Versailles in California

Versailles or San Francisco, it’s good to be the king.

by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media 

Photo via PJ Media
Photo via PJ Media

California is run from a sort of Pacific Versailles [1], an isolated coastal compound of elite rulers physically cut off from its interior peasantry.

To understand how California works — or rather does not work — drive over the I-5 Grapevine [2] and gaze down at the brilliantly engineered artificial Pyramid Lake. Thanks to California water project deliveries, even in a third year of drought its level still fluctuates between 90 to 100% full — ensuring, along with its companion reservoirs, plentiful water for the Los Angeles-area municipalities for the next two years. The far distant watersheds and reservoirs that feed Pyramid Lake are about bone dry.

The same disconnect is true of Crystal Springs Reservoir along the I-280 near San Francisco. The Sierra watershed that supplies the now 90%+full lake is drying up. But San Francisco will have an assured water supply from its manmade reservoirs for some time, even if the drought persists.

Yet most of the policies of the state that have led to cancellations of additional water projects over the last thirty years — or those that have resulted in vast diversions of diminished reservoir water from contracted agricultural use to fish replenishment — are made by Los Angeles and San Francisco area legislators, judges, and public officials.

It would be as simplistic as it is true to say that water policy in California has been set by those who have plentiful water supplies in manmade reservoirs with the highest priorities in claims on far distant snow melts. Water elites pontificate about environmental restrictions on water use to others who do not enjoy a rank so high in the water-allotment queue.

By that I mean at no time did any Los Angeles or San Francisco legislator offer to divert their Pyramid Lake or Crystal Springs allotments to replenish the San Joaquin River for salmon runs or to improve the delta landscape of the 3-inch delta smelt.  Instead I think the mentality could best be summed up as something like, “Unnatural dams and reservoirs are necessary to supply water for elite coastal grandees like us so that we can live in arid, picturesque Pacific communities without aquifers and thereby have the leisure to cut off water for others not so worthy.”

The same paradox is true of public utility policy. There are rarely frosts or scorching 100-degree temperatures from San Diego to Berkeley, the coastal strip where there is little need for air conditioners or for daylong use of central heating. For hoi aristoi [3], California’s public utilities can be regulated and taxed for all sorts of utopian alternative energy investments in lieu of drawing on massive newly discovered fields of California natural gas to lower generation rates.

The result is that those who live winters in the cold mountains or summers in the sizzling interior cannot afford to consume the now nearly highest priced electricity in the nation. If San Francisco should routinely hit 104 degrees for most of August, or if Santa Monica or La Jolla routinely should have a string of 20-degree or so consecutive freezing nights, the manner in which public utilities were run might be far different than it is today. If UC Berkeley faculty could not afford to turn on their air conditioners in 105-degree campus heat, and there were no nearby Walmart to visit to find free air-conditioned relief — the common refuges of the poor during August in the San Joaquin Valley — then the price per kilowatt might begin to matter a bit more.

Ditto the ironies of illegal immigration. There are enclaves of largely Latino barrios of recently arriving illegal aliens from Mexico and Latin America along the coast — given that the Versailles coastal class over the last thirty years has developed the tastes of the 18th-century French aristocracy in hiring maids, groundskeepers, and nannies. But nonetheless, the majority of recent arrivals mostly live in the southern interior and Central Valley, where homes are more often $100 rather than $1000 a square foot. When Mark Zuckerberg assures Carlos Slim that his country’s immigration policies make no sense, he assumes that his own family and friends, by virtue of their influence, money, and superior ethos, not only have the means, but deserve the right, to be exempt from the consequences of thirty years of open borders.

Coastal elites do not visit public parks in Tulare. They do not drive along the antiquated 99 “freeway.” [4] They do not go to emergency rooms like those in Merced. Their children are not enrolled in schools like those in Orange Cove. The coastal open-borders magnificoes assume that they should profit both materially from cheap imported labor and psychologically from the relief of helping the indigent cheaply  but also thankfully from a great distance — as properly being exempted from the ramifications of their own ideology.

So California’s misrule is best explained by a few million along its coastal strip whose elite advocacy is predicated on their bankrupt ideas falling on others.

Take the Steyer brothers [5], who pledge some of their many hundreds of millions to stop fracking, natural gas use, pipelines, etc., and yet whose firms made much of their billions financing coal plants in the former Third World. Then there is the multimillionaire Rep. Nancy Pelosi praising the idea of de facto open borders from one of her many tony homes [6]. Sen. Barbara Boxer has usually opposed finishing the second and third phase infrastructure of the various state and federal water projects — and then moved to Rancho Mirage, a desert retreat for largely white (90% plus) multimillionaires, whose beautiful artificial lakes and numerous golf courses are not predicated on its 3-4 inches of rain per year, but instead on multibillion-dollar infrastructure that allows water diversions from the Colorado River.

Diversity is a popular coastal concept — for others. The three most powerful elected federal representatives of a state (Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Dianne Feinstein and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) with the largest percentage of Latino residents, with the greatest number of residents under the poverty line and with the largest percentage of residents on welfare are three Bay Area liberal multimillionaire women in their seventies. In current liberal parlance, that is a demographic hardly reflective of their constituents’ ethnic, gender, age, class, or geographical diversity.

The same habits characterize education. Most of the push for a therapeutic and politicized curriculum, open admissions, and the Dream Act applies more forcefully to places like Fresno State, Cal State Bakersfield or Cal State Stanislaus, and not so much to UCLA, or the private bastions like Caltech or Stanford. There are no Harker, Sacred Heart, Menlo School, Castilleja, or Stevenson private academies in Modesto or Avenal. The state puts its new prisons, not its new prep schools, in its interior.  Could not the Menlo School open a new branch in Corcoran to serve the needs of the underrepresented?

Is the California project sustainable [7]?

Lots of things could derail it. A year or two more of drought might make even Bay Area activists lose their gardens and showers. Hispanics might see through the strange partnership in which their identity-politics legislators vote for things like transgendered restrooms in exchange for liberal support for the Dream Act and affirmative action policies — given that reducing irrigated farmland, tabling fracking and horizontal drilling, and derailing logging and mining hurt those in most need of well-paying jobs. High-speed rail might eventually come to the Bay Area and tear up Silicon Valley in the manner its first phase will soon cut a destructive swath through the farmland of Kings County.  Soaring housing costs and no-growth zoning laws might eventually spill the children of coastal elites into the state’s cheaper interior.

But for now in our pyramidal state, there is a Versailles elite on the coast, and a let-them-eat-cake mass everywhere else.


Article printed from Works and Days:

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URLs in this post:

[1] Versailles:

[2] I-5 Grapevine:,_California

[3] hoi aristoi:

[4] the antiquated 99 “freeway.”:

[5] the Steyer brothers:

[6] one of her many tony homes:

[7] the California project sustainable: 

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6 thoughts on “Versailles in California”

  1. You won’t be hearing any of that info on the news.

    Might be why those wonderful Dems who care so much about the “middle class” keep getting elected.

    I keep thinking about the dystopian book “1984” where the lies and wars continue while the elite eat cake.

  2. Why doesn’t the central valley or areas where the water begins just cut off the water to the south and “imperial” coast? Imagine if the Libs in La la Hollywoodland woke up one morning to find their swimming pools in serous need of water? That’s the only way these jerks will get the message.

    1. Mark – Probably because it would be illegal! The cut would be removed, tempers would flare, and no one wants a repeat of what happened in Owens Valley in 1924. Although I sympathize with central CA on water (I’m a native of Selma) I don’t see how the current setup will be modified. The coast is simply too nice. We moved there too.

    1. Saint Simon was an early socialist – a believer in a form of technocratic socialism.

      Interested to know how you see Hanson as a current, California version of that.

  3. VDH,
    California needs to be reinvented. I feel at times you come across as a Thomas Jefferson citing his Notes on the State of Virginia and the Agrarian idea. Teaching Community College History I often come to conclusion as a Historian also of California that it is in dire need of reconstruction. The question remains in my mind how does California defend the farmer, what he grows, the continent and the tie it has to the United States? Once a farmer I now feel more like a gardner thanks to California’s non benevolence. Lately, 100 acres due to the drought has become 17 for me. Governor Brown is predictable, our relief is 20 years too late. Farmers have needed water for years in the valley, but we have seen it go to L.A.. My thompson’s need more water than I can afford, but flood irrigation pay dividends without weeds under the burm. I don’t blame you at all VDH for leaving farming. If it wasn’t in the blood I would also leave it. Thank you for your defense of the small farmer we are still alive in kicking but we are a dying breed. How do we make California’s “Californios,” listen?
    Lastly, Brown reminds me of the Woodrow Wilson of Versailles, his fourteen points make the farmer want to turn into Hilter Nazi’s Germany. A League of Nations of Farmers will do no good as long as Brown is in office. My cousin holds a position on the water board, I will not release his name, but politics and stupidity never give farmers a break. Brown like Wilson and his neutrality is devastating to the war that the farmer fights. His refusal to get involved or help with the Water situation some 20 years too late, feels like the allies waiting for Black Jack Pershing and the Doughboys of 1917. Without water trenches will be steal mates in the fields as the remains of vines are left like those in France from 1914-1918. Governor Brown must wake up and wake up fast. No more water in the Central Valley means no more food.

    Jared William Carter/Historian/Teacher/Farmer/Writer/Caruthers, California

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