California and Its People

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Bob Doughty. People have been following a dream to California for more than one hundred fifty years. More than thirty-five million people live there now, more than in any other state. Today we tell about California and its people.

Over the years, many people have dreamed of going to California. At first, the dream was to find gold. In eighteen forty-eight, a man named James Marshall was working at a sawmill. It was on the American River, about one hundred kilometers northeast of San Francisco. He found a piece of bright metal where the river flowed through the sawmill. It was gold.

People who rushed to California the following year, eighteen forty-nine, became known as "forty-niners.” A few found gold and became rich. The people who stayed made homes for themselves. They found work. Some started schools and religious centers. In eighteen fifty California became a state.

California became the dream of many people in the cold, crowded cities of the East and Middle West. Today, California is still a land of dreams. People want to live there because of the warm weather and sunshine. There are beautiful ocean beaches and mountains. There are jobs in the cities and on farms.

But the weather and the forces of nature in California are sometimes dangerous. For example, earlier this month there were many days of heavy rain in normally dry southern California. Mudslides that resulted killed at least ten people in the Pacific Coast town of La Conchita.

Earthquakes are always a possible threat in California. In nineteen-oh-six an earthquake destroyed the city of San Francisco. It killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. More recently, a powerful earthquake in nineteen ninety-four shook Southern California. The quake killed about sixty people in the Los Angeles area. It caused twenty thousand million dollars in damage to buildings and roads. Scientists also say a huge and destructive tsunami wave is possible from the Pacific Ocean.

Yet another problem is fire. Dry winds race across the desert into Southern California in the fall. Any fire can suddenly become a major wildfire.

In October of two thousand three, major wildfires burned across areas of San Diego, Ventura and San Bernardino counties. More than three thousand homes were destroyed. More than twenty people were killed.

But danger from nature does not seem to keep people from moving to California or having children there. The estimated population grew almost five percent between two thousand and two thousand three. About half the population growth is from people who arrive from other states and countries. About eleven million people of Mexican ancestry live in California. Many others come from countries in Asia. San Francisco, for example, has one of the largest Chinese populations outside Asia.

Some newcomers dream of Hollywood. They come to find a job in the movie capital of the world. But these young men and women are like the early settlers who searched for gold. Only a few ever become movie stars or successful writers, directors or producers.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former Hollywood actor and champion bodybuilder, is finishing his first year as governor of California. He became the state’s top official in an unusual way. In October of two thousand three, citizens voted to remove their governor, Gray Davis, a Democrat. To take his place, they elected Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Mr. Schwarzenegger was born in Austria. Many Californians call him “Arnold.”

Gray Davis had been elected for a second term. But Republicans used a recall law passed almost one hundred years ago to call for a vote to remove him. Many Californians were angry at Mr. Davis because he raised taxes.

Many people were especially angry at a big increase in the vehicle tax. Governor Schwarzenegger cancelled that increase as his first official act. California currently has an eight thousand million dollar deficit. The governor is trying to avoid raising taxes. To do this, he is proposing budget cuts. But observers say he will have to compromise with the legislature to pass his legislation. Most legislators are members of the Democratic Party.

Earlier this month, two state officials led a public demonstration. They were protesting against Governor Schwarzenegger for not proposing enough money for schools. His proposal calls for cutting two thousand million dollars in the education budget.

To educate its young people, California has more state colleges and universities than any other state. The California State University system has more than twenty colleges and universities. The University of California, another system, has schools in nine cities. California also has more than one hundred community colleges. These offer two-year study programs to any student who completes high school.

Those governing California have a big responsibility for land as well as people. California is America’s third largest state in land area. California is more than one thousand kilometers long and four hundred kilometers wide. Mount Whitney, in the Sequoia National Park, is the highest mountain in the forty-eight connected states. It is more than four thousand four hundred meters high.

California also has the lowest place in the United States. It is in Death Valley National Park, in the eastern desert near the border with Nevada. The place is called Badwater Basin. It is eighty-six meters below sea level. In fact, it is the lowest place anywhere in the Americas.

The coastline of California begins at the border with Mexico. It extends one thousand three hundred fifty kilometers north, to the state of Oregon. The central and southern California coast has many beautiful, sandy beaches. The big waves of the Pacific make these areas great places to surf – to ride on the ocean waves on boards.

The first Europeans to see the California coast were explorers from Spain and Portugal, almost five centuries ago. The peninsula that extends into Mexico made them think it was an island. In fifteen thirty-nine a member of one sailing party recorded the name as "California." California was the name of an imaginary island in a book, a romance novel that was popular in Spain.

Spain claimed the new land. Later it built religious settlements to spread Christianity among the native people. Mexico won its independence from Spain in the eighteen twenties. But Mexico lost California in a war with the United States about twenty-five years later. Then came the discovery of gold in California.

The state is rich in natural resources. It has wide areas of farmland and large forests. And it has oil, natural gas and valuable minerals.

America's largest city is New York. The second largest city in the nation is Los Angeles, with about four million people. San Diego, on the border with Mexico, is the second largest city in California. It has one million two hundred thousand people. San Jose and San Francisco are the third and fourth largest cities. San Jose is near the so-called Silicon Valley, home to many high- technology companies.

Many famous Americans were born in California. Here are a few of them: Movie maker George Lucas. Former President Richard Nixon. Poet Robert Frost. Writers Jack London and John Steinbeck. Actors Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio. Tennis players Serena and Venus Williams. And golfer Tiger Woods.

The state’s beautiful trees and flowers, ocean and mountains, make it very inviting to travelers. Last year, some of the people who came to visit decided to make their homes there. More than a century and a half has passed since the forty-niners dreamed of gold. But people still dream of life in California.

This program was written by Frank Beardsley and Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for another THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.