Gut Check West: 3 Reasons Why California Is Still Cool


Growing up in the industrial Midwest, “California Dreaming” was more than just a song. It was an homage to someplace totally “other” – a shining state on the Pacific, full of light and beauty and forward-looking promise. When it came on the radio everyone immediately forgot what they were doing and sang of being “safe and warm.” It was mild all the time there, it seemed, and they had great pot, a governor called Moonbeam, and even solar power. If I just follow the sun, I thought, I’ll end up there.

While I took a crazily circuitous route, I did, in fact, follow the sun and about 15 years ago settled in just north of San Francisco. Though I’d been coming out here since I was a kid, and had experienced firsthand the progressive gestalt of the “mellow state,” it quickly became apparent to me as a new resident that all was not what I thought it would be. In many ways, massive California functions as a nation unto itself, as divided as any, as susceptible to reactionary thinking, bigotry and good old stupidity as anyplace else. In my time here, I’ve seen some horrendous political “leadership,” antisocial anti-tax measures and, most recently, Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. I often think to myself, where is progressive California? Was it ever even real?

When fits of Golden State cynicism arise, I can usually stop and meditate (yes, I learned to do that in California), and do a quick Cali gut check. Let’s do one now: Three reasons California is still cool.

Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Marijuana

NYT – October 1: A month before California voters decide the fate of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill that essentially puts those caught possessing small amounts of the drug on the same level as those caught speeding on the freeway.

I’ve always believed that the nation’s marijuana laws are cruel and unusual – and inane – from both the standpoint of its medical potential and its “hey, man, chill with this” benefits. I also have a bit of a libertarian streak in me that says: “Leave me the hell alone if I want to put something in my body that evidence shows is merely really not too good for me and for which basic precautions can be taken to make sure no one but me is going to get hurt.”

But in the end, it’s not about the party. It’s about sound transactional taxation policy (economic sense) and getting our arms around prosecution and incarceration abuses that are way out of hand (resource management and simple compassion). As an ex-user, I may not get there with you, but its time has come. Despite the fact the state-wide Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use, may go down to (perhaps narrow) defeat, it won’t be too long before the craziness around this issue will finally come to an end – and it will happen in California.

Keeping Cool on the Climate

NYT – October 5: A measure to suspend [California’s] vanguard climate change law is heading for failure, by a margin of 49 percent to 37 percent, because voters see the law doing more economic good than harm, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed.

Part of what makes this so cool is another headline: “Billionaire Koch brothers back suspension of California climate law” (LA Times, September 2). The law, AB 32 or the Global Warming Solutions Act, requires that one-third of California’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020 (less than a quarter does today). The “hold off” measure, Proposition 23, was initially brought to us courtesy of funding from two Texas refiners, who have recently been joined by these maniac brothers, Charles and David, major tea-party enablers who operate oil refineries in states, you’ve guessed it, other than California. These two love to throw wads of cash at climate change deniers and renewable energy opponents. So welcome to California, guys. Boo-yah!

Like the marijuana issue, the progressive angle here is not about some Cali-hip movement. AB 32 limits greenhouse gas emissions and is creating a massive market for renewable energy, including solar, wind and other sources. According to polls, people are getting the money/jobs angle on all this and see California’s economic redemption as inexorably tied to being the global leader in the green economy. According to the NYT, the state “won 49 percent of the sector’s U.S. venture capital funding in the most recent quarter.” Of course, let’s check back in on this after Election Day, but it seems we’re seeing the forest for the trees on this one.

I Now Pronounce You…

SF Chronicle – September 3: The outlook for the legal defense of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, grew cloudier Thursday as a state appellate court refused to order Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal a federal judge’s ruling overturning the measure.

The recent record on this one is not good. The passage of Proposition 8 (52.3 percent “yes,” 47.7 percent “no”) was nothing short of a disgrace for civil rights history. But while that speaks to pervasive homophobia in our society as whole (and perhaps also to ways in which the approach of legislation by initiative is so terribly flawed), it seems that our court system, our Republican governor and our Democratic attorney general know an assault – not to mention affront – to our nation’s Constitution when they see one.

Here’s the drill on this case: The Court of Appeal “dismissed without comment” a lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Los Angeles-area minister, seeking to require the state to defend the initiative after it was struck down as unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court in August. Both Brown and Schwarzenegger refused to defend it in federal court. Next up is a federal appeals court date in December when arguments will be heard on the sponsors’ legal standing and on the measure’s constitutionality.

California’s history, though stained by the passing of Proposition 8, remains at the forefront of civil rights for homosexuals. While the courts sort it out, I’m going to go ahead and remain hopeful that this measure will meet its doom.

This concludes our one-two-three listicle for your Cali consideration. Each one of these issues has key decisions coming up in the near future (two major ballot measures and one federal court case), so we’ll be keeping the pulse on California Cool as we go. In the meantime, I remain bullish on the Cal bear. And I still smile every time I cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

Image: tibchris

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at