For some American cities, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery—New York City, for example, wanting to to be in the same sentence as Paris and London as cultured, cosmopolitan hubs for world travel and commerce.
Other Americans cities, on the other hand, know whom they don’t want to mirror. Seattle, for example, lives in fear of becoming the San Francisco of the Pacific Northwest—a mecca for homelessness, unaffordable real estate, and gentrification run amok.
Then there’s Sacramento, the capital of California and home to the nation-state’s political ruling class.
That city’s choice of a doppelgänger? Try Santa Cruz, the quintessential California beach town on the northern tip of Monterey Bay, roughly a 90-minute drive south from San Francisco.
How is Sacramento trying to parrot Santa Cruz?
Let’s begin on the legislative front.
Last week, the California State Assembly voted to ban small shampoo and personal-care-product bottles (i.e., under 12 ounces) in state hotels. The ban would kick in for hotels with more than 50 rooms in 2023, a year later for all other hotels and rental homes. Under the terms of the proposed law, hotels could still provide the small bottles to guests upon request.
However, this comes almost six months after Santa Cruz passed a countywide ordinance doing the same. Instead of offering the small, disposable bottles, Santa Cruz hotels must stock rooms with larger bottles or dispensers. But in this case, the ban goes into effect in two years.
Another example of Sacramento following Santa Cruz’s lead: plastic straws.
Last September, former California governor Jerry Brown signed a law dictating that state restaurants will provide plastic straws to customers only upon request. But that was nearly a year after the Santa Cruz Council struck a broader blow against plastic products by placing a ban on straws, cutlery and beverage lids containing Polystyrene #6 (Starbucks, in fact, first tested its plastic alternatives in Santa Cruz County). If you have the good fortune to dine in a lovely oceanside setting such as Carmel-by-the-Sea, brace yourself for biodegradable or compostable options.
Now, if Sacramento lawmakers limited their Santa Cruz sensibilities to environmental rules and regulations, Californians could probably abide by the results. Ask anyone who’s hit the links at Pebble Beach (home to next week’s US Open), surfed at Four Mile Beach or sat atop a horse in Carmel Valley and they’ll likely agree: the region represents California’s natural beauty at its purest.
But that beauty also comes with an attitude—a tsk-tsking view of personal behavioral choices.
Last November, Santa Cruz’s City Council voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco (it goes into effect next year). Meanwhile, a proposed State Senate bill would apply the same restriction to retail stores and vending machines.
Gluttony, likewise, is frowned upon. Later this month, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk will host the “California Qualifier” for Nathan’s Famous hot-dog-eating contest (the legendary “professional eater” Joey Chestnut is from nearby San Jose).
But life, liberty, and the pursuit of binge-eating is not a popular notion with all locals. Consider this letter in the Santa Cruz Sentinel: “Shame, shame on Santa Cruz Boardwalk and NorCal Safeway for sponsoring the contest for the California winner of the National Hotdog Event! For a state struggling with obesity and a county which often prides itself on health, this contest points youth in the wrong direction. In celebrating gluttony, the contest supports behaviors which demonstrate greed as well as very poor choices in nutrition.”
“Choices,” in this instance, is an apt word. Lawmakers in Sacramento are fond of giving lip-service to California’s thornier issues. However, “choice” oftentimes is a casualty. Thus we have a land in which educational options are limited (school choice is a nonstarter; stifling the charter-school movement seems a legislative priority); health care would be declared as universal yet ultimately restrictive in reality; and government is a presence from cradle to grave.
One final note about Santa Cruz: literary icons.
Last November, UC–Santa Cruz received an 800-volume collection of works by famed author and journalist Hunter S. Thompson—one of the reasons behind the acquisition being that the Thompson collection made a nifty bookend to UC–Santa Cruz’s Grateful Dead archive.
Depending on one’s predilections, Thompson either is the embodiment of insightful writing (he’s considered to be the father of “gonzo journalism”) or a swaggering blowhard entirely deserving of lampoonery (Thompson being the basis for Doonesbury’s “Uncle Duke” character).
At one point in his life, the author resided not far from Santa Cruz. As a younger man, Thompson worked at what would later become the famed Esalen Institute in Big Sur (it’s one thing he and Don Draper have in common). Thompson also lived in Sonoma County before relocating to San Francisco and immersing himself in the 1960s counterculture (his apartment near Golden Gate Park provided a short walk to Hippie Hill).
Read Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and you’ll find this puzzling line about life in the Golden State: “My blood is too thick for California: I have never been able to properly explain myself in this climate.”
We don’t test California’s legislators for their hemal viscosity.
Good luck “properly explaining” the decisions they make.