This just in: some things are improving

SORRY, penny-pinchers, but we’re going to have to build a shelter for this fella (Shutterstock).

In this era of exotic viruses from China, deep political divisions, out-of-control fires and eyebrow-rising Super Bowl halftime shows, it might look like our world is going to Heck in a shopping cart.

But being an optimist by nature, I’m going to interrupt your day of gloom and doom with some upbeat thoughts from the field. I’m not saying they represent a revolutionary change in human nature, but progress has to start somewhere. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, right?

The homelessness crisis. It persists, but from what I can observe, attitudes are changing and cleanups are accelerating. Frankly, a lot of us just tried to wish the problem away with such humane solutions as throwing the unsheltered in jail or hoping they would just … leave. After a while it has become clear that because of a lot of reasons, the problem is here to stay and we have to take the first grudging steps toward providing some interim shelter and services, even if it’s located – gasp! – somewhere in our city limits.

Alongside that are efforts by cities to initiate special teams or task forces to clean up and eliminate unsightly – and unhealthy – homeless encampments from streets. In Garden Grove, the Special Resources Team in the police department along with the public works people are making a noticeable and welcome change in the landscape.

I travel around town a lot and there’s been a dramatic improvement. Yeah, I know, it’s not perfect yet, but where do we find perfection anywhere?

Educational goals: With our national obsession with test scores, there has been a strong – some might say excessive – emphasis on getting high school students to qualify for and attend four-year colleges. Since the self-appointed ratings services emphasize how many students are taking (and passing) Advanced Placement tests, there’s an understandable emphasis on that product.

But that idea requires some thought. In California our state universities are packed to overflowing at the same time the college completion rates are sagging. Additionally the cost of four-year colleges is through the roof, creating a student debt crisis that threatens to just get worse.

Luckily, there is a shift in the wind. While unskilled labor will always be paid cheaply, there are lots of skilled careers that pay very well that don’t require a four-year-college degree, many of them in health care and even web development.

I’m starting to see Career and Technical Education get more love, and even those street banners which tout how Brett or Jenny have been admitted to Stanford or UC Irvine are starting to tip the hat to students at Cypress or Santa Ana colleges.

You’re not a failure if you “have” to attend a community college or get a job. It might just mean you’re the smartest – or at least most practical – person in the classroom.

Your car (or not). This is probably the most difficult change for a lot of us to view as good news, but your car is dying. By this I mean your internal combustion vehicle which you drive everywhere, even to the Starbucks on the corner.

For environmental and political reasons – who wants to be in thrall of those tyrants in Arabia? – we have to go to non-polluting transportation. The Prius was a big hit and Tesla is a billion dollar firm. The sales numbers are not yet spectacular, but as prices come down and the roads get more and more crowded, the balance will tip.

Cities and counties are creating bike and pedestrian paths at a rapid clip. Electric bikes make travel easy (easier?) for those of us over 50.

Since we have an obesity crisis in America – leading to a diabetes upsurge – the idea of walking or biking for exercise is becoming not just the political statement of a tree-hugger but a matter of necessity for many of us.

Hey, I’m like you. I loved my 1976 Chevy Nova with the red interior and the wide bench seats. But I love my lungs even more and I want the latter to outlive the former.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on alternate weeks, usually on Wednesdays.





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