Linda Christas Student Leader Offers Forbes Municipal Scoop
Response to Forbes Magazine Listing Sacramento Among Top Twenty Most Miserable Cities in America
by Tony Lopez, Vice President, Linda Christas College Class of 2012
The Forbes Building 62 Fifth Avenue, New York
As far as I was able to determine, Forbes' editors used the following criteria in making their interesting, if perhaps somewhat off-target, determinations:
1) Weather; 2) Success of Professional Sports Teams; 3) Unemployment; 4) Taxes; 5) Commute Times;
6) Housing Affordability/Foreclosures; 7) Violent Crime Rates; 8) Quality of Municipal Leadership; 9) and, finally, Bankruptcies.
My city of origin, Sacramento, California, was rated as the fifth worst in the U.S.
The following is a light hearted, if inevitably brow lowered, attempt at addressing what can only be thought of as a blot similar to an unexpected and grossly suggestive food stain on page two-hundred of an otherwise spotless copy of a borrowed library book. The book here symbolizes Forbes Magazine's heretofore marvelous reputation for printing fully informed, analytically sound, top flight journalism. And, the stain, well.........
Statement of Purpose
Since I have been encouraged (no force required) by my Linda Christas College social science instructor to pen a response to Forbes Magazine's attempt at rating several California cities whose weather must be considered of paradisaical quality when compared with that available on the roof of Number 62 Fifth Avenue, New York; and, since I possess first hand knowledge of each of the criteria cited by Forbes Magazine relative to Sacramento, California; and, in that I am intending to avoid the adoption of defensive posturing in all its forms, wishing only to generate a sense of mutual understanding and good will between Linda Christas College and Forbes Magazine, the editors of which continue to scurry conscientiously within the respected, alas shrouded, architectural mausoleum three thousand miles distant from the article's miserable target; and, since the seventh floor publishing giants laboring within the illustrious gray cube, clearly and desperately require objective data relative to Sacramento, considering that information packets delivered from the West via Google during the research portion of the "most miserable" project must have been or are presumed to have been damaged or otherwise corrupted by the thundering decibel levels so immediate to the Magazine's computer servers; and, since Forbes Magazine has been rapid in the past to withdraw or otherwise correct opinions, propositions or data shown to be erroneous, hopefully, by the conclusion of our information sharing, the necessary balance of salts and sugars will have been restored, and, once again, Forbes Magazine will have emerged into the sunshine, allowing the free flow of objectivity to pass between the pillars of that well respected monolith, with the result that, one year hence, Sacramento will have been selected by Forbes Magazine as one of the ten most desirable cities of medium size in America in which to reside. May this author humbly suggest fifth position.
Without delay then, let us review Sacramento one Forbes Factor at a time:
Home of Forbes Magazine, New York
(Photo Taken Same Day as Sacramento Photo at Right)
Here we have a group of individuals who have traveled the world, have seen it all, and where do they choose to retire? Sacramento, California.
Why? Sacramento's Mediterranean-like weather and the availability of excellent health care facilities drive the community to the top or near top of their list. (If one tracks the weather of the French Riviera relative to that of Sacramento, as many of the officers have done over several decades, we find, as they did, an uncanny correspondence between the two regions.)
So far then, there must be at least a thousand ice covered, flood and tornado plagued, smog ridden areas in the US that could, would, and should ace Sacramento out of the top one hundred most miserable places to live, if weather and health care are chosen as criteria.
2) Sports Teams: Admittedly, having one professional sports team, the Sacramento Kings, is terrible. And, Forbes is correct, the Kings are only winning 26% of their games as of this writing. However, two professional teams would be worse. Why? Just more troubled super humans having their all-too-public identity crises in public, thus providing terrible role models for youngsters and oldsters alike.
Not to mention, in the Kings' case, the high flying Maloof brothers. Hey, if you are going to own a team, the temptations of the flesh, of the blackjack tables and imported alcohol are easy to succumb to. However, in America, these people become America's royalty, with elected officials listening intently to their opinions. Such a situation is potentially disastrous to a city.
Therefore, I must agree with Forbes, but not because we have only one team. I agree with Forbes because we have a professional sports team at all.
Before leaving this criterion, I would like to mention one other situation that I tend to drop on the shoulders of professional sports teams.
Professional sports teams use colleges as their minor leagues, thus misshaping the college experience for millions.
I have no doubt that some colleges would rather rid themselves of their physics department than their football team. Chemistry for basketball would be next.
As a parting idea, I would suggest that, if one does indeed suffer a sports team, the worse they are doing, the better. If they are failing, as the Kings are this season, young people and older people alike aren't as apt to spend their resources, that is, personal family time and family budget money on season tickets that could be used for more positive family bonding kinds of things.
3) Unemployment: Many of the economic factors, including unemployment, taxes, foreclosures and bankruptcies tend to blur together in terms of cause. However, even so, I will attempt to, at least superficially, separate them in order to track Forbes Magazine's thinking.
That said, Sacramento enjoys a huge public employment base that accounts for about 172,000 jobs. These jobs aren't going to go away any time soon, recession or not.
Even with a couple days off per month during this tough economic period (furlough program), and, even without raises for State employees, we are not talking about the empty factory buildings of a Detroit or Cleveland.
Driving up and down the streets of Sacramento, it is actually difficult to find abandoned employment centers.
On the other hand, moving a tad toward Forbes' reasoning, start ups in Sacramento have a very difficult time. Tell the government (especially State and Municipal) that you are thinking about starting a business, and a hundred forms (accompanied by a hundred civil service employees) emerge, whether one is making a nickel or not; whether one has staff or time to deal with them or not.
With more established firms, when meetings are held to decide where to establish new locations (and therefore create jobs), inevitably California is disqualified, if it is possible to avoid the State entirely.
California is not a business-friendly place, although in Sacramento's case, because of those 172,000 people in charge of purchasing goods and services for the State, and the consistent and stable incomes those jobs provide, the city has to be placed somewhere toward the top of California's A list in terms of desirability for new locations, if California is in the picture at all.
One factor in California's favor relative to business is the Ocean (Pacific - just checked the map) which cannot be taken away by government, so far. The Pacific Rim nations will probably be the planet's business champions throughout the 21st century. Therefore, if our leaders don't actually set up a real, concrete forty foot trade barrier just off the coast, some of that business will probably be landing on California shores.
4) Taxes: California taxes the $50,000 annual paycheck more heavily than almost any place else in the US. When one adds up the taxes, we are talking about at least a 10% income tax, 8% sales tax, use taxes, property taxes, luxury taxes, vehicle taxes, unemployment taxes, and self employment taxes.
Add to those fire marshal edicts, the American Disabilities Act, sanitation regulations, and hundreds of other requirements on small and large businesses alike, and one can work on a new business for years while sinking further and further into debt. (One store owner I've spoken with at length has been
working twelve hours per day for years, and, during that time, while not showing a penny in the black, has accumulated $120,000 in debt.)
Here we have someone with a very nice storefront, and a great product having basically to not only volunteer his services for years, but has had to pay, in the form of debt, $120,000 for the privilege of having his store open in Sacramento.
De Tocqueville once said that the Republic would last just so long as people didn't start voting themselves benefits.
Governor Brown wants to put an initiative on the ballot next summer (or whenever he can, as soon as he can) to allow California's citizens to vote in terms of whether to tax themselves further.
If the soon-to-be former store owner, spoken of above, can step into a secret box and finally force someone else to pay money to theoretically help him out, then, why not. Of course, the money never seems to end up helping business.
Although Forbes didn't mention one tax specifically (at least that I can determine), I consider the outrageous energy prices in California to be an unnecessary tax on business and households as well.
While other States enjoy a nine cent per kilowatt hour rate, Sacramento Municipal power organizations play Three Card Monty at seventeen cents.
Ask SMUD why energy prices are so high, they will tell you, "It's complex." OR refer you to the real robber PG&E. After all, if one can point to someone who is killing off businesses even more aggressively than they are, we can share a "feel good" moment just between us guys and gals.
Alternatively, SMUD deftly makes the customer feel as though they, the customer, are at fault. It's quite easy. What the energy servants do is suggest to bankrupt store owners and households under water to contact their "Energy Experts" for an energy audit.... it's free after all. Conclusion? The Energy Expert inevitably pronounces that for only $25,000, one can PLUG THE HOLES in the building leaking energy.
In my view, the thing that is leaking is California's energy suppliers. They have the best of everything, best equipment, best salary structure, better, well, just better, since the small business owner and home owner can do nothing to escape the energy taxes (which amount to at least half of the per kilowatt hour cost to the consumer) but escape to a small tent somewhere in the Los Padres National Forest. I know of one fellow who actually did that, and for the reasons stated. The person, a Catholic priest, ate nothing but snake meat for two years..... best two years of his life, he reports.
5) Commute Times: Anyone who has tried to get around in Southern California (pick just about any community), or Washington D.C. or Cleveland or New York City (just about anywhere), or a thousand other places in the Nation, and then drives to Sacramento, he or she will find that the commutes are bad ONLY because folks have chosen to live up to two hours away from their downtown public agency jobs.
There are plenty of very nice affordable duplexes and single family homes available in downtown Sacramento, especially now. Said differently, the commutes are avoidable.
In San Francisco, people commute huge distances to work because they cannot afford homes within the City limits.
With Sacramento, it is just the opposite. People commute to Sacramento so as to live in MORE EXPENSIVE areas like Granite Bay, Gold River and Cameron Park.
It is simply a lifestyle choice that causes traffic congestion in the Sacramento area, and to blame Sacramento, the place, for the commuting traffic is both unfair and a skewing of reality.
6) Housing affordability: Again, economic factors tend to blend together.
For example, in speaking with a grocery store bagger (minimum wage) working in Sacramento, I was told she recently bought a three bedroom home for just a little down and very reasonable payments. (The home is very nice. I know the neighborhood.)
In other words, if Forbes is talking about housing availability and affordability, Sacramento has got to be a wonderful place to purchase or rent now. Ghettos? (Difficult to find any in Sacramento.)
On the flip side, if Forbes is talking about foreclosures, I would go back to number 4 above. One cannot drub businesses just for trying to exist, and then expect the owners to be able to afford a healthy house payment. And, of course, that does not count commercial rents in crisis.
When the store (above) closes, good luck to the owner of the building in terms of collecting the balance of the lease payments, contract or not.
A note: The business two doors down from my interviewee just walked away from his business three weeks ago. No one can find him. Rumor has it he has fled to Nevada.
7) Violent Crimes: To their credit, many California police officers are a lot smarter than our political leaders. They understand that it is our drug laws that are causing 90% of all violent crime in California in particular, and the Nation as a whole. We have dead bodies everywhere. And, now they are piling up on the border with Mexico.
We could fix this whole problem in one fell swoop. Just follow Congressman Ron Paul's direction. Legalize drugs.
Citizens of the US are purchasing their drugs anyway, so the DEA and its violent tactics are a waste.
Legalize all drugs and, suddenly, we have no more need for drug cartels and drug enforcement czars.
No more masked troops (on both sides) killing anyone who gets in their way.
Contrary to what you see in the movies, generally speaking, opiates are far less likely to produce violent behavior than alcohol.
I am not suggesting that we make alcohol or tobacco or any other drug illegal. I am saying that, as Milton Friedman said, most people who use opiates lead perfectly normal and productive lives, and mellow out in the evenings, instead of kicking the dog, the children and the spouse, as happens with alcohol abuse.
The war on drugs is producing incredible violence across the board, and until someone listens to reason, we are going to have serious violence everywhere. The market is never going to go away. Government can only enforce laws that the majority of people respect, and the drug laws are not among those in large areas of the United States.
The drug laws are simply destructive business opportunities for hundreds of thousands of packing teenagers.
The drug laws have also turned the US into the number one most aggressive jailer in the world, worse than China, Burma, North Korea or any other place we can mention. With 3.2 million people in cages, no one holds a candle to the Land of the Free in terms of depriving freedom of their citizens.
Sacramento does not have any bigger drug problem than anywhere else. Almost any major city in the US would put Sacramento to shame in terms of violence.
Again, congrats to Northern California police (San Jose) who are trying, even with billboards, to encourage our generally unenlightened state and national leaders to stop the carnage.
Medical marijuana is legal in California.
However, of course, the Obama Administration sends in the brown shirts occasionally to let the locals know who has the biggest guns. Insanity.
However, this has nothing to do with Sacramento misery as a function of the community itself.
8) Ineffective Municipal Leadership: We have a mix in Sacramento like anyplace else. However, with hundreds of public leaders on the take along the Rio Grande, how Sacramento got singled out as bad in this area is a mystery.
Past and present Sacramento leaders meet with the Maloofs (Sacramento Kings Owners above) to put together a sports complex deal. And, yes, it didn't look good when a former NBA pro (Kevin Johnson) took over the mayor's office. However, Sacramento has not imploded.
Like everyone else in America, we share in the consequence of having lawyers make the rules for our society. Few realize that counting laws passed by Congress, State legislatures, and local councils, the US is burdened with over 20,000 new laws each year. The resulting regulations based on these new laws is, of course, obscene.
We must find a way to control leadership. Unfortunately, most legislators measure their effectiveness by how many new laws, rules and regulations they are responsible for producing in the name of progress.
Never let it be said that, like Ron Paul, America has too many laws, too many government incursions into the private lives of citizens and too little understanding that leadership and law are almost never compatible.
9) Bankruptcies: Yep, ties into number six, and most of everything else. If we can just get off the backs of American entrepreneurs, all will be well. We must once again reward great ideas, great visions of what is possible.
Allow entrepreneurs to function in an environment that doesn't nickel and dime them to death.
In other words, allow Americans to function the way the founders believed was best.
It is only when we try to harness the human spirit in the image of the collective that everything private goes away, and we begin making lists of top ten worsts.
Given everything, where would I rank Sacramento in terms of the Misery Index?
Best guess.... not in the worst 1000.