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California: the Dream and the Challenge in the Twenty-first Century
by Kevin Starr
State Librarian of California

[Note: California is more than a geographical or political state. It is also a state of mind, a way of life, and an evolving dream. Governor Gray Davis asked noted author and State Librarian of California, Dr. Kevin Starr, to prepare a special essay on the Golden State, placing in context its history, culture, and people with the challenges and dreams of the new Millennium.]

The State of California enters the new millennium as, literally and symbolically, a global phenomenon. One hundred and fifty years after its organization and admission to the Union as the thirty-first state, California has been fast-forwarded into the front ranks of economic, social, and political entities. With a population approaching thirty-five million and a trillion dollar-plus economy in over-drive, California has moved into the front ranks of global commonwealths as an international force in trade and commerce, higher education, scientific research, entertainment, technology, and virtually every other aspect of human creativity. All this growth and prosperity, of course, has not come without a price; and thus, as it enters the new millennium, California also finds itself struggling with continuing challenges in energy production, environmental protection, elementary and secondary education, and other aspects of the general health and well-being of its population.

In demographic terms, the salient feature of California is its diversity. One out of every four Californians has been born outside the United States. Into California has come the human, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural richness of the planet itself. There is no people, no race, no cultural or linguistic tradition that is not in some way represented in California. In certain cases, in fact, California represents a major instance of a cultural tradition. There are more than a million Chinese-American Californians and a million and more Filipino-Americans. Los Angeles alone is one of the largest Mexican cities on the planet. The state also sustains major populations of Iranian, Armenian, Asian-Indian, Vietnamese, and other populations, the vast majority of them first-generation immigrants.

This diversity is at once the result of the reform of American immigration law in the mid-1960s and subsequent adjustments by the United States Congress. But it is also the fulfillment of a pattern, a DNA code, that goes back to Native American California. In the generations before European contact, fully a third of the Native Americans living within the present-day boundaries of the United States were living within the present-day boundaries of California. They were grouped into some seventy linguistic strains and cultural traditions. So, too, did Spain and Mexico continue this tradition of ethnic diversity. The Hispanic founders of California in both the Spanish and the Mexican eras extending from 1769 to 1848 included diverse strains of European, African, Native American, and mixed populations. The Gold Rush that began in earnest in 1849 brought to California a world community: Anglo- and African-Americans from the Atlantic states, Chileans, Mexicans, Chinese, French, English, German, Irish and Australian, Hawaiian Islanders, Filipinos, and other groups. While this polyglot population existed under an Anglo-American hegemony, it nevertheless foreshadowed the demographic destiny of the American state that the Gold Rush had jump-started into existence.

In the one hundred years following the admission of California to the Union as the thirty-first state in September 1850, this pattern of diversity continued to assert itself. By the turn of the century, for example, the San Francisco Bay Area sustained a high ratio of foreign to native-born comparable to the great immigrant cities of the eastern United States. California also developed in these years as a matrix of trans-cultural encounter and adaptation. While many minority groups were suppressed, exploited, even abused, during this period, they nevertheless remained in California, persevered, and brought to the emerging state their human, cultural, intellectual and moral capital. A pattern of diversity was sustained at the core of the California identity, blossoming in the post-1960s era.

Central as well to the California formula was technology. American California itself began with the technology of the Gold Rush. This technology of land and water movement was transferred to agricultural purposes, and by the 1870s agriculture had replaced mining as the lead element in the economy of the frontier commonwealth. This same technology of water movement was next employed at the turn of the century to metropolitanize the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin through a series of great dam, reservoir, and aqueduct projects. Thus California was literally brought into being as an American state, developed as an agricultural region, and transformed into an urbanized and suburbanized society by a set of engineering and technological capacities that were employed, successively, at increasingly ambitious levels.

From this technology of water movement, moreover, came hydro-electricity. In the 1870s, a Californian, Lester Allen Pelton, invented and patented the Pelton Water Wheel which made possible an almost six-fold increase in water power. By the turn of the century, Californians had fully envisioned the hydro-electrical possibilities of the great dams and reservoirs through which they were harnessing the water resources of the state. As early as the 1870s, in fact, there had been experiments in California with electrical light. By the late 1880s, certainly, by the 1890s, the important cities and towns of California were in the process of electrification. Through the technology of hydro-electricity, then, California laid down the energy foundation of an industrial capacity that would blossom in the twentieth century, accelerated by the expenditure of billions of dollars of defense-related spending during the Second World War.

Much of that spending was concerned with aircraft production; and it was from aviation, beginning in the first decades of the twentieth century, that California launched a second arc of technological development that would, along with the land and water technology, transform California into a world center of technology development. The technologies of aviation, in short, led to the technologies of aerospace development and fostered a research and development environment, at Stanford University in Palo Alto and its adjacent communities, that would in the second half of the twentieth century nurture the development of successive levels of micro-chip technology. This digital technology, in turn, applied to communications, applied to computing, applied to medical science and a hundred other allied activities, would in turn lay down the foundations of an entirely new information-based economy whose epi-center, whose ground zero, was in the Golden State.

By the dawn of the third millennium of the common era, Californians found themselves in an environment which they had done so much to bring into being: an environment in which technology was changing everything: the way people worked, lived, communicated, recreated, taught and learned, computed and remembered.

Political Stability
California was finding itself not only one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world - perhaps the most advanced! - it was also finding itself one of the most politically stable. This political stability, indeed, was in many ways the foundation of California's technological and economic ascendancy. By the dawn of the new millennium, it had long since become a proven fact that the political stability of the American Republic was a prime motivation for foreign investment. Within that formula, few states in the Union were more politically stable or efficiently governed than California - and this despite certain eruptions of political instability, in Los Angeles especially (in Watts in 1965, throughout the city in 1992), that underscored the tensions with which California was struggling to cope as it incorporated into itself the peoples, hence the problems, of the planet.

Such political stability had not always been the case. It had, in fact, been hard-won in the Progressive era and thereafter. The formation of California as an American state in 1849-1850 was a brilliant instance of frontier statecraft as a generation of Forty-Niners put aside their picks and shovels and met in Monterey to draft a constitution in both English and Spanish. Overnight, California invented itself as an American state. By the late nineteenth century, however, certain flaws were increasingly evident in the political structures and practices of the state. Already, in 1878, the California Constitution had been significantly re-written to cope with an era of social readjustment and strife that had brought the Workingmen's Party into power in Sacramento. This movement, however, soon collapsed of its own weight and contradictions, although it did in many ways foreshadow the social democratic direction of twentieth-century, at least post-New Deal, politics. By the turn of the century, it was becoming increasingly evident that California, along with the rest of the nation, was in need of political reform. Such reform soon came as the Progressive movement was swept into power in Sacramento in the election of 1910. Over the next decade, the Progressives in power in Sacramento freed state government from the control of the Southern Pacific Railroad and other vested interests and established governmental structures and political procedures - the initiative, for example, allowing for the passage of law or constitutional adjustment by direct vote, the referendum, the recall - that remained in force throughout the twentieth century. The government brought into being during the Progressive era at the state, county, and local level, in fact, has proven itself capable of providing governance for a society that grew from less than four million to thirty-four million by the end of the century.

One of the triumphs of this Progressive political culture was higher education. In its Master Plan for Higher Education, in fact, emerging in the late 1950s and formally adopted in 1960, California re-envisioned itself as a near-utopia of educational opportunities. Once again, California was building upon its traditions. In the 1850s, San Francisco had been one of the pioneer American cities in the public school movement. From the 1850s onward, the state had supported an impressive array of colleges that would in the twentieth century develop, many of them, into research universities. In 1868 a state university was chartered and in 1885 an equally ambitious private university was founded by Jane and Leland Stanford in honor of their deceased son. In Southern California, meanwhile, another private institution, the University of Southern California, had been founded in 1879, soon to be followed by a number of colleges - Whittier, Pomona, Occidental - in the New England tradition. In the 1920s many of these institutions, including the California Institute of Technology, made the transition into important research institutions. By the 1960s, the University of California had become a nine-campus multi-versity with two of its campuses, Berkeley and UCLA, ranked among the leading universities of the world. Cal Tech, meanwhile, had positioned itself in the front ranks of the scientific establishment. So, too, was Stanford University in these years making the transition to a global level of excellence, especially in medicine and engineering. By the late twentieth century, California nurtured a public and private complex of research and teaching institutions that made it one of the academic mega-centers of the planet. From this research culture came, in part or wholly, atomic energy and the silicon-based computer-chip revolution.

The rapidly expanding California state university system, meanwhile, and more than one hundred two-year community colleges were ensuring that this higher educational culture had the most inclusive possible scope. According to the Master Plan of 1960, each Californian was entitled to an opportunity for the best and most appropriate education, whether that meant a Ph.D. in high energy physics or an associate degree in fire-fighting or cosmetology.

Growth and the Environment
The rise of California to a population of thirty-four million sustaining the fifth or sixth most dynamic economy on the planet did not come without cost to the environment. From the Gold Rush onward, Californians were becoming increasingly aware that the overnight development of the state could come at great cost to the environment. The Gold Rush itself left the hills and valleys of the Mother Lode scarred and defaced. Hydraulic mining washed into the rivers of Northern California an avalanche of debris that choked waterways and flooded farmlands with oily ooze.

At the same time, however, frontier California managed to set aside the Yosemite as a federal preserve and end hydraulic mining through judicial intervention. A generation of frontier and post-frontier artists celebrated the environmental beauty of California in a series of paintings and photographs that made California one of the centers of landscape art in the nineteenth century. By the 1890s, a special relationship to the outdoors was becoming increasingly characteristic of California life, as symbolized by the founding of the Sierra Club in 1892 and the election of its first president, John Muir, one of the finest nature writers in American literature.

Californians wrestled with the sometimes irreconcilable conflicts between the environment and growth. The Hetch Hetchy and Los Angeles Aqueduct projects, for example, made possible the metropolitanization of the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin; but they also destroyed Hetch Hetchy Valley and the Owens Valley in the process. Throughout the twentieth century, this pattern of trade-offs between growth and the environment, whether intentional or unintentional, continued. In late January 1969, a massive oil spill from a drilling platform off Santa Barbara polluted some twenty miles of California coast and extended some forty miles at sea. This event, as much as any other, warned California that it could not continue its residential and industrial growth without some equally forceful program of environmental protection. In 1972 a Coastal Zone Conservation Commission was established by the people by initiative to control development on the 1,264 miles of coastal shoreline. An ambitious program of air quality control, meanwhile, was attacking the smog problem of the Los Angeles Basin. In the Bay Area a San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission was established in 1965 by the state legislature and given increased powers in 1969 to regulate the pressing problem of landfill that was endangering the very Bay itself.

Environmentalism, in fact, had emerged by the 1970s as one of the two or three most pressing and persistent of challenges in the planning politics of the Golden State as a host of statewide or local growth initiatives were dealt with. In June 1982 voters rejected the construction of a Peripheral Canal intended to shunt water from Northern to Southern California around the southeastern edge of the Delta. The pollution of coastal and Central Valley wetlands, meanwhile, wetlands so crucial to the continuing well-being of the Pacific Flyway, emerged as a major point of concern and contention, along with the depletion of Mono Lake by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The Sierra Club, meanwhile, made the transition from an outdoors-oriented recreational society to a fiercely effective environmental lobby. The rapidly growing foundation sector of California also became increasingly concerned with the preservation of open space as demographers were predicting a ten to fifteen million immediate growth in population in the first two decades of the new millennium, heading toward a statewide population, some suggested, of sixty million or more by 2040.

Energy and Transportation
How California was to cope with such growth increasingly became the defining challenge in the governance of California in the new millennium. A state that had always been able to provide for its electrical needs, for example, was by the year 2000 facing soaring electrical costs and shortages in a climate of rising need and deregulation. If such were the case with a population of thirty-four million, Californians began asking themselves, what would the future hold as the population would inevitably grow and electrical consumption inevitably increase. Searching for the sources and formulas for California's electrical future would become a key priority of public discourse and politics.

Then there was the question of transportation. To keep pace with its post-World War II growth in population, the State of California and the federal government had constructed in California a freeway and interstate highway system of unprecedented intricacy and magnitude. It could almost be said, in fact, that just as California invented itself through water in the early part of the twentieth century, it re-invented itself through its freeway system in the second half of the century. By the year 2000, however, it was becoming increasingly apparent that this re-invention of California through freeways was reaching its full capacity. In the southern portion of the Bay Area dominated by the city of San Jose, for example, commute times were growing alarmingly lengthy and traffic frequently stood at a near-standstill even in off-hours.

To supplement its time-honored dependence upon the automobile, California had been struggling to achieve a system of public transportation that would relieve the freeway system. In the last decades of the twentieth century, light rail transit systems were created in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento. By the 1970s, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART), first envisioned in the late 1940s, was operational. BART included a trans-bay tube that relieved congestion on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Yet BART did not service the Bay Area south of San Francisco on the western side of the Bay; nor did it run north through Marin County into the increasing density of northern Marin and Sonoma counties. Hence, the commute southward and northward from these counties into the San Francisco Bay Area was becoming increasingly difficult. Metropolitan Sacramento, meanwhile, had mushroomed toward the two million population mark, with the expected consequences on its commuting patterns. In Los Angeles, an integrated fixed heavy rail and light rail system, much of it underground, had been intended to relieve the commute loads of Los Angeles County. As the new millennium dawned, however, the Los Angeles system had been stopped, literally, in its tracks well before the goals stated for the system in the late 1970s had been achieved.

Not surprisingly, the new millennium found Californians talking about ways of improving local bus service and supplementing such bus services with additional light rail. New schemes for diamond lanes favoring high-passenger loads were being advanced and implemented, together with the creation of priced toll roads and other market incentives. A statewide high-speed rail system was also being envisioned, together with a whole agenda of improvements for local bus and para-transit transportation services. As of 2001, California had not yet come to a grinding halt; yet in many parts of the state quality of life was being dramatically curtailed by a lengthening commute and the necessity of spending more and more hours in transit by the average Californian.

So, too, did growth, diversity, and an increasing social complexity pose its challenges to education, especially in the K-12 sector. California K-12 was being required, it must be remembered, to educate millions of youngsters from every conceivable social, cultural, and economic background and - if this were not enough - to prepare them for success in one of the most competitive technological and economic environments on the planet. If California K-12 did not meet these goals, moreover, the state would not have the workforce on hand necessary for its continuing competitiveness. Whole sectors of the population, if not properly educated, would devolve significantly in their personal and social expectations, with a consequent increase in crime and other symptoms of social dysfunctionalism.

Hence education, especially at the K-12 level, became the number one challenge facing California, as articulated by Governor Gray Davis when he took office in January 1999. In his first two years as governor, Davis presented to the legislature a series of programs aimed at improving the K-12 climate of California. Asked to articulate his first, second, and third priorities as governor, Davis would reply: education, education, and education. Just as California had re-invented itself as a quasi-utopia of higher education with the Masterplan of 1960, it now faced the challenge of reinventing itself even further through a comparable program of improvement in K-12 and related activities.

Multiple Identities
Growth and development, technology and economic diversification, immigration and cultural diversity: all coalesced to effect in California a condition of creative ferment as the state entered the new millennium. By 2001, there had emerged many Californias, at once distinct and integrated.

The entertainment industry, for one thing, was projecting the image of California worldwide. Each day, for example, hundreds of millions of television viewers throughout the world were experiencing the myth and context of California through watching California-based programs. A Southern California-centered motion picture industry, meanwhile, was providing the world with an international culture that knew no boundaries but whose energies and metaphors in some way or another were originating in and flowing back into California. Indeed, by the year 2001 it could almost be said that the popular image of the United States outside the borders of the United States was California-oriented. From this perspective, California had become the prism through which the world was viewing the United States itself.

Within the borders of California, moreover, an equally challenging process was underway: namely, the emergence of localism and regionalism as an increasingly relevant factor in California life, culture, governance, and politics. The more Californians were projecting themselves into cyberspace, the more important became their local identities. California, in fact, seemed to be evolving culturally into a federation of regional autonomies as far as cultural value and lifestyles were concerned. This was not surprising in a state that would extend from Maine to Georgia were it on the East Coast. California encompassed, after all, a multiplicity of environmental regions and eco-systems. It also encompassed an even more intricate mosaic of human cultures. It was natural, then, that these multiplicities of regional and human culture should manifest themselves in increasingly intricate and innovative ways of being a Californian.

The internal internationalization of California through immigration, meanwhile, was being paralleled by the increasing internationalization of California externally through the Internet and through trade and commerce. As the fifth or sixth most powerful economy on the planet, California was linked to a number of major trading partners, led by Mexico and Japan. The State Department of Trade and Commerce maintained or had plans for more than twenty overseas offices intended to promote and facilitate trade and commerce with California. The world-class port and airport facilities of California, meanwhile, made it a major entrepot for goods entering the United States and a point of embarkation for American exports.

The fact that Mexico had emerged as California's leading trading partner possessed a certain historical suitability; for California, after all, had been founded by Spain and Mexico in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; and California, by the year 2001, was a major center of Mexican peoples and civilization on the planet. To symbolize this growing relationship, the then-President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, visited Sacramento in May 1999, and in December 2000 Governor Gray Davis traveled to Mexico City for the inauguration of President Vicente Fox. As the new millennium dawned, California was looking increasingly south to Mexico as a matter of trade and commerce and shared population. It could be argued, in fact, that the increasingly intricate California-Mexico connection was the single most important dynamic in the evolution of California as a regional society as one millennium yielded to another.

From the days when the galleons of Spain made the long trans-Pacific voyage from the Philippines to the California coast, California had been Asia-oriented. The admission of California to the Union as the thirty-first state had in one single stroke transformed the United States of America into an Asia-Pacific power. A few short years later, California precipitated the opening of relationships with Japan. In the decades to come, generations of Japanese professionals and civil servants received their educations at California universities. The Chinese, meanwhile, were among the founding populations of the state. They performed the physical work of constructing the trans-Sierra portion of the intercontinental railroad completed in 1869: a feat that must be ranked alongside the Great Wall of China itself as a triumph of Chinese perseverance and efficiency.

In the twentieth century, especially after the immigration reforms of 1965, California became the major center of Asian-American civilization and a competing center for Hispanic-American civilization. Both in terms of its strategic location and its people, California stood at the intersection point of Asia and Latin America.

California and the American Dream
California's future and its promise are nothing less than the future and promise of America. It has a California context, to be sure, but it is nothing separate from the dreams and hopes and aspirations of all the American people in their collective struggle to create a decent, fair, and secure republic. In recent times the American people have turned to California and asked it to create a technological revolution, and California responded-in Silicon Valley, in San Diego, and on the campuses of our great universities. The American people turned to California for new models of how to live their daily lives, new ways of enjoying and celebrating the gift of life, and California responded with an outpouring of architecture, landscaping, entertainment, and recreational activities. It contributed a new relationship between American people and the outdoors, expanding and enhancing leisure in these United States. America looks to California as its bellwether, as the place where new lifestyles and attitudes begin. Can America have a public education system that prepares young people to live and work in a world that is changing at a bewilderingly rapid rate? Can the American people turn to positive uses the cultural diversity that is spreading across the continent but is most rapidly concentrated here?

Yes, California answers. Americans can create a public education system that provides every student with a solid education, one that teaches not only the traditional three R's but also prepares them to take advantage of the new information technology. Yes, California says, cultural and racial diversity is a source of strength, a source of dynamism, and America can take advantage of this diversity to form a civilization of unique richness and imaginative strength. Yes, California says, Americans can find homes, jobs, good schools, and a wide array of recreational opportunities. Yes, California says, Americans have always been dreamers, and America is still the best place on earth to pursue those dreams.

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