Monday, November 23, 2009

Watch Out For That Pothole!

It’s scarcely surprising for California’s correctional system to be hard-up for cash. Most voters are resistant to spending much money on offenders, and politicians know that. When I served as a legal counsel to the Iowa legislature in the late 90’s, I heard then-director Kip Kautzky of the Department of Corrections describe his agency’s budget request as a multi-million dollar “incursion into other needs.”

One would think, however, that California’s car culture would somehow survive the budgetary pressures. Just think of all the vintage pop songs set on those famous freeways — “Ventura Highway,” for example, by a group calling itself America (1972).

Well, that was all before Proposition 13, which limited property taxes, passed in 1978. The Golden State has been on a precipitous financial descent for years. The toll has been cumulative and relentless, like a progressive disease. Fun, fun in the sun, yes, as the Beach Boys crooned — but now financial realities are, to a great degree, metaphorically taking the T-bird away. If you have one, you can still drive it, but be prepared for a gauntlet of potholes.

NPR reported today on a study rating California as next-to-last among the states in the quality of its pavement, and dead last in road quality in urban areas. It’s not only cars that are affected, either. In San Francisco, bicycle riders’ organizations have taken to using chalk to mark out potholes in the pavement.

Is this what it’s like to live in a developing country — what used to be called, before the Cold War ended, the Third World?

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