Dear Alec Baldwin:
Let me be the first to welcome you to the great state of California.
I know you haven’t arrived yet. But, in a piece published in New York magazine that made national headlines, you said that after years of being terrorized by Manhattan’s media, you’re done with living and working in New York City, where you were once so popular that you toyed with running for mayor. Your next destination: quite possibly Los Angeles.
“I just can’t live in New York anymore,” you wrote. “Everything I hated about L.A. I’m beginning to crave. L.A. is a place where you live behind a gate, you get in a car, and your interaction with the public is minimal. I used to hate that. But New York has changed.”
Your moving to Los Angeles would certainly be good for us. All Californians would benefit from another rich person paying higher Proposition 30 tax rates. And, given your political ambitions, your presence here might light a fire under our overly understated new mayor, Eric Garcetti.
But I’m concerned that, as much as we’d love to have you, L.A. might not be the best fit for you.
You’ve lived in New York since 1979, so you may not understand that this is no longer Annie Hall’s Los Angeles. L.A. in 2014 is a lot more like New York than you think. The city is becoming denser (particularly on the Westside) and more connected (via new rail lines). We’re no longer a place where most people retreat into their single-family homes; the homeownership rate in the county is now just 47 percent, and most people in the city of L.A. live in multi-unit buildings.
You and your young wife had a child last year, and, you wrote, “I want my newest child to have as normal and decent a life as I can provide.” But L.A. is no paradise for children. The number of kids under age 10 in L.A. County declined by 17 percent in the last decade. The costs of education and housing have defeated many a young family.
Your wealth may protect you from those pressures, but it can’t protect you from the fact that the things driving you from New York are all too present in L.A. “Everyone has a camera in their pocket,” you write, in describing how photographers invade your privacy. Newsflash: We also carry cameras around here, though it’s worth noting that Southern California’s violet light can make an aging movie star 10 years younger in cell phone photos.
You made it clear that one reason you’re leaving New York is that New Yorkers no longer fawn over you. But in L.A., there are too many celebrities and too little time to fawn. As I was considering your predicament, I was reminded that there is a place where a celebrity can be fawned over, embraced – and left alone.
Have you thought about Silicon Valley?
The nerds up north would adore you. Google and Facebook host a stream of celebrity visitors. Valley venture capitalists have thrown money at celebrity entrepreneurs like MC Hammer and Jessica Alba. Silicon Valley folks have touted Ashton Kutcher as a tech guru; imagine how warmly they might welcome someone like you, who can actually act.
Why do the nerds find it so hard to resist the likes of you? The answer is that Silicon Valley titans can become many things (rich, powerful, respected), but they will never be sexy, and they will never be Hollywood. We all overvalue what we don’t have.
So if you know what’s good for you, you’ll have your people scope out a place on a Bay Area hillside. Marin would be perfect. Reality rarely bothers anyone there; it’s an aging county with more than its share of self-righteous boomers who talk longingly about the places they left behind.
If you can’t fit in there, you won’t fit in anywhere.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square (www.zocalopublicsquare.org).