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. 

21 Responses to "The Destruction Of California?"

  1. Jesus, Chris   February 19, 2020 at 10:10 am

    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!


  2. James Decker   February 19, 2020 at 10:35 am

    Uh, no. Only 1 in 10 people suffering homelessness in CA came from out of state. Quit demonizing your neighbor. You may be next.

    • Pat Kittle   February 19, 2020 at 6:50 pm

      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.

  3. paul   February 19, 2020 at 11:45 am

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

  4. Moon   February 19, 2020 at 11:50 am

    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.

  5. izzy   February 20, 2020 at 7:00 am

    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.

  6. Pat Patterson   February 21, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    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 at 9:57 am

      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 at 12:17 am

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

      • Lazarus   February 23, 2020 at 10:55 am

        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,

  7. Bruce Anderson   February 21, 2020 at 2:18 pm

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

    • Lazarus   February 21, 2020 at 2:56 pm

      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,

  8. Larry Wilson   February 22, 2020 at 7:56 am

    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 at 11:10 am

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

  9. Jonah Raskin   February 22, 2020 at 9:26 am

    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 at 10:29 am

      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 at 11:12 am

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

      • Harvey Reading   February 22, 2020 at 11:36 am

        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 at 11:56 am

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


          • Harvey Reading   February 22, 2020 at 3:10 pm

            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?

  10. James Marmon   February 22, 2020 at 10:16 am


    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.“


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