It’s nearly impossible to escape the frequent coverage of the “California exodus,” which is spurring debate on whether the state needs to have more business-friendly policies.
Though the data on a business exodus is still coming into focus, it is well documented that people have been leaving the state at a record clip and that most of these people are not Elon Musks but Average Joes.
Fortunately, there is an agenda California can pursue that will benefit these people and will help to ensure a thriving economy for years to come. Three priority areas in on which we have the chance to make a major difference this year are broadband for all, housing affordability, and climate adaptation.
Getting broadband funds spent quickly will require cutting through the thicket of needless regulations and bureaucracy.
On broadband, there is terrific leadership coming from the state Legislature that is poised to invest billions of dollars in connecting everyone to high-speed affordable internet access.
This is perhaps the most significant step the state could take for racial and economic equity. It also is the most fiscally responsible thing to do with the one-time budget surplus in the state.
Getting these public funds spent quickly so that families do not have to sit outside of a Taco Bell to get internet access, though, will require cutting through the thicket of needless regulations and bureaucracy that bedevil our state. When we do, we’ll not only help our most vulnerable children access education, businesses will also have a digital infrastructure they need to compete in a global economy.
On housing, progress is still desperately needed.
As shown in the California Dream Index, rates of homeownership and rental burden stagnated in spite of a decade of economic growth and there remain tremendous racial disparities in these measures. Here, there are some real bright spots, but they are coming almost entirely from the local level.
Sacramento was the first major city in California to make amends for racially motivated downzoning by allowing multiple units to be built in almost all neighborhoods. Other cities including Berkeley are poised to follow suit.
Regulatory delays and arcane work rules actually prevented the state from clearing brush that could have prevented or mitigated the Berry Creek and Happy Camp Complex Fires.
The state has the ability to help by passing legislation to turn abandoned commercial properties into homes for people who desperately need them. Together, we must overcome the narrow interests that block progress on housing affordability. And when we do, all businesses – big and small – will have a solution to the problem that is keeping them from attracting and retaining the talent they need.
Endless layers of regulations and bureaucracy are also preventing the state from addressing the urgent challenge of climate change. Whether we are focused on better managing our forests to prevent catastrophic wildfires or shoring up infrastructure to deal with sea level rise or building climate-friendly cities, we cannot do any of it quickly and at scale in the state.
Gov. Newsom has shown real leadership proposing major investments in forest management. But they will have little to no impact without real reform. Regulatory delays and arcane work rules actually prevented the state from clearing brush that could have prevented or mitigated the Berry Creek and Happy Camp Complex Fires.
These are existential issues for the people of the state. Low-income and communities of color are suffering the most from our inability to adapt to address climate change. It is for them that we must have the courage to overcome those who defend the status quo.
Sometimes those defending the unacceptable status quo are businesses themselves, sometimes they are public employee unions or environmental groups or neighborhoods associations. Sometimes they are Democrats and sometimes they are Republicans. And sometimes all of those groups are on the side of the angels.
We have to see beyond partisan and interest group politics to unite across sectors to deliver real racial and economic equity in the state. And when we do, we will help also businesses.
Micah Weinberg is CEO of California Forward, a nonprofit leading a statewide movement to improve government and create inclusive, sustainable growth for everyone.