Long before citrus reigned in Southern California, L.A. made wine. Lots of it. The region was first inhabited by the native Chumash people, who were here long before the white Spanish arrived in 1542. In the early 20th century, the city of Los Angeles became the center of America’s orange industry, producing the world’s largest citrus crop. Orange juice became a huge tourist draw and, after a brief prohibition, returned to the market after World War II. Then, in 1989, with the passage of Prop 187 — a California law protecting orange growers and, by extension, the state’s tourism and agricultural industries — the orange industry was essentially crippled. By 2002, only the Southern California Regional Council of Legislators opposed Prop 187. Three years later, the California legislature passed an emergency measure declaring that “the citrus industry is a vital agricultural industry in the State of California” and that all citrus producers were therefore required to pay a one-time $1,000 tax for every ton of oranges and lemons produced in the state. (And it should be noted that the U.S. tax code excludes oranges from the definition of “citrus fruits,” although both Florida and Hawaii have adopted similar measures.)
While Prop 187 may have protected orange growers, it also hurt other Californians who used the state’s agricultural industry as a livelihood. In 1995, California voters amended the state’s constitution by a vote of 59% to 39% to bar cities from imposing taxes on business enterprises. The amendment meant that the state’s business community, which includes the state’s largest banks and insurance firms, could no longer impose taxes on its own employees, many of whom work in the state’s capital city.
For California’s agricultural workers, the ban meant that they were effectively excluded from the state’s economy. A 2006 report in the Los Angeles Times noted that, between 2000 and 2005, California’s number of