California, to some people’s way of thinking, is the most modern state in the country, if not the most cutting-edge place on earth. It’s progressive, hip, innovative—a bellwether, filled with pioneers and opinion-makers. It’s also unique for its constant battles against biblical catastrophes—earthquakes, droughts, landslides, and floods are all part of the state’s past as well as its present, as are raging wildfires that have left large tracts in ashes. Even secular humanists might be tempted to declare the state cursed.
Now California is home to a public-health crisis. This one is no act of God, though, but rather the inevitable result of tolerating unsanitary conditions. Diseases, some bringing to mind medieval times, have returned to urban streets. Typhus, carried by infected fleas and transmitted by rats and other animals, plagues Los Angeles. Hepatitis A, spread through fecal matter, has sickened more than 1,000 people in Southern California since 2017. A “trash and rodent nightmare” threatens downtown Los Angeles. There’s “a mountain of rotting, oozing, stinking trash” that stretches “a good 20 yards along a skid row alley,” where “rats popped their heads out of the debris like they were in a game of Whac-A-Mole.”
The garbage and disease outbreaks are closely linked. In late May, the local NBC affiliate reported that “piles of rotting garbage left uncollected by the city of Los Angeles, even after promises to clean it up, are fueling concerns about a new epidemic after last year’s record number of flea-borne typhus cases.” These garbage piles, along with human feces in San Francisco streets requiring apps for avoidance, contrast with California’s progressive past. Progressives once cared about clean streets and public health. Today, they value political correctness, protecting the interests of the homeless over pedestrians. Their policies have produced appalling conditions in urban neighborhoods.
“This approach calls itself progressive but is the polar opposite of what progressives supported, which was sanitation and public health,” said Joel Kotkin, a City Journal contributing editor and a Chapman University fellow. “Sewer socialism, if you will, was a noble attempt to clean up what were often dirty dystopias. The new progressives want to create a new green dystopia, turning the modern city back into a place more like Dharavi in Mumbai than La Guardia’s New York.”
Henry Miller, a senior fellow for health studies at the Pacific Research Institute, believes that California is virtually unable to provide basic municipal services. The state “has become a victim of its own attractiveness, combined with political mismanagement” and “one-party rule.” Miller agrees with the downtown merchant who told a Los Angeles Times columnist that “once a pile takes shape, the appearance of lawlessness and neglect is a magnet for other dumpers.” The same, he noted, is “true of homeless encampments, panhandlers, the expansion of skid row neighborhoods, the increase in vandalism and other minor crimes, and so on.”
Under progressive governance, California appears to be regressing at an alarming pace. While the state can’t do much about some disasters, aside from cleaning up afterward, it can stop its self-inflicted march into the past.