One can understand given today’s climate the desire for many to leave the state of California. The issues have been well noted and continue to be so daily in the news media. Just read the Los Angeles Times and you’ll see things unfathomable for those of us in Tehachapi. These examples are a few reasons why the U.S. Census Bureau estimated 600,000 left the state last year, while only around 500,000 came in, a net loss of 100,000 residents.
But many of us in Tehachapi also relate to the desires of those who are too dedicated, hopeful or just too plain stubborn to give up on California. Many of them have relocated from their former urban homes to Tehachapi. Weekly I meet a new resident from a larger city in Southern California. Much of their stories is the same: too much crime, too much traffic, too expensive to live. They are seeking refuge in our city and our community, hoping to be a part of something special while remaining a part of this state.
California certainly has its issues. While I will leave the politics of it all up to you, it is worth noting that California isn’t completely ready to be written off. Communities like ours are examples of “making it work,” given our circumstances. We aren’t happy with everything handed down to us from Sacramento; decriminalization of many offenses and lesser penalties for others has led to more brazen criminals, even in our relatively safe community. There is the unreliability of the power grid, the war on plastic and petroleum, increased costs for building, misallocated road taxes and a few others things many of us disagree with.
But in the end, there’s a job to be done in Tehachapi, and that job is to make the best hand with the cards we’re dealt. As 2019 comes to an end, I hope you can appreciate that we are doing just that. We are moving forward on a sustainable water supply project that will both continue to strengthen the Tehachapi water basin, and remove the city of Tehachapi’s future reliance on the State Water Project. We have taken the lead in many cases in the Highway 58 climbing lanes initiative. While the project doesn’t sit within our political boundaries, we believe it is our responsibility for community safety and commerce that traffic flow safely and freely on this major route. We are also drivers too, and nothing is more frustrating than the unsafe big rig lane change and backed up traffic going 30 mph on a highway.
We are building a city, as laid out in our adopted general plan, that supports growth while at the same time protecting the community defining countryside that surrounds us. We’ve been rewarded by following that document; it has positioned us to attract millions in investments over the last several years ranging from large businesses like the recently under construction TownePlace Suites by Marriott, or small business like the ongoing private redevelopment of three downtown properties.
California itself isn’t completely void of business, even given stringent regulations. Beacon Economics pointed out recently that the California economy continues to grow with unemployment hitting an all-time low of 3.9 percent and the state adding more than 300,000 jobs from October 2018 to October 2019. Worker wages in California have also reached an all-time high. So despite a high cost of living in much of the state, many companies are doing the right thing and paying employees accordingly.
It should be noted that the majority of that growth came from two sectors: health care and leisure/hospitality. We can relate in Tehachapi with the growth and expansion of our own health care offerings over the last 12 months. So when those less-positive people would like to point out that job growth is only for “minimum wage jobs” you’ll know the facts don’t support that claim.
While some will continue to choose to leave California, there are examples of communities like Tehachapi that are a great reason to stay and continue to build a strong city. We are thinking great, thinking positive and engaging with solutions-minded community members who are prepared to keep moving us in the right direction.
That was definitely the attitude in 2019, and with the New Year on the horizon, will continue to be an actionable item in 2020. Please contact me with any questions, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Garrett is Tehachapi's city manager.