Is the California Dream still alive?

November 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
California has long been regarded as the land of opportunity. But today the state is setting troubling trends because of its economic problems.The allure of Hollywood in a star-struck state is undeniable. The palm tree paradise has shaped the California dream. Breathtaking beaches are portrayed as playgrounds for the rich and famous.

The stunning views inspire and impress but a reality check does not paint a pretty picture.

An exclusive Action News poll conducted by Survey USA showed just 27-percent of valley residents rate California as one of the best places to live.

Fresno State history professor Dan Cady said, "The California dream is mostly myth because there's opportunity everywhere but California's been particularly good at selling that dream."

A commercial featuring the state's majestic scenery mesmerized college grad Jason Hare back home in Philadelphia. Hare explained, "As somebody who's always wanted to move to California that's just the enticement you need to get out here."

But those sexy scenes didn't match Fresno's reality.

Since January, Jason's found but lost three jobs because of the economic downturn.

Once you open up that Golden Gate you find a state with a double-digit unemployment rate, America's foreclosure capital, forced furloughs and fed-up college students protesting tuition hikes.

Fresno State senior Stephen Bohigian said many students see the California dream drifting away. Bohigian said, "It's a lot more elusive than I would say it was five years ago or even three years ago. Tuition's gone up every semester I've been here since 2005."

Tim Hodson heads the Center for California Studies in Sacramento. Hodson said, "What we're looking at is the destruction of a major promise, a major part of the California dream. That was the master plan of higher education."

Hodson says the dream's in danger but not dead. "It's still a place where imagination and creativity are valued. The place where we can re-invent ourselves."

This is the state which gave us Google, Apple and Disney. Hodson said, "It's a place where tomorrow comes today."

Old Sacramento captures yesterday - the 1800's - when fortune hunters came to California and mail came by pony express. During the gold rush the call went out to "Go west, young man." but these days more and more people are leaving California because of a troubled economy.

Last year 144-thousand people moved out of state. Hodson said, "I think it speaks to the fact that there is a question of sustainability. "How many people can live in Los Angeles? How many people can live in the valley without the valley turning into one large smog-ridden cesspool."

Still, many people picture themselves here. Outside the state capitol we met the Torphy family, who just moved to Fresno from Colorado. Valerie Torphy said, "I actually did not know about the financial state of California until I got there so when i got here - oh, should've stayed in Colorado but I love it so it's all good."

California topped a recent Harris Poll as the place people would like to live if they didn't live in their current state.

Dan Cady explained, "The California dream's hard to ignore particularly if you live in the rest of the country, the rest of the world because you see it on television and in the movies all the time, which is why people from out of state think we surf in Fresno."

Those nearing retirement surf the net to see if their 401-k plans are recovering.

Bank auditor Robert Rey plans to work part-time once he retires. But Rey's confident California will right its course. Rey said, "You can't just turn around a big ship in 2-3 months. It takes a while and I think in two years hopefully the economy's going to be in better shape."

Hodson believes the state's job engine is poised to re-start because ultimately, money talks. Hodson said, "More venture capital was invested in California in 2008 than in the rest of the country combined."

California has the 8th largest economy on the planet so the world is watching and hoping for a Hollywood ending.

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