Los Angeles, Then and Now; Smaller was Better

Published on April 2nd, 2013

One of my fondest memories of growing up in unspoiled Los Angeles during the 1950s is the Sunday drive my family took from our Santa Monica home to my grandfather’s San Fernando Valley ranch. I recall that the roads were wide open and, as we approached the valley, the orange groves plentiful.

Memories, especially those from five decades ago, can be romanticized. But a recent project titled Lost Los Angeles reaffirmed that my happy reminiscences are spot on. See this video of a passenger car driving along in bright daylight without another vehicle in sight. The video includes footage of one of California’s hundreds of magnificent beaches with only a handful of people.  Readers can follow the California History Project on Facebook here.

Los Angeles is a different place today with its 24-hour traffic and urban sprawl that’s replaced what was once an agricultural heaven. Except for Los Angeles natives like me, few remember that until the 1950s, L.A. County was the United State’s top agricultural producer, bigger than any of the Midwestern states like Iowa and Illinois usually associated with high yielding farms. As unbelievable as it seems today, during the period from 1910 to 1950, Los Angeles produced more wheat and cattle than any other state.  As growers experimented with citrus varieties, Los Angeles went from a small agricultural village to a powerhouse. Los Angeles’ agriculture was such a thriving industry that the Chamber of Commerce used farming to attract new residents, and land was subdivided for the purpose of small half-acre to three acre farms. By the mid-20th Century, grapefruit and orange trees filled the Los Angeles Basin and the rest of Southern California.

But while it took nearly a century for California to fully nurture its abundant agriculture riches, overpopulation permanently altered the Los Angeles landscape in much less time. First, the transcontinental railroad brought California new populace. Then, vehicles became more roadworthy and many more headed west. Finally, jet travel made it easier than ever for people to move in, lured byt he state’s sun and surf life style.

Eventually population growth overwhelmed Los Angeles. In 1900, as the agriculture industry grew, the total population was 102,000. By 1950, the population reached nearly 2 million nearly. In 2010, Los Angeles’ population grew to an unsustainable 3.8 million.

Over a relatively brief time, Los Angeles’ unchecked population growth has changed the city from an agriculture paradise to an overcrowded, smoggy urban nightmare. Not only are the roads clogged but schools and hospitals are overcrowded. Thousands jam the once desolate beaches and thoughtlessly degrade the environment.  Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate is 10.9 percent—too many people looking for too few jobs.

CAPS’ mission is to stabilize California’s population. To achieve CAPS’ goals, the United States Congress and California’s legislature must work to limit legal immigration must be limited, end illegal immigration and encourage family planning.

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