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Five Things That Changed California in 2018

Springs Fire In Southern California Gains Strength
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Historians — and commentators — often point out that the state of California is a leader in the United States, a place where trends, policies, and ideas get tested before they become popular in the rest of the country. In other words, what occurs in the Golden State, whether it is by design, for better or for worse, often becomes an example for the country. 

So, here are a few things that changed California during 2018. 

A sanctuary — and a leader — for immigrants

In 2018, California led the so-called “resistance” to the government of President Trump by adopting the most expansive “sanctuary state policy” in the country, to limit the collaboration of local police in the enforcement of civil immigration law.

The California Values Act was meant to protect immigrants and workers from the new more aggressive immigration enforcement by the Trump Administration, which abandoned all rules intended to prioritize dangerous criminals in favor of casting a wider net and arresting anyone without legal status.

Nearly a quarter of the undocumented population of the United States live in California and passing a policy that frustrates certain avenues of arrest for the federal government was sure to have an impact on the administration's plans. 

Barely six months into the policy, the Migration Policy Institute studied the first effects of this and similar types of sanctuary policies around the country and found that Californa's indeed affected the ability of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to arrest immigrants. 

So far, the courts have upheld the sanctuary policies in California.  

The most destructive wildfires in history

In 2018, California continued leading efforts to fight the weakening of environmental laws promoted by the Trump Administration and, at the same time, became a painful symbol of the consequences of climate change.

Several of the dozens of lawsuits filed by California against the Administration had to do with preserving environmental protections. In the first half of 2018, for example, the state led a coalition of 16 other states plus the District of Columbia in suing the Trump Administration on the proposed weakening of fuel economy standards. 

But later in the year, California experienced the most destructive and deadly wildfire season on record, with a total of 876,131 acres burned, almost four times the average of the preceding five years, according to statistics by Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection).  

Experts linked the fires to the fact that many areas of California experienced their hottest years on record recently, making the vegetation unusually dry and parched.

In the meantime, President Trump accused California — a state that does not please him politically — of poor forest management as a cause of the rapid spread of the flames and threatened to remove federal funding. But state officials pointed out that he had already cut its budget for forest services and that more of the land that burned was federal forest rather than state land.

The devastation to lives and property in both Northern and Southern California left a dire warning: extreme weather events will only worsen if the issue of climate change is not addressed collectively. 

Cannabis legalization and a vibrant new economy

With the first days of the year, retail cannabis shops opened their doors to inaugurate what many say will become the world's largest market for legal recreational marijuana. California started the trend in the mid-90s, by being the first to legalize medicinal cannabis, but full legalization is an important milestone.

The golden state was not the first to legalize recreational use of cannabis, but this change becomes a test for the rest of the nation because California produces seven times more marijuana than it consumes and sells the rest — mostly illegally — in other states. 

Legalization brought about a significant rise in sales, to a $2.7 billion industry this year, which is predicted to nearly double in 2020.

With legality and taxation — which makes the product more expensive and incentivizes the continuation of illegal sales — also came more public acceptance of the use and sale of the drug. 

2018 United States House of Representatives elections in California
2018 United States House of Representatives elections in California. Light blue, Democratic hold; dark blue, Democratic gain; red, Republican hold.

The Blue Wave (or was it the “brown” wave?)

Initially, it seemed a modest result: by the closing of polls on November 6, 2018 — mid-term election night — voters in California seemed to have flipped a few congressional seats from Republican to Democrat. It didn´t seem major and certainly not the “wave” that was predicted.

But days later, after all the ballots were fully counted, it became painfully obvious for the Republicans that their party had lost whatever hold they had left on the state, prompting a leading political columnist in Sacramento to call it, not a wave but a “tsunami.” Another writer called it a “disaster” for Republicans. 

After this election, the GOP will hold only 8 of the 53 California congressional seats, or just 15%. 

Aside from that, no Republican holds a statewide position in the Golden State.

The Democratic gains in California were part of an overall flip of 39 Congressional seats in the nation, allowing Democrats to regain control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010. 

The numbers point to a significant rise in Latino mobilization — apart from a shift in white moderates — as the main reason for the results. A report by UCLA's Latino Politics and Policy Initiative found that, in the nation, the average vote increase among Latinos was 96% compared to 37% among non-Latinos from 2014 to 2018.

Just before the election, Trump increased his attacks on immigrants, seizing on the Central American caravan approaching the southern border, to try to prop Republicans up. In California and many other places in the nation, this strategy did not work. 

Shockingly, Republicans lost all four Republican-held Congressional seats in Orange County, the bed of Golden State conservatism and the birthplace of Proposition 187 which in 1994 took away education and health from undocumented immigrants. It could be said that California went full circle, from 1994 to 2018. 

High cost of housing-growth of the homeless

Even with all the great economic news that California brings to the table, there are two signs of trouble for the Golden State that continued getting worse in 2018: the high cost of housing and the growth of the homeless population.

Although part of that population is chronically homeless, due to mental illness or other problems, there's a definite link between expensive housing and the inability to afford a home for many working class and low-income families.

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 29% of California renters spend more than half their income on rent. 
Estimates indicate that, on any given night, about 135,000 people are homeless on the streets of California and since 2016, the state experienced a more significant increase in homelessness than any other state. One-quarter of homeless people in the U.S. live in California.

No list can encompass every significant happening in the most populous state in the country which also boasts the largest economy. Here are some runners up:

  • Right before the November fires, a horrific shooting by a former marine at the Borderline bar in Thousand Oaks killed a dozen people and injured 13 others. 
  • Sports lovers in the Golden State celebrated the acquisition of superstar player Lebron James by the Lakers and the building of new stadiums to house two of the most popular sports: Football and “fútbol” (soccer).
  • Big names in Hollywood were brought down by accusations of sexual abuse and harassment, including Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, Kevin Spacey and many others. 
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