( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)
Orange County, California is a seat of hypocrisy. Recently I spent the weekend in Orange County, long-time stronghold of conservatism. The local newspaper, Orange County Register, features regular condemnations of “socialism” and government generally. Despite their disdain for government spending, in actuality the county’s residents are are dependent on two enormous government projects. The first is the highway system, and the second is the California State Water Project.
Orange County is doubtlessly a bastion of conservatism. There are 1.5 times as many registered Republicans as Democrats. Here are some gems from the blog of the Orange County Register: “If I were creating a program designed to keep people poor and dependent on government, this would be it. You provide new, below-market housing to people, then forbid them from selling the property at market rates when they leave….Sorry, but markets still work better than socialism.” In another entry, a blogger writes about his recommendations for today’s Russia: “Instead of increasing government, he [Russian President Vladimir Putin] should cancel all income taxes, welfare, etc. — the whole superstructure of socialist tyranny that remains there (and in the US, Europe, etc.) — income taxes, welfare, “Social[ist] Security,” government schooling, etc. Leave people alone to run their own lives and they’ll start having kids again.”
Notwithstanding the rants of the misinformed, Orange County is dependent on the federal highway system. For example, in Orange County the 405 freeway is 72.5 miles long, and connects Orange County to Los Angeles and San Diego. According to 1996 figures from the Department of Transportation, a 2 lane freeway in an urban area costs approximately $540,000 per mile. In many places the 405 is at least 4 lanes wide on each side. Thus, by a conservative estimate, the 405 freeway costs at least $ 39,150,000 a year. As if that number was not large enough, Orange County is served by a variety of other Interstates, including 10, 605, 110 and 105. Each of these freeways was built at the taxpayer’s expense. Keeping the freeways open requires a host of maintenance tasks, as well as trustworthy inspectors to ensure that the bridges and overpasses are well maintained. Every day people drive on Interstate 405 without paying a cent in tolls. It is the most heavily used freeway in the country.
On the other hand, there is also now a beautiful toll road in Orange County, State Routes 241 and 73 were built with private dollars, and maintained with toll fees. Skeptics could point out that Orange County could have been created through a system of private toll roads. This seems doubtful because although the roads were conceived of in the 1970s, construction did not start until the 1990’s, two decades later. Putting the bonds on the ballot did not happen until the early 1980s. In comparison, Interstate 405 was approved in 1955, with construction starting two years later in 1957. In a little more than a decade, in 1969, construction crews finished the build out of Interstate 405. It seems highly unlikely that the vast network of freeways that connect the cities of Orange County and the rest of Southern California could have been built so rapidly with private backing. No matter how many miles a person drives on Interstate 405, or the vast majority of the highways that lead into Orange County, they pay no increased usage fee. The government is subsidizing every mile driven. Sounds like socialism and government spending to me.
While the highway system is important to mobility in Orange County, water is necessary for life. Orange County draws a full 25 percent of it’s water from the California State Water Project and the Colorado river. The State Water Project is a network of pipelines and aqueducts that moves water from Northern to Southern California. The Project has gigantic (and expensive) canals and pumping stations, and cost 1.75 billion dollars to build in 1960. In today’s dollars, that’s over 11 billion dollars. Keeping it running is no small task either. Like the interstate highway system, the CSWP requires inspectors and maintenance personnel for the physical plant. Orange County residents are also the beneficiaries of the local Orange County Water District, which manages the wells that provide 75 percent of the county’s drinking water. The California legislature formed the OCWD in 1933 because groundwater pumping was causing the land to sink. As people pumped out water, the land sank into the space previously occupied by the water. There is no free-for-all of private well drilling in Orange County– rather, the OCWD makes sure that the groundwater in Orange County is protected from salt water and recharged from treated , recycled waste-water.
Without the OWCD and government regulation, the groundwater supply in Orange County might not exist in its current high quality state. Furthermore, the county might be marred with a sinking water table, which damages buildings and roads as the earth compacts.
Orange County is just one more example of a place where government subsidies have created an entire way of life. What’s ironic about the complaints of the OC Register columnist/bloggers is that because the government subsidies have worked so well, the bloggers are not aware of them. Clean water comes out of the tap when you turn it on, and the “free” roads that are ”just there.” It is easy to take something for granted that was built , at great expense, by previous generations. The rest of the world is not like that– in many countries, a person cannot safely drink tap water, and there is no vast , free network of high speed roads. We must start asking people to own up to what it costs to maintain their lifestyle– if they expect to keep drinking the tap water and driving on freeways, they must start accepting the costs. Again, the United States chose to spend money on public works during the 1950s and 1960s, and it laid the foundation for the economic boom.
Alternately, they can find a way to build their own roads and make their own clean water without government backing. Good luck with that. I hear it’s working out well in Somalia.
List of Sources
Steve Greenhut, Housing Socialism in Irvine OCREgister.com.
John Seiler, “OCRegister blog: Orange Punch – post: Socialism = death.” OCRegister.com
Orange County Registrar of Voters, “Voter Registration by SOS District.” OCVOTE.com.
Daniel P. Faigin, “California Highways (www.cahighways.org): Routes 371 through 480.” California Highways
US Dept. of Transportation/US Dept. of Commerce, US Urban Freeway (Motorway) Cost per Person Mile.” The Public Purpose.
TCA, “The Toll Roads – Background and History.” The Toll Roads.
Department of Water Resources, “State Water Project – History.” Department of Water Resources Public Affairs.
Tom R. Halfhill, “Tom’s Inflation Calculator.” Tom’s Home Page.
Orange County Water District, “OCWD Online – Water Factory 21.” Orange County Water District.