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Column: Will not having to fend off Trump’s attacks mean a California renaissance? Not likely

A man silhouetted in front of Yosemite's Half Dome.
Could California have survived another four years of President Trump?
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

California was a big winner when Joe Biden became the president-elect.

For the last four years, President Trump has done everything he can to undermine the state’s environmental initiatives, immigration policies, COVID-19 efforts and healthcare. He probably would have started allowing fracking on Half Dome if he’d gotten another four years.

So, yes, it’ll be nice to have a president who isn’t trying to punish us, and who may even have a few fond feelings for California. His vice president is from here, after all, and Gov. Gavin Newsom raised millions of dollars for Biden and campaigned for him in Nevada.

But don’t think for a minute that all California’s worries will magically come to an end anytime soon.

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“It gets interesting when all that ails society can no longer be blamed on Trump or the feds,” said Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, where 90% of the students are minorities, and 80% live at or below the poverty level.

“Homelessness is growing in L.A., as is the gap between haves and have-nots. When do we start to hold all in office accountable?” asked the superintendent.

California has a lot to be proud of, for sure, with assets most states would steal if they could. It’s the world’s fifth-largest economy, having spawned a tech revolution that transformed the world. But before you slap yourself on the back, don’t forget that we also have the nation’s highest rate of poverty.

And don’t forget that the income gap is as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon.

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Or that the state homeless count is greater than the population of Pasadena.

That housing costs have risen to ridiculous heights, while wages remain as flat as the Central Valley.

And that despite all our forward thinking on the environment, we’ve paved paradise, sprawled ourselves into dangerous fire zones, drive alone in gigantic vehicles and foul the air.

Trump is a menace, a liar and a lout who paid more in hush money than in taxes, and he didn’t have any real answers for California or the rest of the country, despite his bold promises on healthcare reform and a storm of living-wage jobs.

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But he didn’t invent the problems California has struggled with since long before he moved into the White House. Those challenges existed under President Obama, a Democrat, and many of them are likely to endure under Biden.

Or, as a Trump supporter said to me this week in an argument I’ve heard a thousand times: “Well, carry on with your Democrat mayor, your Democrat governor, your Democrat lieutenant governor, your Democrat California Senate, your Democrat House of Representatives, your Democrat California U.S. Senators ... your Democrat President Biden, and let’s see where this city, state and country are in four years. I’d wager to say: not better than where we are today.”

I’ll give my critic this much — Sacramento would be a more interesting place if a two-party system still existed, but there’s a reason Democrats dominate much of California: The state GOP hasn’t produced any winning ideas in decades, and it has alienated much of the increasingly diverse population.

Of course, lately, the record of Democrats is nothing to brag about, either.

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The Legislature keeps introducing affordable housing bills that don’t go anywhere.

COVID-19 has hit low-income minority communities hardest, exposing deep inequalities in health and access to care.

The state remains in the lower tiers of national rankings in funding per pupil, after many years in the top tiers.

And while the taxpayer tab for addressing homelessness is in the billions of dollars, the unhoused population only grows, and you can take snapshots of L.A. County sidewalks, alleys, parks, beaches and riverbeds that look as if they were taken in Third World countries.

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There’s hope that three new members of the L.A. City Council — Mark Ridley-Thomas, Nithya Raman and Kevin de León — will bring some fresh thinking to the homelessness strategy sessions. And it looks as though there will be greater emphasis on interim housing, rather than permanent supportive housing, because that might move people off the streets faster and at a lower cost.

But the coronavirus has drained resources and burned money, so anyone looking for a quick turnaround is likely to be disappointed.

“This humanitarian crisis and dystopian nightmare requires all hands on deck,” de León told The Times. “Silos must be decimated, and all levels of government must coalesce.”

Yeah, I think we’ve heard that before.

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So what’s the plan?

Washington has to step up, Mayor Eric Garcetti has been saying for years.

Good luck with that. Biden’s first priority must be the pandemic, and beyond that, he might run into a wall if we find out in January that the GOP holds onto control of the Senate.

Antonia Hernández, president and chief executive of the California Community Foundation, is both optimistic and realistic about what we can expect from the new man in the White House.

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“I’ve been telling folks a Biden presidency will give us a pause,” said Hernández, along with “some consistency and some sense of normal.” Biden is a decent and compassionate person who can relate to the challenges of regular people, she said, and that alone is reassuring.

But there are no magical solutions to deep-seated problems, she added, and the federal government will be further strapped if there’s another stimulus package for people and businesses hammered by the virus.

“We cannot look to Washington to solve our problems,” Hernández said. California has to find ways to “create more living-wage jobs and not be perceived as anti-business.”

In California and in Washington, the pressure is now on Democrats to figure it out.

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If we can get the coronavirus behind us in the next several months, maybe Biden can resurrect the national infrastructure program, putting people to work fixing highways, bridges, tunnels and airports. It would be expensive, but at least we’d be getting something necessary, and the paychecks would help fuel the economy.

The Green New Deal may be too ambitious to deliver, but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin moving toward addressing climate change — and building a new economy in the process.

Workforce housing, affordable electric vehicles, better schools, a more effective use of homeless service money, colleges that don’t break the bank: The Dems have talked about it all for years but haven’t produced.

If they don’t figure it out, guess who might be back in four years.

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Yes, he can run again.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com


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