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Stuart Leavenworth: Two eulogies for California

Last week was a tough one for the East Coast media elite.

Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal had already prepared lengthy eulogies for California as it prepared to run out of money.

But then the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarz-enegger spoiled everything by cutting a late-night deal to close the state's $42 billion gap.

No matter. Readers in New York market never tire of reading about pending California catastrophes.

First to re-puncture the Golden Dream was the Wall Street Journal's opinion page, with a column called "How California Became France."

"California is in a French-like bind: unable to afford a welfare-type state, and unable to overhaul it," wrote Matthew Kaminiski on Monday.

The comparison breaks down further from there. France offers its citizens universal health care, and its jobless rate is at 8 percent. With unemployment here climbing above 9.3 percent and millions of families without health care, California could only hope to be in a "French-like bind."

The second hyperbolic essay came from Joel Kotkin, who authored a piece in Newsweek headlined "Death of a Dream."

Kotkin, a transplant to Southern California, has made a cottage industry out of defending suburban sprawl in recent years.

Now he's decided that it is "hysterical greens" who have brought California to its knees.

Who are these greens?

They include Hollywood magnates, Silicon Valley billionaires and well-heeled politicians like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

"They might imagine that driving a Prius or the blocking a new water system or new suburban housing development serves the planet, but this usually comes at no cost to themselves or their lifestyles," he writes.

Kotkin is always fun to read, but his thesis, as usual, is a mess. California's economy tanked when the housing bubble burst, and that bubble was built on large-lot homes, financed with subprime loans, occupied by people who commuted long distances to work.

It wasn't environmentalists who created this unsustainable bubble, and it certainly wasn't Kotkin who warned us about it.

Schwarzenegger deserves his lumps for his inconsistent leadership, and smug Californians need to be reminded that their support for various ballot initiatives have contributed to the state's fiscal woes.

But it is laughable to see Kaminski write that "California leads the nation on economic and fiscal dysfunction."

That dubious honor goes to Wall Street, a place that has somehow escaped the attention of certain learned analysts.

Stuart Leavenworth is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Reach him at sleavenworth@sacbee.com.

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