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California Dream must work for everybody, or it works for nobody

Farmworkers harvest eggplants in a field at Sanger, Sept. 20, 2019. Maintaining a thriving farm sector is key to California’s future.
Farmworkers harvest eggplants in a field at Sanger, Sept. 20, 2019. Maintaining a thriving farm sector is key to California’s future. Fresno Bee file

There's something special about California that separates us from every other state in the nation. Others have state mottos, flower, and birds. We have the California Dream. Our dream is predicated on social mobility, on our ability to visualize our future and — with hard work and optimism — get there.

But for too many Californians, the dream feels out of reach. Our state is facing an affordability crisis that prices hardworking people out of homes and opportunity, forcing longer and longer commutes all across the state. The crisis was heightened over the last few weeks by devastating wildfires in both Northern and Southern California, not to mention the unacceptable power shutoffs initiated by utility companies.

In the Central Valley this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom talked about that dream and how, working together, every region of the state can address our shared challenges with the urgency and resolve that generations before us marshaled.

When water needed to flow throughout the state, we built a water system. When people needed to travel throughout the state, we built highway and regional rail systems. When smog threatened to choke progress in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, we developed world-class air quality standards. When talent was needed, we gave our students a shot at education in our world-class colleges and universities. These investments have given us one of California’s world-renowned assets: a talented, diverse workforce that’s attracted more venture capital and birthed more new business startups than anywhere else in world.

Overcoming these challenges and seizing these opportunities made us who we are today: the 5th-largest economy in the world and leaders in everything from manufacturing to clean technology to trade.

Today, we’re continuing to take a hard look at our challenges, and we’re addressing them head-on. California is tackling inequality from housing to employment to help millions of families. The state is making historic investments in affordable housing, increasing minimum wage through 2023 and expanding the earned income tax credit to workers without children and self-employed workers, providing an extra $1,000 allowance to eligible families with children under 6.

As we grapple with a changing climate, we’re continuing our ambitious policies to protect our air and public health, producing results while also creating both new technologies and new markets. Today, we produce about 5 percent of all clean tech patents globally and bring in more than 50 percent of all U.S. investment in clean energy technology. But we’re also starting to look toward new opportunities to invest in resilient technologies and programs, to help every region reduce its risks facing California from floods and droughts, wildfires and mudslides.

And we’re just getting started. There are more challenges to overcome and, more important, opportunities to seize as California grows to 50 million people by 2050.

That's why we launched Regions Rise Together, to support cross-sector civic partnerships at the regional level. To build a people-first place, where regions are stronger, with sustainable ways to travel and live, where economic opportunity resides in all corners of the state and where inland California has a prominent seat at the table. Supporting a 21st century California Dream where all Californians thrive.

Over the past months, we’ve convened leaders throughout San Joaquin Valley, the Inland Empire, and the North State to listen, learn, and identify regional solutions to the challenges facing California. Our aim is to lift up great initiatives taking place all across California and then find ways to take them to scale. We also hope to change the “mental map” of California by encouraging travel and investment across the state. We want companies to expand first in central California, not in our neighboring states.

An essential part of this effort requires encouraging philanthropists and investors to believe in our dream and channel resources into inland communities. They should. There are incredibly promising innovations and private investments happening inland today in precision agriculture — leveraging our tech savvy to produce sustainable, climate-resilient crops — dairy digesters to produce renewable energy, transportation innovation to make green our logistics and freight system, and forest management strategies to develop advanced wood products from felled trees.

The theme of the last century was mobility. The theme of this century is “inter-connectivity.” It’s not enough to improve transportation mobility with new highways or economic mobility with new education. We have to think about how these investments build better communities and respond to the dual dilemma of our climate and inequality crisis.

That’s why committing to build an electrified high-speed rail system that strengthens existing communities and revitalizes our town centers matters. That’s why purposefully locating businesses and homes in a concentrated pattern within communities and near transit can smartly solve our housing and climate crisis, while protecting critical agricultural land and open space.

There is nothing that will stop California’s dream. The things we do in this century must work for everybody, or they won’t work for anybody. Because our fates our inextricably linked, we must be all in, together. We will protect our dream by building a California for all.

Lenny Mendonca is chief economic and business adviser and director of the California Office of Business and Economic Development. Kate Gordon is the senior adviser to the governor on climate and the director of the governor’s Office of Planning and Research. Together they help to lead the Regions Rise Together initiative.

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