Not So Golden After All: The Rise and Fall of California, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Not So Golden After All

The Rise and Fall of California, 1st Edition

By Larry N. Gerston


342 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2012-03-20
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Quality public education, modern highway systems, and reasonably priced housing—these are just some of the qualities that once made California one of the most desirable places to live. Just a few decades later, the state finds itself with an education system that is failing its citizens, one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and a quickly evaporating dream of home ownership.

Illustrating each step of the breakdown that led to its current state of dysfunction, Not So Golden After All: The Rise and Fall of California provides insight into a system gone amuck. It addresses complicated topics in an engaging manner to help the public and leaders alike understand how to make policies that balance expectations with outcomes. Key political themes covered include disconnected institutions, perpetually unbalanced budgets, immigration, voter ignorance, interest group influence, and dysfunctional institutions. Investigating the gridlock that has become all too common within the state’s legislature, the book:

  • Demonstrates the impact of the state’s inability to generate sufficient revenue, particularly for public education and an under-trained workforce
  • Highlights the problems created by poor land use planning —from suburban sprawl and government waste to inefficient use of agricultural land
  • Examines how interest groups have been able to wrest control of the processes that were created to keep them in line
  • Identifies the duplication of efforts and other inefficiencies at the state and local levels

Author Larry Gerston leaves no stone unturned in his discussion of California's economy, position on the Pacific Rim, cultural diversity, land and water issues, and its relationship with the federal government. He examines the state’s infrastructure, natural resources, immigration issues, education, finance, healthcare, civil rights, planning and development, security, laws, political parties, and power structures to provide civic leaders and policy makers with the understanding required to restore the sheen to this once glistening paradise.

The Contra Costa Times discussed Larry Gerston's recent Commonwealth Club lecture in a May 17, 2012 article.

Read an interview with Larry Gerston in The Mercury News.


Self-knowledge is a requirement for self-correction. In its candor, comprehensiveness, and call for reform, Not So Golden After All offers step number one in the political twelve-step program upon which California must embark if it wishes to redeem its heritage.

—Kevin Starr, Professor of History, University of Southern California & California State Librarian Emeritus

Table of Contents

California Dreaming—Not!

The Turnstile Society

Comings and Goings

Uneven Opportunities and Consequences

Upside Down State

The Land



Broke and Falling Further Behind by the Day

Countless Pieces of an Unfinished Puzzle

Public Education

Highways and Byways

Environmental Stewardship—A Plus and Model for Other Improvements

Weakened Political Capacity

The Lost Luster—Where Has It Gone and How Do We Get It Back?


The Canary in the Mine

The Land of Movements and Trends

Nonconformist Lifestyles




Aimee Semple McPherson

Robert Schuller

Rick Warren

Other Participants

The Growing Chasm between the Haves and the Have Nots

Income and Taxation Patterns

Personal Income and Poverty

Taxation Disparities

Income and Taxation Patterns in Perspective

Public Education

K–12 Public Education

Higher Education

Social Welfare Programs



What Safety Net?

Magnet for Visionaries

Dreams and Dollars

Making Movies

Disneyland and Others

The Lure of Escape

High Tech

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Capital Ideas

An Uncertain Future

Dreams, Deliverables, and Disappointments



Immigrants: Cultures and Controversies

Domestic Migration

The Call of Gold

The Railroad

The Great Depression

Post-World War II

Losing Curb Appeal

Immigrant Patterns

Native Americans



Irish and Chinese




Illegal Immigrants

The Case for Illegal Immigrants Remaining in California

The Case against Illegal Immigrants Remaining in California

An Issue, Yes; a Problem, No

Persistent Discrimination

Racism, California Style

Striking Back

Zoot Suit Riots

Watts and Other Cities

The Fields

Race and Ethnicity in California’s Shrinking

White World


From Farmers to Assemblers to Engineers

The Agricultural Society

From Small Farms to Agribusiness

Diversification of the Land

Sizing Up

Farm Power



Environmental Regulations

Do Animals Have Rights?

California Farming: A Lot More than Putting

Food on the Table

Manufacturing—Metamorphoses and Mismatches

The Waning Industrial Base

Behind Job Losses

NAFTA and California Manufacturing

California Manufacturing in Perspective

Technology and Dot Coms

Corporate Presence in Name Only?

H-1B Workforce

The Power of Green

Tax Breaks to Keep Businesses Here

Empty State Coffers

Trying to Stop the Bleeding

California’s Economy: Good for the Geese but Not for the Gander


Life in the ’Burbs—Where There Is No There There

A Tale of Few Real Cities and Many Pretenders

East Coast Cities Grow Up, California Cities Grow Out

Missing Public Services

Moving Out and Staying Behind

It’s Still Segregation, No Matter How You Frame It

Fractured Local Governments: Unnecessary Costs and Duplicative Responsibilities

Artificial Barriers

The Costs in Dollars

Weak Ability to Perform

Proposition 13

The Consequences

Too Much Democracy?

Misplaced Blame

Private Interests Take Charge

Ripping Up Trolley Tracks in Los Angeles

San Francisco Tweets

Development of Newhall Ranch

El Toro Marine Base—When Right Beats Might

Who’s Really in Charge?

Making Local Governments Work

City Leaders and Competing Definitions of the Public Good

Unconnected Dots


Infrastructure on the Brink of Collapse

Parking Lots for Highways

Dilapidated Roads

Unwilling to Pay

Hidden Costs

Toll Roads—Solution or a Bigger Problem?

Separating the Haves from the Have-Nots…Again

Water: Tapped Out

The Geographical Challenge

Warring Interest Groups

Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta: A Pending Disaster

The Energy Struggle

The California Model for Clean Air

Generating Clean Electricity

Electricity Shortages

Lingering Challenges

Automobile Exhaust

AB 32—The New Standard for Environmental Protection?

Prison Overcrowding

Why Growth of the Prison Population?

The Price of Incarceration


Prison Conditions: The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

Choosing Penury over Safety

Rebuilding the Infrastructure One Brick at a Time



Where’s the Party?

Who Belongs to What?


Minor Parties

Nonpartisan Local Elections

Poor Organization

The Missing Links

Management of Nominations



Meaningless Primaries

The "Top Two" System

A Repeat of History?

"Top Two" for Whom?

Legislators and Fundraising

Taking Advantage of Elective Office

Funneling Funds

Weak Party Governance

Where the Lines Are and Are Not Drawn

The Curse of the Two-Thirds Vote

Party Rivalry between the Branches

The Price of Watered-Down Partisanship


Land of Institutional Gridlock

The Unwieldy Executive Branch(es)

The Governor and His Ragtag Band

The Rest of the Cast

Meaningful Members

Duplication Centers

Overlapping Offices

The Facts Are the Facts!

Gridlock under the Dome

High Vote Thresholds

Term Limits

Redundant Houses

Initiatives—The People’s Legislative Process


Endless Independent Boards and Commissions

Major Boards and Commissions: Some Examples

Other Boards

The Purpose of Redundancy

Good Riddance? Hardly

Gridlock as the Status Quo


Hijacked! How Powerful Interests Have Taken Over the State

A Porous Policymaking Environment

Overlap in the Legislature

Overlap in the Governor’s Office

Getting Someone on the Inside

Redefining Regulations

Cluttered Bureaucracy Equals Chaotic Policymaking

Independent Agencies, Boards, and Regulatory Commissions

Turnabout of the PUC

The California Gambling Control Commission and Building from the Bottom Up

Independent Regulatory Units: Not So Independent After All

Special Interests and Their Tools



Former Legislators

Former Bureaucrats

Former Staffers

Former Journalists

The Internet

Getting the Word Out

Messaging for Dollars

Direct Democracy

The Drafting Stage

The Qualification Stage

The Campaign Stage

The Perils of Direct Democracy

Of the People, By the People, But Ultimately for the Special Interests


Bankrupt State

Inadequate Revenue Collection

High Taxes

Personal Income


The Biggest Slices of the Revenue Pie

Low Taxes


"Sin" Taxes


The Costs of Low-Taxed Industries

No Taxes

California Oil

Taxing Out-of-State-Based Internet Businesses: A Rare Victory

An Out-of-Whack Revenue System

Spending in a Straitjacket

Mandated Programs

Unfunded Programs

Funded Mandates

Problems with Mandated Spending

Constitutional Restraints

Limits on Moving Local Revenues to the State

Increasing the Vote Threshold for State Fees

Lowering the Legislative Spending Vote Requirement: A Minor Victory

Impact of Minimalism on California

Bonded To Bonds

Extent of the Crisis

Bond Abuse

Misleading Proposals

Schwarzenegger’s Dubious Legacy

Bonds in Perspective

No Way Out?



Can This Patient Be Saved?

A Lack of Direction

Policies Determined by the Few

What Should Be Done?

A Constitutional Convention?

We Must Invest

We Must Increase Revenues for Those Investments

Spread Out the Sales Tax Structure

Bring "Sin" Taxes into the 21st Century

Tax Those Who Have Not Been Taxed

Reform Proposition 13

We Must Remove Bottlenecks to Public Policymaking

Streamline Commissions and Boards

Merge Overlapping Elected Offices and Agencies

Eliminate Legislative Term Limits

Time for a Unicameral Legislature

Restructure Direct Democracy

Redefine State/Local Fiscal Relationships

Merge Local Government Units

Challenges to Widening the Political Bottleneck

A Little Kumbaya Wouldn’t Hurt

Training and Education


Political Efficacy

Finding Common Purpose Again



About the Author


Larry Gerston is a professor of political science at San Jose State University and the political analyst at NBC11 (the Bay Area NBC station). He has written ten other books in addition to Not So Golden After All: The Rise and Fall of California, including Politics in the Golden State, Recall!, and California Politics and Government (all with Terry Christensen). In addition to his larger works, Gerston has penned more than 100 op-ed columns in newspapers including the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and Los Angeles Times. Frequently interviewed for his political insight, he has appeared on NBC Nightly News, BBC, NPR, and CNN’s Inside Politics.

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