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Golis: State of the State: Waiting for more than promises

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said most of the right things last week when he urged new initiatives to curb the state’s exploding population of homeless people.

With fresh memories of the squalor on the Joe Rodota Trail, residents of Sonoma County understand all too well that homelessness has become what Newsom called “a disgrace (for the) richest state in the union.”

“Every day,” the governor said, “the California dream is dimmed by the wrenching reality of families, children and seniors living unfed on a concrete bed. … The hard truth is we ignored the problem.”

Newsom’s plan to provide trailers to Sonoma County and to other localities will reduce the number of people living on the streets. So will an order to make more state land available for homeless camps.

Still, many of the governor’s proposals remain just that — proposals. Even if the state Legislature agrees to spend more money, waive environmental rules to construct new shelters and expand compulsory treatment for people who suffer from severe mental illness, nothing will happen soon. We already know government moves at its own pace, especially with issues known to be complex, controversial and costly.

Responding to Newsom’s remarks, the veteran Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton predicted that such an ambitious plan would inevitably require new taxes. Will lawmakers agree? Probably not in an election year, said Skelton.

Newsom also endorsed the idea of building more housing near transit stops, but we know from recent history that he failed to support a measure to do just that. When the bill was rejected — again — last month, the governor and lawmakers were left with nothing to show for all their talk about the need to construct more housing.

In his annual State of the State address, Newsom might also have devoted a few minutes to talking about the future of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the state’s largest and most troubled utility. But it remains easier to castigate a bankrupt company than to confront the hard choices associated with what happens next.

This is the problem, isn’t it? In so many ways, the gap between what politicians say and what they do grows wider.

Last week, the Democratic candidates for president were busy talking up all the ways they would expand health care coverage, pretending to be unaware that all their proposals would be dead on arrival in Congress.

Since many of these same candidates serve or have served in Congress, they know what’s possible and what isn’t.

In their spare moments, the candidates took turns taking potshots at each other over such things as nondisclosure agreements, health records and how they voted on one obscure bill or another.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was pardoning felons who were friends or the friends of friends, while appointing a new director of national intelligence, a crony with no experience in intelligence gathering.

The Democratic candidates for president, it seems, would rather cut each other to pieces than rally around efforts to deny Trump a second term.

For rank-and-file Democrats desperate to block Trump’s reelection, these debates have become a discouraging spectacle, the latest example of a party that has yet to prove it can mount a unified response to a president eager to welcome controversy on a daily basis.

Closer to home, local politicians continue to tell us they are dedicated to eradicating homelessness and building housing for the next generation of workers.

If they had been successful, however, we wouldn’t be reading about the Joe Rodota Trail, or a housing shortage that threatens the long-term quality of life for everyone who lives in Sonoma County.

“Look,” said Newsom, “I get cities need to meet their housing goals in a way that matches their community, but doing nothing is no longer an option. It can’t be.”

New home construction in Sonoma County faces many obstacles — neighborhood opposition, the need to reverse a couple of decades of anti-housing policies, the challenges associated with financing new housing at a price people can afford.

As we approach another election, it might be refreshing if local candidates stopped giving the impression that they will make everything better just as soon as they get elected (or reelected).They could even level with people about the obstacles and what it will take to overcome them.

This is why, when politicians talk, people often stop listening. It’s a cynicism born of years of promises broken or promises that may have worked as advertising but never matched the reality of the moment.

Americans have become less optimistic about the future because they have seen so many of these promises left by the wayside after the votes were counted and government returned to business as usual.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

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