Growing up on the right coast, to me, California was a Beach Boys soundtrack. After all, the West Coast had the sunshine and the girls all looked so tan. In fact, on my first trip out here with three friends packed into a smallish, oldish, brokenish mini-sub compact, it seemed as if the Beach Boys were the only music allowed to filter through the car radio's speakers. The group, of course, had long disbanded, but their hawking of the California "dream" lived on well beyond their record contracts. Their song-pictures of the Southern California lifestyle inspired us to come check it out.
California, at the time, was the place to be.
The public schools were the best in the nation, the employment opportunities seemed unlimited, the future seemed bright enough to mandate round the clock wearing of sunglasses.
Then, the Beach Boys seemingly fell silent.
The schools went downhill faster than a SoCal mudslide; the unemployment rate went up faster than the prices of movie tickets.
So, it came as no surprise when I caught the headline in Friday's LA Times: "California's population grows by less than 1%."
It is, says the paper, "the slowest growth rate in more than a decade."
What growth there is, is coming from births rather than immigration. People just are not moving here as much as they used to.
Okay. So we must accept the fact that California is no longer the hot ticket item.
But here is where I take a sharp turn. I think this could signal a re-birth rather than a further decline. Sure, fewer people mean less taxes going into state coffers, even as the population still expands, though much slower than in previous years. But it also gives those who must set California's future course time to figure out how best to do that before immigration eventually picks up again, as I am confident it will!
Hopefully, by the time it does, infrastructure would have been repaired, a new budget process would have been instituted (as you no doubt have noticed, we sort of don't really have a budget process at the moment) , and the people who reside here would have had the breathing room to better chart their collective and individual destinies.
Something tells me, in the not too distant future, another car, with another set of friends, will rattle its way across the US, making its way into California, with a Beach Boys tune playing on the radio. And, it will feel right.
Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and the co-author of the book, "No Time To Think - The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He covered police and politics in L.A. since 1995 and currently contributes investigative reporting to KNX 1070 Newsradio.