The fact that California is in bad shape financially does not make it unique. What makes it unique is Gov. Schwarzenegger’s suggestion to help get California back on its sandaled feet. He recently proposed that the state sell off some of its most famous properties: San Quentin Prison, the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Cow Palace, Del Mar Race Track, and various state buildings. He explained that it’s just like some people in the current recession having to sell their homes or luxury items like boats, second cars, and motorcycles. He wants to have a big garage sale, and even sell the state’s garages.
I’m not an economist. I have trouble balancing my checkbook. (You remember checkbooks. Those are things that everybody used to carry with them when people kept track of how much they were spending). However, even a layman like me can see a big problem with the governor’s proposed sale. First of all, they’d have to find folks to buy these properties. If the people down your block are putting off painting their fence because of the recession, I don’t think they’re going to plunk down $400 million for the Coliseum.
As you know, we just had a “special election.” California has a “special election” slightly more often than it has Sig Alerts. We vote on just about everything, while the legislators … actually, I have no idea what the legislators do. Anyway, surprise, surprise, Californians didn’t vote to raise their taxes or pay the state’s bills in some other way. Schwarzenegger anticipated this possibility when he suggested selling off some of the state’s most valuable real estate. California is in big trouble. Much more money is going out than coming in. And the state doesn’t even have a charge account at The Gap.
The property that is most intriguing to me is San Quentin. As you probably know, it is located in Marin County on scenic waterfront property north of San Francisco. That’s right. For years, prisoners at the Q have probably had a better view than you. So I guess the idea is that if someone bought the property and developed it, they could build some luxury housing that would be quite desirable. Who wouldn’t want to live in a place called something like, “Death Row Duplexes?”
Or maybe some super rich person would buy San Quentin and keep it as is. They could use it as a place of business. I’ll bet employees would be kept in line with such incentives as, “If you make your quota this month, you’ll get an actual seat for your toilet.”
Most people think the governor’s big sale won’t really happen. He and the Legislature will probably figure out a more reasonable way to get the state solvent again. Maybe they’ll hold a giant car wash.
But even if the Cal-Sale doesn’t happen, it’s a provocative idea, and California’s certainly not the only place with famous landmarks. So maybe other areas will entertain the “everything’s for sale” idea. And it could work. You see, there’s one factor that you might not have thought of.
You can’t overestimate the number of individuals who like to brag about their stuff. If that couple you know is hard to take now, talking about their new plasma TV or their front-loading washing machine, can you imagine what they’d be like if they owned the Statue of Liberty or Carlsbad Caverns?
The states or the federal government could set up rules so that, let’s say, people couldn’t buy Santa Monica’s beaches and pave them over to make a huge used Chrysler lot. The government could set it up so that whoever buys the properties would have to lease them back to the government immediately. That way, the public would still get to use them as always, but Mr. or Mrs. Big Shot could still brag at parties. I can almost hear one of them saying, “Yes, we were going to buy a summer home up north, but instead we bought the Grand Canyon. It’s so much easier to maintain. We don’t have to dust.”
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at email@example.com. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.