On the way, the streets are like childish doodles inscribed on the gentle slopes of the hills overlooking the plain of Los Angeles. Having twisted your way up from the curlicues of Sunset Boulevard, you see the flat mirror of ocean in the hazy distance. The neat houses crowd the winding streets, all vigorously gardened with the flora of the subtropics—palmettos, bougainvillea and patches of pachysandra and ivy ground cover to hold the hillside upright. The neighborhood has been christened Pacific Palisades, and if you had $60,000 or so it was the good new place to build a house after World War II when most of the best Beverly Hills real estate had already been occupied. The rising generation of successful actors, writers and directors took root there, followed in time by the electronics executives and the arrivistes of savings and loan.
The roads are beginning to dwindle, and you are almost at hilltop when you reach the Ronald Reagan residence, now hidden from view by a dozen years of lush foliage. Up the brief driveway is a house in California ranch style, contemporary but comfortably conventional like its owner. It could just as well be the house of any of the neighbors until you reach the parking area in the back and find the state highway patrolman sitting in a squad car. His presence testifies that the governor is at home—back in southern California for a weekend of ceremonials: an Academy Award function, the opening of a new civic theater downtown, a baseball game at Anaheim. Drama and sport. Both essential ingredients of this rapidly filling landscape along 1,200 miles of the Pacific shore, and it was to these the governor was paying his respects on this particular weekend—a happy respite from the budget and politics.
The windows of the large living room look out over the sprawling panorama of the new city, but the governor sits at a table in a somber corner near the front hall, eating lunch with an aide. It is the spartan lunch of a man who takes care of his figure—chicken noodle soup, a toasted-cheese sandwich and a dish of fresh fruit.
This is a working day, but one away from the minute-to-minute pressures of Sacramento, and the governor is relaxed. He wears a knitted sports shirt and yellow linen slacks that accentuate his fitness, and his brown suede shoes are a reminder of the actor's blood in his veins. On the nearby piano are the framed photographs of family and friends—General Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater serving as milestones along the new road, Colleen Moore and Lillian Gish as memories of the past. The paintings on the walls are tasteful and unspectacular—no big names.
The governor is talking about a helicopter trip that he and his wife had just taken to Palm Springs for a night with friends. "I was struck, as I always am," he was saying, "by the endless stretches of housing, almost as far as the mountains. All you see are those miles of houses and practically no recreational areas."
The vast, inescapable dilemma of California comes to the governor's mind—every week roughly 10,000 new arrivals in his state, half a million immigrants a year, the "westward tilt," as it has been called. These people come from the anemic farmlands of the South and the dark slums of the East looking for jobs and fresh air and room for a man to grow. Yet their very presence is destroying what they seek, replacing it with noxious fumes and bungalow ghettos. "It is my feeling," the governor went on, "that one of our biggest needs today is to provide some place for the children in these homes to be able to go out and play. I think it is a much more immediate problem than providing wilderness areas for those relatively few people who like to put a pack on their backs and go into the mountains for a week. Of course, it is important to provide for both, but unless we can furnish space for the people in those houses we will have something like the big metropolitan areas of the East, where there is little or no recreational area for the people who can't afford to take trips." As he speaks, the governor tilts his head to one side with just the trace of an eager smile on his face. He is sincerely concerned and he is reaching out for sympathy and understanding.
"I know a builder," he continues, "who is putting up a housing development north of Sacramento, and he has done a very interesting thing. He has a 368-acre tract on which he is selling 200 one-acre lots. Everyone who buys one of these lots also buys an undivided share in the remaining 168 acres, which will be a kind of park in the middle of the development. It will take a 75% vote of the shareholders to change the status of this community land, but it is conceivable that if the tax load on this area became too heavy the shareholders might be forced to subdivide it and ruin one of the great assets of their community. This kind of project should be looked at and studied, and we ought to find some way to encourage the private development of such recreational areas through some kind of tax benefit.
"I think rapid transit is a good parallel illustration. I am opposed to a state subsidy for rapid transit, such as those now under consideration for San Francisco and Los Angeles. Why should you tax the guy in Visalia to get the fellow in Los Angeles to work on time? I think these new programs for the benefit of a particular community, whether it is recreation or rapid transit or whatever, should be self-liquidating and paid for by bonds or some other form of borrowing instead of by state taxes."
Like so much that Reagan says, it all sounds reasonable—plausible, his opponents might prefer. He took the plunge into politics on the noble assumption that there is a place in government for the high-minded "citizen-politician," the man who abandons the pleasure and profit of private life to bring some common sense to the halls of bureaucracy. His ungrateful opponents—who insist on deliberately mispronouncing his name as if it were Reegan and whose favorite denigration is to refer to him as an actor—just shudder whenever Reagan gives out with his thoughts on such matters as conservation and wildlife, or any other subject that involves the conflict between the use of public funds and private financing.
"Reagan's rhetoric," says an old-school San Francisco Democrat, "is the Chinese dinner of politics. At first you think he has given you some meaty idea to chew on, but after you have thought it over awhile you find it has no real substance. It leaves you empty."