Don't Oregonize California

Leslie Carlson

Anyone else out there got a case of California envy? I came down with mine a couple weeks ago when I bought a plastic bottle of juice.

Mccall & SchwarzeneggerAs a native Oregonian, I remember when Oregon had good reasons to feel superior to other states—especially California. I’m dating myself here, but I remember the “Don’t Californicate Oregon” bumper stickers and I remember my parents talking about Tom’s McCall’s “visit us again and again, but for heaven’s sake please don’t stay” comments on national television. Oregon was the state that was going to be more “livable” than any other, and we had the chops to prove it: the Bottle Bill, land-use planning, the Beach Bill, the clean-up of industrial waste from the Willamette River, and so on.

Oregon was a national model for smart growth and livable communities, and we Oregonians snickered at California as the land of strip malls, endless sprawl and air pollution.

Boy, are those days ever over.

Today, California wants to be the state of livability. And like Oregon in the 1970s, probably foremost among the reasons for California’s leadership is their maverick Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Whatever you think of the Terminator’s politics, you have got to admit that Schwarzenegger is a smart, gutsy and interesting politician. He’s a guy who bucks his ever more conservative Republican party with his moderate positions on a regular basis. And while Schwarzenegger definitely has some crackpot ideas about budgets, borrowing and public employees, he’s helped California shine in the national spotlight since his election.

Whether it’s vowing to create hydrogen stations every 32 miles of California highway, talking about establishing a “green economy,” hiring Robert Kennedy’s candidate for his top environmental job, promising to cut air pollution in half by 2010 or cutting greenhouse gases by 30 percent, Schwarzenegger continues to amaze and surprise—and to take positions contrary to those of his party.

Yes, California still has endless sprawl, strip malls and air pollution, but at least they are trying to do something about it.

Oregon, on the other hand, has had its share of middling-to-bad news in the past few years, probably foremost the passage of Measure 37, which has permanently damaged our national reputation as an urban planning stronghold.

We are fast skidding to the unnoticed middle, no longer a recognized leader in any area of public policy, not to mention livability—just another budget-crunched, increasingly conservative American state. It’s a far cry from the heady days of the 1970s. In 2005, we’re missing the vision—and the visionaries—who used to make us special.

The plastic juice bottle? I was astounded to read this on the side: “CA redemption 10 cents.” Of course, there is no Oregon redemption value on juice, because while California’s bottle bill covers all sorts of drinks in all kinds of containers, Oregon’s only covers carbonated drinks—soda—in cans and bottles.

Just like it did in McCall’s days.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, hell has frozen over: California’s bottle bill is better than Oregon’s.

  • Sid (unverified)

    Casinos and acid rain in the Gorge, rural strip malls, sprawl... just lovely. We need new leadership, no doubt about it.

  • Ralph Makenna (unverified)

    Because of one area, the bottle bill, we're going to say Oregon has ceded the high ground to California? I'd say this is a classic example of making a mountain out of a molehill.

    "Yes, California still has endless sprawl, strip malls and air pollution, but at least they are trying to do something about it."

    I don't think you've been to California lately. The Central Valley, the Inland Empire and near everywhere in between are being turned into rooftops and freeways as fast as anywhere in the country. Los Angeles county alone now has nearly 10 million people in it -- almost 3 Oregons!

    Housing affordability in Los Angeles and San Francisco is a joke. And California's $90 billion or thereabouts budget crisis a couple years ago made ours look like a cakewalk.

    Also, if you haven't noticed, the Terminator's ratings have fallen into the 40s. He's not looked at as a maverick any more, he's looked at as a bully who can't get what he wants, so he browbeats the Legislature by threatening initiative after initiative.

    Oregon can certainly do better than current, but my goodness, take a vote on this board, where would people rather live? Move to SF or LA and pay through the nose for everything? Budget an extra hour just to drive to anywhere of significance? Or live out your days in the dusty Central Valley?

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    It's true - our bottle bill is woefully inadequate. Leslie's right about juice, milk, sport drinks, bottled water, iced tea, and the like and the various newfangled containers - plastic bottles, metal/plastic bags, etc.

    But it's also true that our bottle bill has fallen behind in inflation. If the point was that a nickel in July 1971 was enough to keep 'em out of the landfills, off the roads, and out of the natural places, then we should have updated it sometime in the last 34 years.

    According to the inflation calculator at, a nickel in 1971 has the same purchasing power as 24 cents today.

    My idea? Immediately boost the bottle bill to a dime, and then move it up two cents a year until it's the equivalent of a nickel in 1971. From there, just inflation adjust as needed.

    Heck, even with that plan, we'll only get to 24 cents in 2011 - and we'll still only be caught up to 2005.

    (Incidentally, there's a good bottle bill history here.)

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    I wouldn't read too much into the Arnie governorship. Folks I know down in California do give him a lot of credit for being building bipartisan coalitions in the legislature. He was never really a conservative Republican, so this shouldn't surprise us. He's also recognized that environmentalism need not be solely a Democratic issue -- I've long wondered why Republicans haven't recognized this (my suspicion: too much reliance on energy industry money).

    California is a solidly Democratic state, and Schwarzenegger realizes this. He's got to get reelected if his higher ambitions (Senate or Prez) are to be sustained. That requires that he a) gets the budget under control and b) tosses a few bones to the left. Environmentalism is cheap, easy, and popular.

    But his election does not indicate the reemergence of the moderate Republican in the McCall, Rockefeller, or even (shiver as I type this) Nixon tradition. Arnold was elected via his celebrity, and that's about it.

    If you want to see Tom McCall's ghost return, you'll have to rewind an awful lot of history in this country. Oregon is not alone in experiencing the disappearance of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

  • Kent (unverified)

    Oregon still has a few crown jewels such as its beach access laws that are the envy of everyone in California who can't afford beachfront Malibu property.

    That said, I do agree that California is striding ahead in many areas. Although that may have to do as much with efficiencies of scale as anything else. For example, California is able to drive auto emissions standards simply because it is larger than most other countries and economies on the planet (and because Congress let them).

    California is also far more urban and ethnically diverse than Oregon, which makes a big difference in terms of Democratic constituencies.

  • Chris N. (unverified)

    Professor Gronke, Don't don't discount Arnold's governorship. I voted for him the first time, not because he was a celebrity but because he was more capable of getting things done than Bustamonte was. I'm not voting for him again, because of the way he's utterly screwed teachers and the working poor. However, he got 48 percent of the vote, and McClintock got 13.5. That's 61 percent of the vote supporting a Republican. I'm honestly not all that impressed with Angelides and I'll be supporting Westly, though since Angelides will have the base locked up he'll win the nomination big time. However, I don't see Angelides with popularity much beyond the democratic base, and so I expect Arnold to absolutely cream him. If somehow Westly wins the nomination, (which will never happen because he's not liberal enough) he's probably the only guy who could beat Arnold.

    The fact is, while Arnold's popularity is in the 40s because of his initiative campaign, he can still win because the Republicans are, and always will be, totally behind him, and there are enough Democrats who will vote for him just because they've seen him in movies.

    Also, if you want to see the re-emergence of moderate republicans and democrats, support the open primary. As you've explained many times in class, it's the party median which creates such partisan candidates and policies. Remove the power of parties, remove the power of the party median, and thus, bring candidates back to the democratic median where they should be. At least that way you don't get candidates standing behind a party label, who, instead of standing up for what's right, wait until the last possible politically smart moment to come out endorsing a system which is essentially separate but equal. Last time I checked, they threw out Plessy back in the 1950's.

    Steve Westly is supporting a bill to legalize gay marriage. Not some half-assed politically convenient alternative.

  • Becky (unverified)

    The entire notion that California is in some way superior to Oregon in terms of environment or livability is just laughable to me. I'm trying very hard to figure out what would make someone believe that but I'm at a loss. I've lived in both places and frequently visit California. I'd take Oregon any day, without hesitation.

    I am, however, getting very tired of the constant hand-wringing by Democrat Chicken Littles over Measure 37. If planners and local governments hadn't been so unreasonable and heartless in their application of property rights restrictions across the board, they wouldn't have created enough angry victims to pass the measure. Oregon does have a lot of wonderful cutting-edge ideas going for it, but sometimes people's compassion and follow-through are lacking. We just need to all grow up, not sit around moaning about not getting things precisely our way.

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    Because of one area, the bottle bill, we're going to say Oregon has ceded the high ground to California? I'd say this is a classic example of making a mountain out of a molehill.

    Actually, as has been raised by others in this thread, I'd say California has us beat in more than one area. Car emissions standards, protecting ocean ecosystems, renewable energy standards for utilities, plans for the hydrogen economy...I could go on.

    However, they've got us beat in the area that I think is most important of all. That's in offering forward-thinking ideas--a roadmap, if you will--to a cleaner, greener future.

    When's the last time Oregon had an innovative idea about livability in the last ten years? We;re living on the ghost of the past--the ghost of McCall, as Paul put it--not the vision of a positive future.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Regarding needing new ideas, most of the time they are inspired by need. California is in great need with environmental degradation and poor quality of life, hence the inspiration for all their "forward-thinking" environmental ideas. Oregon, on the other hand, has recently been facing a different set of problems and has been generating a whole different type of ideas - ideas that restrict government, for example. These ideas are being inspired by the need to moderate some of its older good ideas due to their overly regressive application.

    Calling for good ideas simply for the sake of having good ideas and feeling self-important seems silly to me. If Oregon has some real needs that are causing us trouble, we will come up with ideas to fix them. The fact that there arent' any new ideas tells me people here in general are not perceiving a problem, but are actually quite content with the quality of life in Oregon.

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    The fact that there arent' any new ideas tells me people here in general are not perceiving a problem, but are actually quite content with the quality of life in Oregon.

    I agree with you, Becky, that the quality of life in Oregon is still good, and many people are choosing to live here.

    I don't agree that their aren't serious problems facing us in the future. Complicating this is the fact that many of these environmental problems are global and systemic in nature, rather than local, as they were in McCall's days.

    For example, many people think that climate change will cause serious disruptions to our way of life in Oregon if not addressed. Therefore investments and new ideas in energy and alternative fuels are a good idea. That's why Arnie is talking about hydrogen stations every 32 miles of CA highway and converting CA's state fleet of vehicles to hybrids.

    Likewise, as the climate heats up, a shortage of water will be an issue in Oregon and will affect livability. Certainly this year's drought could spur some innovative thinking--how about blue sky discussions about rain barrels, different kinds of landscaping, recycling stormwater for toilets and irrigation, big tax breaks for water-efficient appliances or for businesses who recycle water?

    Certainly these and other environmental/livability issues will get addressed if they reach crisis proportions. However, I'd love to see that spirit of Oregon innovation applied before that happens.

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    As an aside, Oregon's largest city has hybrid vehicles in its fleet, and has since at least early 2002. I know almost all of the fire safety inspectors drive a Prius, and when I need a city car that's all I drive.

    And Measure 37 was passed based on ignorance IMO, not any widespread desire to upend growth restrictive planning.

  • panchopdx (unverified)

    "The plastic juice bottle? I was astounded to read this on the side: “CA redemption 10 cents.” Of course, there is no Oregon redemption value on juice, because while California’s bottle bill covers all sorts of drinks in all kinds of containers, Oregon’s only covers carbonated drinks—soda—in cans and bottles."

    Someone needs to get the message out to Portland's homeless community.

    California's minimum wage for bottle collecting is double Oregon's and they have more work available (fruit juice!).

    Maybe someday our grandchildren will be reading about the great California Bottlerush of '05.

  • Sally (unverified)

    "Housing affordability in Los Angeles and San Francisco is a joke. And California's $90 billion or thereabouts budget crisis a couple years ago made ours look like a cakewalk."

    I remember Forbes' survey last year rated both Portland and Seattle as less affordable than San Francisco and San Jose -- taking into account job and income growth, housing affordability and general cost-of-living.

    That or another study at the same time rated Medford as the most unaffordable place in the nation (!!), but that probably included Ashland, which for a couple of decades has been naught but a California outpost.

    Since Oregon will never be returning to the Tom (visit but don't move here) McCall days, maybe it should just more honestly reinvent itself as a Neuvo Barrio for outpourings of Californios.

    You wanted new ideas. If it's not exactly a new one, it at least is a trifle more forthrightly put.

    And it doesn't really require an independently anchored economic base. People mostly can argue about which and how many government agencies, public works, public employees and non-profits to fund, and how.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    "And Measure 37 was passed based on ignorance IMO, not any widespread desire to upend growth restrictive planning."

    Just an observation, isn't it interesting that some on the losing side of ballot measures invariably claim that the measure passed because ignorant people "didn't realize what they were voting for"?

    I happen to think M37 was a mistake too, but I don't discount the real frustrations that many people (including myself) have with "growth restrictive planning". It's probable that the M37 vote was at least partially a statement on those restrictions. If the question had simply been whether to remove such restrictions, I'd have voted for it. But since the question was far more complicated than that, and involved serious unfunded financial impacts to state and local governments, I voted against.

    What's my point? Be careful when trying to interpret deeper meanings to election results. Voters are far more complicated than YES/NO questions allow.

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    Both California and Oregon's politics are dominated by the initiative process- for better or worse- and California's progressives have generally been doing a better job of proposing and passing new innovations recently.

    California's Stem Cell Initiative, Prop 71, is a good example from just last cycle.

    But, I still think we're likely to see some proactive initiatives here that progressives can rally around.

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    I don't think the issue is do we need to be like California or do we want Arnold here. I think the issue is that Tom McCall is rolling in his grave because of the Oregon's lack of McCall-esque political leadership and all that has been done to undermine his work.

    Our bottle bill is not the only thing out of date. Try eating fish out of the Willamette year round, for instance. Funding for pesticide reporting is the lowest priority of the Kulongoski administration's Department of Agriculture. I could go on and on.

  • Aubrey Russell (unverified)

    We have the opportunity to move forward in Oregon since the Senate again has a Democratic majority. With better leadership from the Governor's office especially in the form of better appointments to agency boards, we can go a long way towards undoing a decade of lost opportunities. Democrats will have to be a little more savy at playing the game in order to get good, qualified people like Aucoin seated on our boards. The Republican influence over board appointments has had an effect over the past decade, and a balance needs to be restored.

    On the legislative side, we need to contribute financially to Democrats in upcoming House races. Period. Debating the details of Oregon's environmental laws here is pointless. Do not think for a moment that a moderate Republican party could ever re-emerge to soften the views of the Farm Bureau/Cattlemens' Association/Pesticide lobby/etc which now shape member's thinking on environmental issues. The solution is more money for D's in house races . . . and a more courageous Governor if we should ever get so lucky.

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    David, I certainly don't think people were ignorant of what they were voting for on Measures 36, 33 or 34 (maybe a little on 34)--and I was on the wrong side of all of those, too. But send me tickets to the world of amusement you inhabit, if you think that the building and development lobbies were fighting for the rights of Dorothy English to put a house on her land. They were fighting for the right to put condos in the middle of the Hood River orchards, and they (successfully) hid that intent, IMO.

    Your point that "it was far more complicated than that" seems to indicate agreement with me, rather than dispute. The measure was pitched quite narrowly, without regard for the sweeping nature of its impact.

    Of course you and I, likely having given the proposal serious consideration and perusal, have placed ourselves beyond the introspection of the average Oregonian voter. That's not belittling them; it's just a fact. Simply by reading the pre-election bulletin puts you way ahead of the game; I wager the majority consider the measure entirely, in some fraction of the time it takes to fill out the ballot.

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    Pancho--I'm reminded of the effort put together by Kramer and Newman on Seinfeld, to reap profit by redeeming NY bottles in 10c Michigan. One imagines that Medford would be an excellent base from which to begin bringing CA capital to OR without the nuisance of actual Californians--one nickel at a time.

  • Anne Dufay (unverified)

    It's a big, big world. We need to stop being so obsessive about our "borders." Who the hell cares if California is better than us? How about we focus on how we can ALL become better? How about joining forces with California on their emissions standards, for just one example? Get Washington on board, too. Become a block, as powerful on the emissions front as Texas is on the textbook front?

    Now, there's a "Big, new" idea, INMO. Working together... Imagine what could we accomplish.

    Face it, most "Oregoniaans" are hybrids, of one kind or another. Me, I'm a Cali-Haw-Or Hybrid. My kids are pure Or, and my hubby is a NY-Or hybrid. We all run best when we care most about our impact on the world (our "emissions, or our footsteps, if you will")

    I know there is nothing going on in California (where I was born) that I can’t find here, in Oregon, where I’ve lived for almost 25 years now.) We kid ourselves if we think we’re talking one planet to another.

    The truth is, we share the same problems, and we could, if we would, share, and create, the solutions.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    Torrid Joe, you're right that in general I agree with you, the average voter doesn't give every ballot measure the full consideration it deserves.

    But given the way M37 was pitched, as you point out, it does seem that the vote can be taken as a bit of a referendum on restrictive land use laws, which was my point of disagreement with you. I agree 100% with what you said about the motivations of the main backers of the proposal.

    I didn't mean to imply that you specifically claim ignorance of the voting public every time you're on the losing side of an issue, sorry if that's how it came across. But that is an awfully common complaint that I hear (from both sides of the political spectrum) and your remarks on this specific issue seemed to fit that mold, even if unintentionally. <nobr>  ;-)</nobr>

  • Pete Jacobsen (unverified)

    I'm a new Oregonian, recently from California (referred to above as a "nuisance"). I'd like to make it clear that I think Oregon is a splendid place to live as it is. I will, of course, look for ways to help it get better.

    I really liked Anne's comments that we shouldn't be so concerned that the folks in California might have had a good idea before we did, but that we should hop on the bandwagon of more efficient, lower polluting cars (as an example.)

    I am displeased to read comments indicating the current California governor is thought better than what Oregon has to offer. Remember these things:

    Civil rights? 19 women came forward to accuse the current governor of unwanted PHYSICAL sexual advances, and the electorate did not give a sh*t.

    Environment? The current governor still owns six Hummers.

    Accomplishments? Please separate what has actually been accomplished from what has been "promised" or even threatened. Very little has been accomplished by what the California left calls "the Gropenator!"

    While it might feel good to have a leader who is charismatic, I'd rather have one who is thoughtful.

  • G-man (unverified)

    As a former Oregonian who has lived in California for 10 years, one thing that strikes me about this post is that California has the economy, and thus the money, to do things now that Oregon does not.

    I still have family in Oregon and would love to come back to be closer to them, but there are probably more jobs in my professional field in a two county area in Southern California than in the entire state of Oregon. The same could be said for other professions as well. And every time I go home to visit, there are few, if any, signs of improvement.

    Californians moving to Oregon are doing it for one primary reason, they can afford to do so and live a better life than most Oregonians with money earned outside the Northwest.

    Oh, and by the way, many Oregonians who do have money are bringing it down to California every winter to escape the rain west of the Cascades or the cold east of them. The number of Oregon and Washington license plates on cars in Palm Springs from December through March would blow your minds. And they are paying 7.75 percent sales tax here for their goods and services purchased here, which they probably wouldn't vote for at home.

    I am an Oregonian at heart, but when I moved to California 10 years ago, I got a huge raise to put the skills I was taught and that I polished in Oregon to work in California. My Oregon education and training were valued more in California. And I can't come back because I can't find a job, let alone one that would pay me near what I make here, even supplimenting my income by collecting bottles and cans (or even juice bottles if the bottle bill were to be amended).

    But if you wait long enough, all those baby boomers in California will retire some day. In the coming years they may want to sell their California homes and buy new ones for less than $350,000. Maybe they will bring some of their hard earned money to the Northwest, along with some of their progressive ideas. And they won't have to pay sales tax on the cars the buy, the gas they put into them, or the sodas they slip into their cars' cupholders.

  • K. Sudbeck (unverified)

    For all you from California and the Liberal NE, GO HOME. Well, I got that out of my system. My wife and I are from Douglas County, so there. Her family came out on the Oregon trail. Mine a little later. Boy, do I miss Gov McCall. Land down in Douglas County used to be cheap, well it is now cheaper on the Columbia Gourge with a view, on the Washington side. Thanks. Anyway, Anne is right. Chuck's right, Leslie's right and so is Torrid Joe. Call your state senator and congressman in order to get them moving on your ideas. We should all call the Governer.
    My recommendation(limited to one example), there should be an enviornmental sales tax on items like vehicles/fuels that produce tons of emissions. That money should be used to promote mass transit. The west coast should have a bullet train that goes from San Diego to Vancouver, CA. There should be better mass transit in each of our cities, electric trains or trams. Portland has a good start with the light rail, but more is better. Those who buy electric cars should pay no tax(maybe a state incentive). I got money back on my enviornmental friendly washer and dryer. We should be the leader in Wind Energy.(Sorry, another idea) Anyway, with a Democratic majority, why don't you all focus on ideas and agendas that are in the progressive theme of Gov McCall. Anyway, at least focus on something productive that benefits the majority.

  • Sreedevi (unverified)

    Don't be too envious. Good luck finding a recycling center to take those bottles and cans to, and when you do, you get severly short-changed. And, the only recycling center I was able to find (here in Los Angeles) doesn't even accept those Naked Juice bottles that very clearly have that CA redemption value printed on them. And I can't find anyone who will take those bottles, or one gallon jugs made of the plastic like Arrowhead water bottles- which also have that note on there.

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