When I drove West into California years ago in my beat-up Honda, I was eager to build the future here. Back then, California was a place where dreams too big for other places came true.
I built my dream in California. I built two companies and the business I now lead has grown into international markets. I started a family and bought a farm in northern California.
But the California dream I had access to is dying. Over the last few years, I had become hopeless about California’s future. I thought raging wildfires were unsolvable, so my family and I packed “go bags” and slept in our clothes through the summer.
I thought water shortages were our new normal, so we chose to limit what we grew on our family farm. I thought we would always have unsafe streets filled with tent encampments because I bought the lie that the homeless were here for the weather. I started looking elsewhere to live and to base my company.
Even Gov. Gavin Newsom said of our state: “I’m asking myself, what the hell is going on? We look like a third-world country.”
But COVID changed everything. As the world froze and we fought the pandemic together, I realized our leaders were limited — not our options.
As I analyzed our state’s budget, met with experts in California and across America, and traveled to 48 of California’s 58 counties, I realized I was wrong to be hopeless. We don’t have unsolvable problems — we have leaders who lack the ability and the will to solve them. We can solve California’s problems — and as Governor, that’s exactly what I will do.
Let me give a few examples of why California’s problems are solvable.
California used to be an education destination. Yet, our public schools have been on a multi-decade decline, landing us at the bottom of the rankings. Less than half of our third-graders are reading at their grade level. Parents know schools aren’t measuring up, with 25% giving their schools a D or F grade. As a result, 270,000 students (almost 5% of all students) left public schools the last two years.
Yet, there are answers. The Bay Area’s Nystrom Elementary used grant dollars to switch from the district-approved reading curriculum that skimps on phonics and foundational reading skills to one focused on evidence-based instruction that teaches the “science of reading.” Its science-based approach has improved outcomes for first graders.
Newsom has increased homelessness spending six-fold from almost $2 billion to $12 billion while the number of people experiencing homelessness increased by 24% in his first two years to 161,548 in 2020.
Yet, Bakersfield and Kern County show there is hope. In March 2020, Kern County reached “functional zero” — 3 or fewer chronically homeless people. Their success and the success of 13 other functional zero communities nationwide show that homelessness is solvable when communities know the homeless by name, form an interagency team, measure individual-level data, and make agile investments in mental health and transitional housing. We can spend less yet do more.
California has a public safety problem — 56% of Californians are concerned on a daily basis that they may become a victim of crime. Our fears are not unfounded — homicides increased 17% in four of California’s biggest cities from 2020 to 2021. Cities struggle to attract law enforcement officers.
We can pinpoint the moment the decline of our cities began — it was with the passage of Proposition 47, which ushered in an era of soft-on-crime policies leaving terror and tragedy in its wake. It’s time to move on.
I could go on. There are solutions for wildfires (using advanced technology for detection and improved forest management). There are solutions for energy (local, plentiful, diverse source supply). There are solutions for water (multi-year water management, increased storage, improved recycling, and desalination). Our problems are solvable, and we have a surplus to invest — but whether we invest in our communities or prolonged political theater is up to us.
I’m running for Governor because I want my three children to know California for its possibilities, not its problems. It’s time to dream again of what’s possible in California.
Jenny Rae Le Roux is a business owner, mom, and entrepreneur running for governor of California.