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Thirty Million Californians Can’t Be Wrong: Reflections on Reaching a Dubious Milestone PHILIP R. PRYDE Professor, Department of Geography San Diego State University, San Diego CA 92182 Presidential address delivered to the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, Tucson, Arizona September 14,1991 O n e OF THE FASCINATING things about the English language is the way that many words and phrases can be interpreted in multiple ways. Take the above title, forexample. The final three words in its first half mighteasily suggest to the reader thatI am attributing a certain degree of infallability to us Golden Staters, asserting that it is impossible for us to err. There mighteven be those outside ourhallowed borders who would actually question such an implication. ; But, no, my intent is nothing so rash oregocentric. For those same three words can also be read another way. What my title really wishes to convey is thatwethirty millionfairly fallible folk in Californiacan’t afford to be wrong. Wrong in what? In a sentence, wrong in the way we plan the future ofour state, which even non-Californians will have to admit is one of the most critical, diverse, and fascinating pieces of real estate on earth.1 To begin with, we must concede that a state population of thirty million (one shudders to add the words “for the present”) was 7 8 APCG YEARBOOK • VOLUME 54 • 1992 probably inevitable. Mixing 158,700 square miles of fertile valleys, gold-filled mountains, oil-filled sub-strates, bikini-filled beaches, and sun-filled skies with a mobile, enterprising, adventuresome, health-seeking, ambitious, and occasionally greedy people could hardly have been expected to produce any other result (Vance 1972). The recent arrival of the thirty millionth Californian is more than adequate reason for some reflection and self-examination. California: Past Perceptions Itcanbesuggested thatthecurveofhowothersperceiveCalifornia’s “goldenness” is quite likely bell-shaped, and that at present we are somewhere past the top ofthecurve and descending into a rather more tarnished environment, and hence a diminished perception as well. This bell-shaped curve implies that, originally, California lacked the golden aura that it enjoys among many people today. Indeed, it did. Early on, the Central Valley was perceived as being unhealthy and possibly uninhabitable. Butforsome, the dismal view was notlimited to the tules. No less august a person than Daniel Webster had this to say to the Congress concerning the future prospects of the Golden State: “what do we want with this vast, worthless area, this region of savages and wild beasts, of deserts, of shifting sands and whirlwinds of dust, of cactus and prairie dogs? To what use could we ever hope to put these great deserts, or these endless mountain ranges, impen­ etrable, and covered to their base with eternal snow? What can we ever hope to dowith the western coast, acoast ofthree thousand miles, rock-bound, cheerless, and uninviting, and not a harbor on it? What use have we for such a country? Mr. President, I will never vote one centfrom the public treasury to place the Pacific coast one inch nearer to Boston than it is now.” 2 Environmental perception has, indeed, always been a wondrous thing. But by the 1950s California’s image was unstoppable. The sun always shone, oil gushed from every back yard, new starlets were discovered daily in Hollywood drugstores, and the boom would never end. The San Fernando Valley was Mecca. Today, the popular perception ofCalifornia is decidedly mixed. Still a land ofglamorand PRYDE: Thirty Million Californians 9 opportunity, the contemporary overabundance of people, cars, oxi­ dants, crimes, unemployment lines, and superfund sites has contrib­ uted to an increasingly “approach-avoidance” psychological ambi­ ance. The Present Reality: Au Revoir to the Auric Aura? Though the gold is largely gone, and the oil rarely gushes anymore, California remains a state of great appeal to many. Retirees love the desert, environmentalists love the mountains, romantics love San Francisco, immigrants love the economy (or did prior to 1990), and everybody loves the coastline. But the Golden Bear also has a few fleas crawling around on it (or would have, if it weren't extinct). Let us start by excluding earth­ quakes; we have always had those and always...


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