The Perfect Storm Sinking California’s Future

Published on November 30th, 2007

May Day heralds the grim reality facing the Golden State

By Mark Cromer, Senior Writing Fellow

In Los Angeles, the May Day marches demanding amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants in America produced one story with a shelf-life longer than a cable news cycle: LAPD putting protestors and reporters on the business-end of their nightsticks.

It’s an important story, to be sure, but the bigger story—and seemingly the one that got away—has ramifications far beyond a local police agency whose troubles are perennial.

For the May Day marches offered the nation a grim foretelling of California’s future if the perfect storm of a surging population, runaway development, the culture of mindless consumption and its dramatic depletion of vital natural resources continue unabated.

Though the crowds were much smaller than last year’s massive street demonstrations, a vastly larger truth was on display throughout the day: Greater Los Angeles—and by extension Southern California—has way too many people in it.

The vast sprawl of indistinguishable suburbs emanating like a human blast wave from ground zero of downtown has made ‘Greater LA’ America’s own Mexico City: Polluted, gridlocked, educational and health care systems in absolute free-fall and violent street gangs that have turned some neighborhoods into lawless war zones.

Yet it was a single news photograph from the marches two weeks ago in Los Angeles that offered an iconic projection of what is happening to the Golden State. The photograph captured a row of immigrant mothers pushing their baby strollers, bedecked in American flags.

Whether you believe they are ‘anchor babies’ cynically delivered in America in order to bootstrap the parents into free social services; or you feel they are the crest of a vibrant immigrant wave that is revitalizing our nation, one truth is undeniable: they are the spear-point of a massive thrust of humanity crossing our borders, bringing more mouths to feed, more minds to educate, more bodies to house, more people for whom we must provide.

In this case, more is definitely not better.

The day after the marches—as the media began to roil at LAPD’s transgressions—it was quietly reported that Los Angeles has now surpassed 4-million residents within city limits; as the state itself is rapidly approaching 40-million people living here.

The low-key response from city officials in Los Angeles—like their cohorts in Sacramento and Washington D.C.—is because they know better than to trumpet the spiraling number of people arriving here as some positive development. That’s why America passing the 300-million people mark last year drew little more than a muted note of acknowledgement from the Beltway.

And that’s precisely why proponents of so-called comprehensive immigration reform steer clear of any discussion about the sheer numbers of people that are likely to arrive in America if the legislation passes. Nor will they brook any real consideration of how these people will have to be cared for; beyond vague platitudes about hard workers and immigrant dreams and “social justice!”

Those of us living in Southern California don’t need population data from the California Department of Finance (which released the 4-million Angelenos statistic) to see what is happening in our communities and neighborhoods. From perpetual gridlock on the freeways and major streets; to jammed emergency rooms and standing-room-only public schools—the floodgates are creaking with the rising tide of humans.

Working and middle-class Americans have taken the brunt of the impact and it is our at-risk and in-need citizens who struggle each day to get by that must now compete for basic resources with an increasingly large population of illegal immigrants and their children.

Another news story that barely registered in the aftermath of the marches, but its content was explosive. The state’s water experts, who usually have to wear snowshoes to measure California’s snowpack this time of year, were running around the Sierra in tennis shoes this May Day.

The vital base of snowfall in the Sierra that feeds a thirsty Southern California was estimated to be less than 30-percent of normal. The story was only the most recent warning that the American southwest is now in a state that experts have described as permanent drought.

And yet the story quotes state water managers as saying there is no cause for alarm at the vastly diminished snowpack, given that the state’s reservoir and aquifer systems are currently at capacity.

That’s like a drunk saying he’s not worried about Prohibition because he still has a six-pack in the icebox.

The fact is that Los Angeles and the state’s leaders in Sacramento have approached population growth and suburban sprawl in a very drunken manner, living it up for today, leaving the hangover (or worse) for tomorrow.

But that grim tomorrow will indeed come, much sooner than we might hope.

It’s time to sober up and start asking tough questions and demanding honest answers from our city, state and federal officials. How many people can California—and indeed America—not just take, but provide for without further sacrificing the quality of life for people already here, both citizen and immigrant alike?

Sustainable population strategies may not be the sexiest issue in the upcoming election rumble, but if we don’t make it a top priority now, the celebration of May Day will be eclipsed by California’s distress signal of “Mayday! Mayday!” as we sink.

Mark Cromer is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), www.capsweb.org . He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].

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