Every town has its top story of the year. In 2002, Galesburg had the Maytag closure. It also had a new president for Knox, bricks for South Seminary, and the continuing saga of the GHS Girls Basketball team.
Out here on the Central California coast, the stories were a bit different. Top story? A year ago, the median price of a home in San Luis Obispo County was $310,000.
By December 2002, the price had climbed to $345,450. At that rate, the price will reach half a million by 2007.
This story led to many other off-shoot stories. Because the State of California and the U.S. Government consider SLO County to be rural, the levels of Medicare and CalMed payments are low. As a result, the County is closing its General Hospital; and the largest health care provider went bankrupt. Young people and blue collar workers can't afford the prices charged by health plans and live in over-priced dumps because they can't afford the newer, high-end houses either.
Tech businesses have been closing or moving out of the county -- or even the state. Hundreds of people are losing jobs. The tax rates are also high but still won't support the costs of the infrastructure.
The people moving in tend to be rich or retired or both. They need more medical care -- but can't get it because medical technicians, nurses, and doctors fresh out of medical school can't afford to live here. Doctors aren't taking any more patients -- unless some they already serve die and leave an opening.
School teachers and administrators are also in a bind. No new young families mean shrinking schools. Three elementary schools were closed here this fall. Many of the most experienced teachers are retiring at the earliest possible moment and can't be replaced by younger, cheaper teachers. Even school principals and school district administrators are being priced out and leave for less expensive areas. Finding talented people to replace them is highly difficult. School bonds are difficult to pass.
Ironically, the state of California says we're supposed to build 18,000 new homes, preferably affordable housing. The builders don't want to -- they make more money with high-end housing. The County doesn't know where the homes can go: much of our land is agricultural (or rural, see above); in my neck of the woods, much of it is near vertical. What looks feasible on a map isn't so great when you realize you can only grow grapes or cattle on it; houses tend to fall downhill.
What's more, a lot of the infrastructure isn't suitable for this kind of explosive growth. Take Pismo Beach, for example. It currently owes over $500,000 in FINES for failures at its sewage treatment plant -- now 50 years old -- which dumps pollution into the Pacific Ocean. Why not replace it? The City Council can't agree on where to put it or how it should function. They'd like to tie into a neighboring city's plant; but that city is adamant about not allowing it. So the pollution goes on, the fines grow, and the problem gets worse every week.
Tourists love Pismo Beach, its beach and pier. On some weekends, we cram the equivalent of the City of Galesburg into our streets and motels -- which cover one square mile. That's a lot of tourist dollars -- and surrounding cities envy our income, which leads to feuds in Paradise. Our City Council could build a pretty good parking structure for $500,000 -- but they can't find a place to put it because the cost of land is too high. And so success breeds problems.
That's the story of the year here where it was 82 degrees and sunny on Sunday, but you could spend half a tank of gas looking for a parking place. It's success which prices out working people and poisons the ocean. Combine it with a staggering economy and a state BILLIONS of dollars in debt and you've got the big story of 2003 and maybe years to come.