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Inland California may set tone for 21st century

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POSTED April 25, 2010 1:54 a.m.
The political equivalent of the San Andreas Fault has split California in half for years at the Tehachapi Mountains.

The great geological divide that separates the San Fernando Valley and its teeming cities from the southern extremity of the endless Central Valley cuts California’s psyche into two parts.

The northern half dominated in the 19th century. It is where the most liberal county in the state - San Francisco - gave us Willie Brown, Edmund G. Brown Sr. and Dianne Feinstein.

The land south of the Tehachapis has been in the driver’s seat most of the 20th century. It is here where the state’s most conservative bastion - Orange County - gave the Golden State Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bob Dornan.

Each side of the Techachapis is served by a city whose impact on the modern world is far greater than the 100-plus years it has stood as a legitimate urban center. San Francisco and Los Angeles are magnets for progressive thinking and entrepreneurship: San Francisco begat the Silicon Valley while Los Angeles begat Orange County.

San Francisco is viewed as the fruit and nut capital while La-La Land is categorized as a place where bikini-clad blondes and muscle-bound air heads roam the streets.

Nothing, as real Californians know, is farther from the truth.

California is simply a place where man’s imagination has risen to match the wonder and power of Mother Nature from the vast Pacific Ocean, the fertile Central Valley the stunning and bountiful desolation of the Mojave and Death Valley to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and San Francisco Bay.

Neither side of the Tehachapi has cornered the market on virtue although you could argue Los Angeles is much more tolerant. San Franciscans love to speak in belittling terms of Los Angeles as a place gone mad that managed to rape the Owens Valley in a bid to feed its reckless thirst for water.

Los Angeles residents are more laid back. They don’t point out the obvious. San Francisco has always been the quintessential open town from the very first days of the Gold Rush. Rarely does any Southern Californian speak ill of San Francisco’s wanton destruction of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne to build Hetch Hetchy even though the City by the Bay’s favorite son - John Muir - was crushed when San Francisco conspired with Congress to destroy the valley.

The contrasts between north and south are endless.

Perhaps that is why every so often someone advances the idea of splitting the state in half. Nothing could be more insane. California without Los Angeles or San Francisco within the same borders would be another run-of-the-mill state.

The preoccupation with the north-south split has masked a growing trend that may one day create a new power axis - Coastal California versus Inland California.

Coastal California is where you will find Los Angeles and San Francisco plus their respective metropolises and contrasting views of the Pacific Ocean that tilt leftward.

Inland California is the growing counties of the Inland Empire - San Bernardino and Riverside counties - as well as the Great Central Valley of the north.

It is the political and economic realities of the land commuters are creating that is given credence to California’s 21st century power struggles to pit inland versus coastal sections of the Golden State.

Water is a big issue to satisfy growth needs in Inland California. Along Coastal California, it’s more a matter of making sure they have enough to meet existing needs.

Inland California needs freeways and mass transit to avert growth-related problem. Coastal California’s biggest challenge is not just finding money to repair aging roads but to also put in freeways and mass transit systems that were needed decades ago.

The list goes on and on.

A growing Inland California is getting more conservative by the day while Coastal California is becoming a tad more liberal.

The conservative-liberal, rift between inland and coastal extends beyond politics. It cuts right to the lifestyles of each.

The 15 million additional residents expected to swell California’s population in the next 25 years won’t help bring the two emerging regions closer together. Coastal California will draw the bulk of the poorer new residents despite the fact most of the farming takes place in Inland California.

Inland California is where the families dependent on the good-paying jobs flee to buy houses they can afford and to raise families. It is in Inland California where they try to find the small-town feel of America and hold onto it for dear life.

California’s biggest strength is its diversity of terrain, people and political thought. The emergence of Inland California will add another major force to the mixture.

If the 19th century belonged to Northern California and the 20th century to Southern California, then the 21st Century will belong to Inland California.
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