There are two things that stand between Gavin Newsom and the White House: Joe Biden and his own record as governor.
There’s not much Newsom can do about the former, but he’s trying hard to correct—at least cosmetically—the errors of the latter.
Thus, we see Newsom’s recent attention to water storage (Sites Reservoir) and his sudden concern about retail theft. His concession to reality by keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on line is another example. There has also been the deliberate avoidance of controversial social issues in his coyness about reparations and refusal to ban youth football, just the kind of cutting-edge social issues that have always been catnip to Newsom.
Proposition 1, the proposal on the March ballot to transform mental health services in the State, is at the center of Newsom’s efforts to rebrand himself as a pragmatic problem solver. And although nominally focused on mental health and substance abuse, Prop 1 is all about homelessness.
Of all the state’s dysfunctions, none is more damaging to Newsom’s attempts to “make the sell” to Americans than the State’s worst in the nation homelessness.
Unlike other issues that are less concrete—like, say, the high cost of living—homelessness, and the dysfunction that comes with it, are manifest. They permeate every corner of the State. Their immediate impact on quality-of-life is undeniable. Gavin Newsom simply cannot run a competitive race for president when parts of Los Angeles and San Francisco—the nation’s premier cities after New York and Chicago—resemble dystopian hellscapes.
So Proposition 1 is Newsom’s attempt to get credit for solving a problem that he and other state leaders contributed to by allowing the homelessness situation to spiral out of control. It is nothing more than a $6.4 billion talking point Newsom will use in his 2028 campaign for president, all at taxpayer expense.
Even if the resulting services are completely ineffective, Newsom will latch on to some bogus statistic he can use to tout his efforts.
I can almost imagine the commercials now: “When faced with a homeless crisis decades in the making, Gavin Newsom led efforts to establish mental health and housing programs that have resulted in [insert dubious factoid here].”
Cut to candidate: “While other governors focused on banning story hours, I was focused on solving problems and helping people. Promises made; promises kept.”
Already, press releases and fact sheets released by the governor’s office overflow with superlatives. Prop 1 is a “historic transformation” with “real results” and “increased accountability.” And if that weren’t enough, there will also be “reform with results” and “accountability with results” And rest assured, the resulting public services will be “world class.” I bet.
Which makes one wonder, if mental health services are the solution to homelessness, why didn’t the original Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63), the millionaire’s tax approved by voters in 2004, prevent the current mental health, and resulting homelessness, crises?
Could it be that mental health and substance abuse are not causes of homelessness but the symptoms? Or rather, maybe the ball of pathologies that we broadly call “homelessness” is really the result of a general societal collapse that leaves people unprepared to care for themselves.
Add to this the high cost of housing (in part the result of state laws and regulations that make building difficult) and the ready availability of drugs (especially marijuana, which the voters—in all their wisdom—legalized in 2016 and the heavy use of which is now linked to psychosis) and you have a recipe for disaster.
The reality is, there are no policy solutions to homelessness. Let me rephrase that: the policies that might have helped to minimize, and even prevent, homelessness from becoming a crisis—namely, the basic enforcement of law and order—are exactly the policies that the progressives who run California did not want to employ at the time homelessness was an emerging issue.
Instead, progressives chose tolerance and understanding and then belatedly threw billions of dollars at the issue, to no effect. As the crisis exploded beyond the big cities and central downtown cores to every suburb and hamlet in the State, progressives simply ignored the problem until they could ignore it no longer.
Make no mistake, Prop 1 is more (or at least as much) about Gavin Newsom’s presidential ambitions as it is about mental health. A vote for Prop 1 is vote for Newsom ’28 (or sooner?).