harvey Reading February 22, 2020

      A better idea would be to rid the planet of the scourge of kaputalism.

  13. Bruce Anderson February 21, 2020

    When did the owner of the AVA recommend putting the homeless in jail?

    • Lazarus February 21, 2020

      I mentioned organizing camps and getting the military to keep order, organize, etc., a while ago. Got called out by Mark S. too…
      We have to do something, and throwing money at them and hoping for the best ain’t the answer.
      As always,
      Laz

  14. Pat Patterson February 21, 2020

    Dear Mr. Raskin

    I’ve always enjoy reading your stuff. I worked all thru Sonoma co. in the ’70s, lived on a ranch north of Healdsburg. Then saw your latest and how it’d drawn 6 comments and thought, “What? You offend somebody?” So I read the comments and thought: what? Geezers with Smart Phones?

    Can’t say how many years or decades it’s been that folks have been complaining about the homeless. Hell, the AVA’s owner thinks the best thing you could do for the homeless is to put them in jail as if that isn’t being done in this country every minute of every day. Like, how many millions of words have been written about the Healthcare Crisis in this giant corporate funny farm? And how come nobody ever thinks to mass produce family doctors the way we do lawyers and lobbyists, soapbox preachers, TV shills and politicians as venal as they are petty, greedy superstitious?

    Here’s an idea: If US taxpayers gave the homeless the money they spend “caring for them” in jails and “institutions,” their numbers would be radically diminished. Provide them with meaningful jobs with living wages and most would
    fit right in.

    • James Marmon February 22, 2020

      Anderson, doesn’t want to put the homeless in jail. He, Mark, and Allman want to put all of them in a 16 bed 72 hour PHF Unit located in Willits, get them off the streets. All three of them are against jail overcrowding.

      James marmon MSW

      • Mark Scaramella February 23, 2020

        I do not want to put the homeless in a PHF. Stop making stuff up.

      • Lazarus February 23, 2020

        The AVA from the beginning has supported ole Howard and Tom Allman’s vision throughout the Measure B fiasco.

        If Allman would have gotten his way ole Howard (The Money Pit) would be a lockdown facility right now. “Pelican Bay South”, 12 to 16-foot chainlink fencing, total lockdown vibe. “The Snake Pit”, right in the middle of Willits, and sooner or later it would run out of money to run and staff the behemoth.

        Fortunately, Willits leadership got wise to Mr.Allman and the Howard Foundation, and have so far, fended off the Allman/Howard faction and their ill-advised supporters.

        Willits opposition may have given the other players time to take note…of all that money, Low Gap, Orchard, The Coast, and Adventist Health.

        Measure B overpromised and will likely underdeliver…but one thing is for sure, the major players left standing will likely all get their cut, but will they adequately provide the needed services? History does not bode well for a good outcome.
        As always,
        Laz

  15. izzy February 20, 2020

    Qualifying his main point, the Good Shepherd remarked that “The poor will always be with us.”
    These days, they seem to be coming out of the woodwork.

    On a currently over-burdened planet bristling with local hostilities, large migrations of the
    dispossessed have become a troubling problem. If possible, those with no place to call their own will go to wherever looks better, or at least survivable. And, as the article illustrates, cost-of-living can dislocate even those who labor industriously. History demonstrates the constant rise and fall of social and economic orders. Ours is starting to circle the drain.

  16. Moon February 19, 2020

    Part of the advice I’ll offer is the same as George Jackson’s: “Settle your quarrels.” With your closest half-dozen or so neighbors, get on terms that are at least better than animosity. Carefully seal packets of the seeds that will grow you a balanced diet (and you can grow potatoes in an apartment); humans don’t need animal products. Take any steps needed to provide long-term sanitation and potable water. Find a way to evaluate refugees for ability to get along and willingness to do the work they’re able to do. Put a camera on the roof of your house or in your apartment window.

  17. paul February 19, 2020

    The California rich have Attorneys that litigate this into existence and then sue any resistors into submission.

    • Pat Kittle February 19, 2020

      James Decker:

      You say “Only 1 in 10 people suffering homelessness in CA came from out of state” — because KQED propagandists say so.

      So how is such a survey conducted? Are out-of-state homeless people going to honestly respond to such a survey? Are their responses verified? I seriously doubt it.

      Obviously, if you make something more attractive to people, you’re going to attract more people. DUH!

      For DECADES, I’ve counseled the homeless (& their advocates) here in Santa Cruz County, that nothing would do more to generate public good will toward the homeless than the homeless simply cleaning up after themselves. What the bums do to the forest is nothing less than a crime against nature. I’m long since fed up cleaning up their filth.

      If they won’t even do that much (and it seems most of them won’t), they are NOT WELCOME.

  18. Jesus, Chris February 19, 2020

    It is certainly true that the bums are ruining the entire experience of living in Northern California! Any effort to provide comfort to the masses of these bums just makes them worse! Ever since I was a child in Yuba City, I have been amazed by the manner in which these folks live, and shocked by their attitudes and the filth surrounding their existence. Whining about the cost of living is ridiculous, since these people choose the life they lead.

    Give no assistance, run them out of town, force tham to camp in undesirable locations, out of sight! Harass them with police, and incarcerate for minor infractions… Do like they do in Salt Lake, take them out past the city limits, take their photos, and thump them thoroughly! Warn them that if they come back, “something BAD will happen to you”!…

    Being homeless should only occur on BLM lands, out in Nevada, East of Cedarville. Give them a free bus ride to the camp!

    Thanks!

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