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NorCal v. SoCal

Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge

Reihan Salam writes in Slate:

Selfish, Selfish San Francisco

It would be a much better city with twice the population. Instead it’s America’s largest gated community.

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Bay Area, to see friends and to attend a conference. The conference was held in a beautifully-situated resort in Marin County overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, where a small number of low-rise buildings dotted a pristine landscape. And I thought to myself, as I often do, that it was insane that this land was not instead dotted by massive high-rises housing thousands of people. The beautiful town of Sausalito has a population of just over 7,000 within its 2¼ square miles. But would it be any less lovely if it were home to twice as many people, or 10 times as many even? Or would it be lovelier still if graceful towers full of young families sprouted on land currently devoted to, of all things, golf courses?

Actually, there are no golf courses in the southern half (or so) of Marin County, which seems unfortunate. There is a golf course in the Presidio in San Francisco at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge that dates back to 1895 and has been open to the public since the fort was decommissioned.

Since everybody has an opinion on San Francisco and Northern California these days, let me repost something I wrote for VDARE a decade ago:

Subtle but important social differences emerged between Southern and Northern California. Which was the better model was arguable—until recently. Now, however, it has become clear that Northern California`s traditional elitism has helped it withstand the onslaught of illegal immigration better than Southern California`s traditional populist libertarianism.

Personally, I always preferred the greater openness of Southern California society. But that kind of freedom comes at the expense of quality of life when it’s abused by millions of foreign lawbreakers. To use David Hackett Fischer’s system for categorizing the four kinds of British immigrants, Northern Californian was largely founded by New Englanders of Puritan descent. Southern California was largely populated by Middle Westerners, whose social roots typically stretch back to colonial Pennsylvania and to the South. By the 1950s, it was the paradise of the common man.

Northern California went through the typical political evolution of post-Puritans: into Lincolnian Republicans, then reformist Progressives, then modern lifestyle liberals intent, paradoxically, on preserving old-fashioned amenities like open space, traditional architecture, higher culture, and wildlife. In contrast, Southern California was much more conservative, as the popularity of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan testify. But in the 1990s, much of the GOP base began to be driven into the Great Basin by illegal immigration-driven population growth. Southern California’s Republican remnant, in its gated communities, is coming around to the Northern liberal point of view.

Northern California forestalled much of the dreariness of Southern California’s Hispanic areas by being a high-cost economy. Ferociously powerful unions kept wages high. Stringent aesthetic restrictions and large amounts of land devoted to parks kept housing costs high. Northern Californians spearheaded the environmentalist movement—which had the unspoken but not-unintended consequence of driving up property values even further.

Southern California, in contrast, was not heavily unionized or environmentalized. It encouraged developers to put up huge tracts of homes.

Conservatives have had a hard time grasping that homeowners often use environmental laws to thwart new developments and enhance the value of their own property. Conservatives like to think of themselves as preserving property rights from meddling environmentalists.

But the fact is that property owners themselves are often among those most intent on meddling. In the ranchlands east of Oakland, for example, housing restrictions mean that most developments are dense housing pods surrounded by vast expanses populated only by cows. In the south of the state, it would all be tract housing.

The Monterey Peninsula exemplifies Northern elitism, private enterprise-style. The exquisite oceanfront Del Monte Forest is accessible only via the 17 Mile Drive, which costs an $8.25 toll to traverse, or 49 cents per mile. It`s worth it, though, because much of the natural beauty has either been preserved untouched, or enhanced with the finest set of golf courses in America: Pebble Beach, the famous public course with a $395 greens fee; Cypress Point, the ultra-private “Sistine Chapel of Golf;” Spyglass Hill, Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s best course; and four others. Tellingly, Northern California has preserved most of its best golf courses from the Golden Age of golf architecture (1911-1933). But Southern California has lost many such courses, like George C. Thomas’ Fox Hills in West Los Angeles, to housing during the post-War boom.

As a native Los Angeleno, Northern Californian snobbishness has always gotten on my nerves. Nonetheless, the payoff has become undeniable. Rather than being inundated with unskilled immigrants from one country, Northern California mainly attracts skilled immigrants from a wide diversity of countries. The lesson for the GOP is sobering. If it won’t fight to enforce immigration laws on the national level, citizens will try to parry the effects at the local level. And the socially acceptable way to keep out swarms of poor immigrants is the Northern Californian liberal way: environmentalism, unionism, historical preservationism, NIMBYism—indeed, the whole panoply of Democratic Party policies at the state and local level.

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