Column: California in 2020: Tackling our problems, ignoring the pundits, celebrating our strengths

Gov. Gavin Newsom and columnist Steve Lopez in 2020 will kayak from Gaviota to the beach at Hollister Ranch, which has long been all but off limits to nonresidents.
(Tamlorn Chase / For The Times/)

Here we go again, starting off on a new year and a new decade. The year is 2020, and my vision is too, so here’s what I see coming:

The sea will rise, the ground will shake, the fires will rage, the state will sue the Trump administration every Tuesday and sometimes on Thursday, some people will flee, others will arrive, the cost of housing will rise, the number of homeless people will grow, and the bullet train will not leave the station.

Wait a minute, that was last year’s prediction.

Actually, call me naive, but I’m going to go out on a limb this year and predict a bit of movement in 2020 on new strategies to address homelessness.


Do not misread that. I said “a bit of.” Homelessness is here to stay in California, where wealth drives up prices, we don’t build enough new housing, and far too many people earn wages that don’t cover the rent.

But the public demand for solutions has heated up, and the state is exploring ways to put more roofs over more heads.

And if all goes as planned, a Hollywood pilot program based on an Italian model will begin an ambitious effort to shred bureaucracy and other impediments to housing and serving the area’s most severely mentally disabled residents.

The project is fraught with challenges, but this early in the year, I’m pretending to be an optimist.

Except when it comes to the Dodgers.

Stop wondering when they’re finally going to win another World Series. I can tell you right now the next victory parade will be in 2038, when Clayton Kershaw’s son is in the starting rotation. The Dodgers signed an $8-billion-plus broadcast deal with the devil in 2013, leaving thousands of loyal fans without TV coverage, and I hereby predict the blackout curse will not end for another 18 years.

The Clippers, however, will win the NBA championship. No, not the Lakers, who don’t work as hard as the Clippers. Write it down and take me to lunch when it happens.

Speaking of lunch, I predict this will be the year the Los Angeles Times corrects a grave oversight and adds Los Tacos, on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, to its list of best restaurants.

This is not food you should eat. It’s food you deserve to eat, especially if you just lost your job, someone left you, or Donald Trump gets reelected.

Go with the #3 combination, and thank the heavens you live in a corner of the world where you can get cheese enchiladas at 3 a.m., should the need arise (open 24 hours, and I once had lunch there with billionaire Eli Broad, I kid you not).

While I’m on the subject of restaurants, I’m reminded of my pet peeve of 2019.

You walk into a restaurant, they ask if you have a reservation, you say yes, and they say “perfect.”

They ask if you’d like tap water or bottled water, you say tap, and they say “perfect.”

They ask if you’d like anything else, you say no just the bill, and they say “perfect.”

My question:


This is all the more reason to eat at Los Tacos. Nobody says “perfect,” and they might not even talk to you, which is OK.

Another pet peeve of 2019: the New York Times telling Californians how we’re doing or how we’re feeling.

“It’s the End of California As We Know It,” we were informed in October. The NYT explained to us rubes that “at the heart of our state’s rot” is “a failure to live sustainably.”

We are not without sin, but as I pass another electric car, look beyond a cluster of windmills and into the glare of solar farm reflections, huh?

Then, this week, the NYT began its latest doomsday story with a flimsy anecdote about someone who had lived in the Bay Area since 2004, ran for office in San Francisco, lost, and moved to Denver with her family because of California’s many problems.

Good riddance, say I.

“California is at a crossroads,” said the NYT.

Guess what? Everybody is; every city, every state is at a crossroads.

The country is at a crossroads.

We’ve got a president who said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and get away with it, and it turns out he wasn’t kidding.

A president, I might add, who is actively and aggressively trying to pollute our air and water, who believes scientists are crackpots, who is an inspiration to white supremacists, who has whiffed on all his major campaign promises (a list topped by cheaper, better healthcare for all), but for all that, could still get reelected.

That, my friends, is a nation at a crossroads.

California, to be clear, does indeed have major social and economic problems, which we don’t need help identifying, thank you very much, New York Times. And it also has major assets.

Kind of like New York.

Except that New York doesn’t have our beaches, and in the year 2020, in the noble cause of beach access for all, Gov. Gavin Newsom and I will kayak together from Gaviota State Park to Hollister Ranch.

A few months ago I got a call from Newsom’s office asking if I could meet him in Gaviota, so we could paddle north. I had written about the Hollister residents’ long fight to keep us locked out, and their argument that if the great unwashed want to visit, they can test the often treacherous waters and attempt to visit by sea.

Jerry Brown never asked me to go kayaking. Ronald Reagan didn’t call and say, hey, let’s go for a horseback ride, amigo. Arnold Schwarzenegger never invited me to go hiking (though he once called and asked me to meet him in Long Beach for a cigar, and I happily obliged).

But this year, if Hollister residents continue to flout the public’s constitutional right to access all the state’s beaches, they will have to answer to me and the governor and a motley flotilla of scurvy sea dogs. We will arrive by sea, plant a flag and fight to the death. You read it here first.

Bear with me now, because if you’re stealing a break from the Rose Parade, or a ballgame, or you’re having trouble lifting your head off a pillow, I have just one last observation to share before you embrace the new year.

It’s sad to note that two more newspapers in California have ended their run, as reported by my colleague Brittny Mejia. Sierra County’s Mountain Messenger, once published by Mark Twain, and the Martinez News-Gazette, which I used to read daily, are going out of business.

Those losses — the silencing of voices — are blows to the community and to the mission of keeping the bastards honest.

No newspaper operates without blind spots and deficiencies, but there is no bigger news operation west of the Hudson than the Los Angeles Times, and no greater source of accountability journalism in California.

In this, my 45th year as a journalist, my colleagues in sports, in entertainment, in foreign, national, state and local news, are a daily inspiration, and I’m proud to be their colleague. I’m still a reader first and learn multitudes each day by going online or by turning pages.

Thanks to subscribers for your continued support (and shame on those who read without subscribing). In these tumultuous political times, I’m reminded of the Thomas Jefferson quote on the old Times parking lot in downtown Los Angeles:

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Happy new year.