In the mid-1980s, when Californians for Population Stabilization had its headquarters in Sacramento, a group of us went to a kick-off meeting for Smart Growth. At the time, smart growth was all the rage; the concept promoted building up rather than out to spare California’s irreplaceable, invaluable land.
Except for the CAPS representatives, no one said a word about the role restricting immigration could play in limiting population. I’m not sure exactly when smart growth breathed its last; there are still a few websites around that pretend it’s viable even though it has been an abject failure.
People whose voices Californians should listen to are now declaring louder than ever that unchecked urban growth in major cities represents an imposing threat throughout the state. But 25 years after the initial Sacramento meeting, immigration is still a non-starter.
Last month, at the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, John Lowrie of the California Department of Conservation addressed the audience about pressing population issues.
"California's population is approaching 40 million people. Population growth in and of itself is one of the most significant forces in the quest to develop land for interests other than agricultural production and open space."
Many of California’s major cities are near the San Joaquin Valley’s prime farmland. Lowrie predicted that by 2050, sprawl would devour another 2 million acres of agricultural land. In the San Joaquin Valley, there are about 6 million acres of productive farmland. If another half million acres are developed as the projections indicate, then the valley will become even more urbanized and less rural.
"One of the more alarming developments, at least to me, is the increasing density in the San Joaquin Valley, which is one of the major agricultural areas of the state. The conversion of agricultural land to urban uses starts slowly; it doesn't happen overnight. It can be driven by a number of forces and factors, many of which began as very localized and then expanded over time." [More Prime Farmland Feared to be Lost to Population Growth, by Steve Adler, Daily Democrat, August 5, 2012]
The high speed rail and various solar energy projects will put greater pressure on land conservation. In the unlikely event that the bullet train gets completed, John Gamper, taxation and land use director for the California Farm Bureau Federation, speculated that the Central Valley could become a bedroom community for Los Angeles workers. (Read my syndicated column about the disastrous bullet train concept here.)
While no one wants to discourage efforts to enlighten Californians about the dire consequences of unchecked population growth, Lowrie, Gamper, et al have only focused on the problem and not the solution.
No California population analysis is complete without identifying the undeniable connection between too many people and too much immigration. Immigrants consume land, water and air. Highways, schools and hospitals must be constructed to accommodate them. California has more than 10 million immigrants, 27 percent of the nation’s total. (Read the Center for Immigration Studies report, A Record Setting Decade of Immigration: 2000-2010)
Very sadly, I’ve witnessed California’s complete deterioration from an era with unspoiled beaches, little traffic and resplendent orange groves in the San Fernando Valley. I was born and grew up in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s and moved to the San Joaquin Valley in 1986. What’s been lost cannot be replaced. The goal now is to preserve what we still have.