Part Two: No Place to Stay
Update: In a previous blog (“The A.A President,” posted 10/7/09 ), I argued that President Obama’s current string of failures was not surprising because he had never accomplished much of anything in his life under his own power. I mentioned that his passing the bar exam might prove me wrong. There is nothing on Wikipedia about his having passed the bar anywhere. There is nothing I could find on the Internet. Not trusting the thoroughness of my search, I went straight to the source. Nine days ago, I emailed the White House website asking when and where the President had passed the bar. No answer to-date.
In the first installment of this essay, I began to attempt to use a small-scale entity to explain the damage done by innocent government intervention. The small-scale entity is my town of Santa Cruz (population about 40,000). In Part One, I showed how the municipality’s practice of taking possession of buildings downtown to shelter social services impoverished the tax roll. There is worse.
Santa Cruz has two main parallel arteries. On one side of the river, lies Ocean Street, leading to the Boardwalk, a permanent carnival near the beach. Ocean avenue is appropriately lined with fast food joints and motels. It’s as devoid of interest as any similar commercial artery anywhere in the US.
Parallel to that commercial thoroughfare, across three bridges is Pacific Avenue, the main axis of the old but renovated downtown. Pacific avenue was largely but not completely destroyed in the 1989 earthquake. It hurts me to admit it but it was redesigned and rebuilt into a gracious model of small-scale urban planning. It hurts me because this was accomplished under the guidance of a Leftie local political elite. Be it as it may, Pacific avenue is a very nice place to hang out, to eat, and to shop.
The latter is an important detail because the city has only two significant industries left: The University of California and tourism. The more visitors spend the better off we all are, including the socially assisted population.
Downtown, Pacific Avenue, would also be a lovely place to stay except there is no place to stay there. Incredibly, there are no tourist hotels and no beds and breakfast anywhere in the area. This is much of a pity because the city is 45 minutes from Silicon Valley on a good day, 90 minutes on a bad weekend day. Still-prosperous Silicon Valley is in our economic catchment area. This proximity is all the more fortunate because Silicon Valley is quite boring for most of those who live there. There is no there there, to plagiarize a statement made originally about Oakland. And what there there is there is almost entirely reachable by car only. There is no strolling and eating and drinking and shopping. (Valleyites will pathetically try to argue that I am wrong, that there is rich Los Gatos and moderately priced- downtown San Jose, and fairly pleasant Palo Alto. Both San Jose and Los Gatos are closed down by 8 PM most nights, for different reasons but with equivalent consequences for attractiveness and therefore, for commerce. Palo Alto is clear at the other end of Silicon Valley.)
Downtown Santa Cruz, Pacific Avenue, is the perfect place to linger after the boardwalk, or the beach, or after visits to the many art studios and to the even more numerous antique shops in the county. The retail shops on the avenue close late. They would be enticed to close even later if there were throngs of non-locals around. The same general area should offer residents of Silicon Valley a perfect excuse to skip the awful and dangerous Saturday late afternoon return trip across the Santa Cruz Mountains. Even some visitors from far-away and cold San Francisco ought to be tempted to come if they could stay overnight because Santa Cruz boasts a warm micro-climate.
By the way, the whole Santa Cruz area, including its downtown, offers a remarkably varied menu of quality musical venues, another reason to say a night or two, perhaps for a different age group.
Visitors don’t in fact stay much overnight because nearly all the hotels are on boring, pedestrian-inaccessible, no-shop Ocean Street, the other artery. Is the lack of places to stay in the vibrant downtown a historical accident, perhaps an unintended consequence of the earthquake’s destruction? Is it the result of a deliberate policy to segregate tourism on the other side of the river that bisects the town? Frankly, I don’t know the full answer to these queries. Here is what I know.
On Pacific Avenue, the good street, within three blocks of each other are two hotels. One was built since the earthquake. At less than ten years of age, it must be in pretty good shape inside, more than adequate for overnight tourists. The second hotel is located on the upper floors of a building that survived the earthquake. It’s old but of such great architectural interest that I always bring foreign visitors to admire the restaurant on its ground-floor, a splendor of 1930s “Spanish revival” style. (That’s Mexican style, revised and improved by Hollywood.) On the same ground-floor is a large bar favored by the locals, a good coffee shop and a superior taqueria. The bottom floor of this building provides exactly the kind of urban environment well-heeled Silicon Valley engineers and their spouses would favor after a day at the beach and a shower. There is no shower to be had.
The two hotels are within a short walking distance of three large bookstores, one of historical note, Book Shop Santa Cruz, and of a lovingly restored 1930s- style large movie theater. There are also several bar and restaurants within three blocks. Many of these establishments offer music on weekends
The city (or the county, or both jointly) has taken possession of both hotels. They are reserved for social cases, people who, for one reason or another, are deemed unable to provide shelter for themselves. It’s obvious to me that people fall into the pit of public largess for all kinds of reasons, including misfortune and illness. It’s equally obvious that, in a prosperous area such as central California until recently, substance abuse sometimes plays a role in the descent into poverty. Both hotels are located within easy walking distance of the local drug bazaar, the bus depot.
There is more. A few years ago what looked to my experienced eye like a luxury four-story apartment house was completed in the same area. From the outside, its architecture is both striking and gracious. My wife and I, who already live downtown, found it so attractive and so well situated that we made an attempt to visit one of the apartments for rent Rent was very high but we thought we could swing it if we sold our house. A snooty young real estate woman advised us haughtily that we needed to fill a form even before she would let us look. It was that kind of place. Get the idea?
Since my failed attempt to assess the place, the city took over one whole floor to shelter yet another set of needy people. I know a perfectly normal and healthy young man who lives there, sheltered by his municipally sheltered father. (And, why not,? He is very good to his old dad.)
Note what I have not said. I have not complained about the unfairness of welfare programs in general. (Government taking money from the 8-dollar an hour toiling waitress to give it to some older guy who may or may not want to work.) Nor did I mention the unpleasantness some of the sheltered people often create downtown. (Let’s not be coy; I am in the area often enough to know that some of them are habitual substance abusers.)
I am preoccupied with something else: How many rich Silicon Valley engineers do not spend their money in Santa Cruz several weekends each year because the hotels where they would stay are unavailable? How many entrepreneurs from there, and from everywhere else, have not fallen in love with Santa Cruz because they never knew that it was more than a beach and a carnival? How many jobs have not been created because they had nowhere to stay overnight? How many venture capitalists missed the opportunity to fund our abundant local creative talent because they have never stayed here long enough to notice it?
Conservatives often say that government does not create wealth. It’s worse than this. Government often stands in the way of natural wealth creation. Usually, it’s not on purpose but for good, superficially humane reasons. Government at all levels takes possession of sources of wealth, seldom relinquishes them and then, it destroys them. I miss less the money I pay in taxes than the money, and its beneficial consequences, that never came into existence because of this particular form of demonic possession.
Don’t think this is just a small town tale. The same possession occurs at the national level today, with devilish consequences for us, for our children and for their children.