Most Californians live in big cities and sprawling suburbs, and are increasingly familiar with nanny state and local government bureaucracies that ban everything from foam food containers to plastic bags, indoor tanning by minors to donated clothing drop boxes, and prevent restaurants from giving out toys to kids or selling fois gras to diners.
But the nation’s largest state is also home to many rural ranchers, family farmers, and local fishermen, miners, loggers, and fellow citizens who produce and provide food, goods, and services to our economy, and protect the environment through experienced resource management.
These rural Californians live in an excess of new regulations that have a far more reaching effect than what urban and suburbanites experience. With the accumulation of all these laws and regulations, they are getting pounded by big government, drying up jobs and pushing formerly successful California counties into economic wastelands. We see other consequences of this economic despair — growing social costs of drug and alcohol addiction, domestic and child abuse, welfare, and crime.
State and federal agencies, so bent on controlling private property that they would offend the local autonomy of rural California communities, have over-reached and over-regulated in the name of environmental protection. We see more than centralized government control: it is remote and out-of-touch. Each bureaucrat is like a robot following rules and procedures and consumed with process.
Often organized behind closed doors, and implemented without appropriate coordination with local government, bureaucratic rulers and regulators comprise an unelected class never contemplated by our founders. In contrast, these bureaucrats trample on the spirit and legal tradition of local control.
Totally lost is the seemingly antiquated but truly relevant doctrine of subsidiarity – that no higher level of government should undertake a task that could be done at a lower level. It’s almost the opposite – people automatically turn to the Federal government for problems that can and should be resolved locally.
Questions are also being raised about crony capitalists and special interest lobbying with access to elected officials who push public policies that favor ideological comrades and campaign donors.
When certain energy resources are shut down, for example, competing producers and providers gain. For every permit denied, think hydro-electric power, there are ambitious in or out-of-state promoters of alternative energy solutions happy to produce or transport energy to California’s large market. Small, rural producers cannot compete with big business or well-funded activists for the attention of legislators or state agencies.
Public safety and the common good are not always the result. Continuing rules against clear brushing and public grazing have long led to dangerous wildfires that have killed Californians and devastated homeowners and communities. This illustrates another key point: do-gooders embrace policies that may have unintended consequences – indeed, sometimes, as the saying goes, “the cure is worse than the disease.”
Private forests that once provided timber and jobs are virtually off limits due to spotted owl protection. Protecting our environment, endangered species, or any species for that matter, is worthy and important, but why must it come at the almost exclusive expense of rural communities? Almost all of the two dozen mills in rural Siskiyou County have now been shut down, resulting in severe unemployment and depressed local communities. Meanwhile, consider outside California – -for example Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama are experiencing growth in these industries. I don’t see these states running out of forests.
Why must regulatory actions supposedly meant to benefit all of us so cruelly crush the livelihoods of the few? Many rural Californians now own land of severely diminished value, due to regulation, yet they remain liable for the maintenance of their private property. Although courts seem to defer to government, the fact is that diminution of value is a kind of “taking” of private property for public use, without just compensation – a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
A far better solution would be to organize logging, for example, that will protect species, to thin fuel build-up, and to encourage the kind of re-forestation that the timber industry itself most needs to generate continuing income and industry stability.
The North State counties will witness further loss of economic activity due to the threatened Klamath River dam removal.
Rural ranchers and farmers have seen fees (taxes) per acre rise, and face the threat of taxes on the well water under their own properties. Do we really understand and appreciate that the US citizen is the only citizen in the world that is allowed to own minerals and water underneath lands? That the mineral or water resource is his given property right, unique to this country alone?
The heavy hand of the state will not grow our food, produce our timber, or provide our rural jobs. State regulators have damaged the competitiveness of California’s important dairy industry, made farming a tangled web of regulation and ranching a business for the big guys only. Has the typical Californian experienced the planting, growing, harvesting, selling and transportation of a rural product to market?
Rural Californians contribute to ecological infrastructure of local and regional system by preserving riparian corridors, wetlands, and wild lands, and providing for ecotourism and enjoyment of our open spaces. Our rural farms offer consumers local diet options, an alternative to factory food and a sense of tradition and place. Many of our wisest conservationists are the ones who work the land! That’s because it’s in their self interest to develop our resources with great care and professionalism. No one knows the lands they occupy as well as they. Why dictate to them?
Our nation’s founders were mostly farmers and ranchers. Over nearly two and a half centuries, they remain what America is all about – good, hard-working, decent people who form the backbone of our country.
B. Wayne Hughes Jr. is a California businessman and philanthropist