Back after a week in the San Francisco Bay Area with the family, exploring parks and museums, visiting relatives, and generally having a good time.
As a visitor I could only experience the awesome nanny state that is California in very limited doses. It is unfathomable to me what it must be like to live there, let alone during a monumental economic crisis.
But it hits you as soon as you cross the border: just a mile or two in on I-80, you must stop at an Agricultural Inspection station and declare any organic material brought with you, such as fruits and vegetables or house plants. Depending on their source, some products are banned entirely from entering California, ostensibly to protect the state’s agriculture from damaging pests, but more likely serving as a form of protectionism for the state’s farmers. Not that we let it bother us; all we had were some apples we had bought for the trip, and we told the bored-looking inspector “no” when he asked us if we had any fruits or vegetables on board. Civil disobedience!
Then there was the task of finding a supermarket near our hotel so I could pick up some milk and a few other items. It should have been easy enough; there’s a Safeway almost literally around the corner from the hotel, but I drove past it twice without seeing it. Why? Because there were no visible signs near the road identifying the store. It had a marquee sign on its façade, but the trees lining the boulevard obscured it. That led me to notice that there were virtually no freestanding signs anywhere in the surrounding business areas. Just a coincidence, or the inevitable result of burdensome regulations? Whatever the case, it made a simple economic transaction more difficult than it should be.
(On the other hand, I have to say that California probably has the best-landscaped freeways in the country.)
These are mere nuisances for visitors, however. My brother-in-law, who is executive chef at an Italian restaurant in San Mateo (and I can’t recommend the place highly enough–the food there is sublime; try the sanddabs if they’re available!), has to deal with far greater licensing and regulatory headaches. Some of them his restaurant has been able to avoid because it’s been around for nearly 20 years and is exempt from some regulations, but if he had to start that same restaurant today, the cost of regulatory compliance would be nearly prohibitive.
And then there’s the higher-than-average taxes, the near-strangulation of the auto industry by agencies such as CARB, the implosion of the long-overvalued housing market. . . .
Yet there is a lot I like about California. The cultural attractions are first-rate, even while recognizing many of them enjoy large tax subsidies (this is true just about everywhere, of course). We especially enjoyed the Exploratorium, an interactive science museum, and the Asian Art Museum, with its incomparable collections of sculptures, paintings, metalwork and jewelry.
But what stood out most for me was the simple ability to walk into any grocery store (or even convenience stores, at least in Nevada) and pick up a bottle of wine or distilled spirits. You can’t do this in Colorado. The independent liquor store lobby has squashed every attempt to allow more options to consumers, because naturally they fear being undercut by the big stores. Like California’s border inspection stations, this type of protectionism only helps specific classes while hurting everyone else.
So California, at least for now, falls into that “nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there” category. It was good, relatively speaking, to return home and deal with the familiar nuisances of Colorado’s nanny-state laws rather than the unfamiliar rat’s nest of the Golden State.
(The Daily Cuts will return tonight!)
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