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Yes, Californicate is a word, and it expresses all the bad things about the great state of California, primarily Southern California; the crowded, overbuilt part of the state that has been overcome by pollution, trash, glitter, and multilane freeways.

However, I’m a big fan of the state, and I have been in and out of California numerous times. I’ve played tennis at the John Wayne Tennis Center in San Diego, where every piece of clothing must be white, taken a balloon ride over the Napa Valley, and listened to the Kingston Trio play to a crowd of thousands in a San Francisco park. Vertis and I have had some wonderful times in California.

Well, I know you’re thinking “Californicate”? Yes, California has some great places to visit and be entertained, but the state has negatives, and while we try to emulate their successes, I think we must avoid the state’s failures.

But first, in order to avoid the California excesses, we must realize our state’s natural resources, and that is expressed in our advertising. We’re The Natural State. That rings of green, forested lands, uncrowned roadways, and hidden gems such as Champanolle Creek in South Arkansas and Hidden Valley in the Ozark’s. I know we pride ourselves on these and hundreds of other special treasures that are tucked away in our great state, and just the thought that we would degrade or actually lose these wonderful parts of the state would cause any Arkansawyer to protest.

While we don’t openly admit to mimic California’s lifestyle, that is what we are doing. Of course, the huge flood of technology that comes out of California is impossible to ignore, and yes, I’m hooked on a lot of it. However, it disturbs me that with the good positive items, we find our business and political leaders actively working to adopt the negative parts of the California lifestyle. That’s right, and it seems from continuously widening our highways to accommodate more and more cars and trucks, we are like a fat man letting out another notch in his belt instead of going on a diet. The seemingly endless beating of the jobs, jobs, jobs, drum, especially when unemployment is a tiny 3.2% defies logic. Where are we going to get those workers when a factory opens needing 500 new employees? Everyone who wants a job already has one and our towns are plastered with “hiring” and “help wanted” signs. To make things even worse, it seems there are no bad jobs, and we end up getting the low end of available jobs because our pollution control standards are so weak. Do a make myself clear? We don’t need any more polluting Chinese plants!

Yes, there are bad jobs and those are the jobs that lower air and water quality. These jobs make The Natural State slogan a joke. But it’s not just the jobs, jobs, jobs, at any cost, which endangers our lifestyle, it’s the very idea that our quality of life is determined by having a huge population growth, and that is how Californicate is being promoted in our state. We have long passed the need to have a sustainable population, and the very idea of population growth equals quality is a 1950s attitude. It seems to me that our Chamber of Commerce Directors could use a re-education course at the University. Something like the prisoners of war in the Korean War had after being brainwashed.

But are we really in danger of Californication? Of course, we don’t have an 18 lane freeway such as Houston, which has long since been Californicated beyond hope. However, we seem to be rushing into the abyss. In the Bentonville—-Fayetteville corridor, they are letting out another notch in their belt as fast as they financially can. When will four lanes need to be expanded to six or eight lanes, and when will the boys up in the northwest say “uncle”? Will they have lost the battle when common sense finally makes them stop? Folks, the last thing NW Arkansas needs are more jobs. They can’t fill the job openings they have, and they sure don’t need an increase in population. Northwest Arkansas isn’t Californicated…yet, but it is well on its way. Of course, Little Rock is following right along in widening the trail west from downtown, and we all know, as west Little Rock continues with the jobs and population growth, extra lanes will be added until nnication takes place.

It seems evitable that as the local Chambers of Commerce continue to beat the jobs, jobs, refrain and as people flood in to take those jobs, we slowly become part of a vicious circle, and it seems nothing we can do will slow down the rush to grow at any cost. As we look into the future, and see a stagnant, pollution filled state, we will wonder why we didn’t do something when we had an opportunity.

We are faced with throwing up our hands and giving up, or actively doing something about the problems we’re facing. I still think we can make a difference, and I know thousands of Arkansawyers want a better life. Below I have outlined a few items that will make a difference in our quality of life.

(1) A good education for our citizens is a key to solving many of our problems, and we should do everything possible to assure a quality education is available to all. Of course that starts with giving our teachers a living wage. We should give every teacher an immediate 30% increase in salary, and mandate every school’s student attendance absentee rate be no higher than 5%.

(2) Rein in the Highway Department’s lane expansion and focus on basic highway access, improvement, and visual expression by planting trees in the mediums. Increase the emphasis on electric scooters and electric bicycles for inner cities travel, and put them on the streets. Sidewalks are for walking! Fund public transportation in our major towns and cities.

(3) Re-educate our Chambers of Commerce to focus on quality of life items in our communities instead jobs. Make funding trails and planting trees one of their primary Chamber objectives, instead of wasting money recruiting jobs.

(4) Establish State funding to enhance visual improvements in our towns and cities, and go hand in hand with a measure of protection for the wonderful natural treasures in our state.

(5) Do away with the financial incentives set up to attract industry. We won’t need them, if we really become the Natural State. Take the unneeded financial incentives and fund solar panels for our school and public transportation for our cities.

(6) Give the Game and Fish Commission a sizeable increase in funding to allow them to continue their great job by restocking our out-of-balance ecosystem..

(7) Adopt a statewide goal that every town with a population of over 2500 have a 40% tree canopy in place within the next ten years…and set up funding by the legislature to help.

Today we have a choice. We can continue along the same path, which will Californicate Arkansas, or we can work to really make Arkansas The Natural State. Which path are you going to take?

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email [email protected]

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