View From Lodi, CA: California's Sprawl Driven By Population Growth (Which Is Driven By…)

Last week, the Lodi News-Sentinel published a three part series about community growth titled "The Search for Open Space."

Without a doubt, sprawl in Lodi is the number one topic among local residents. Lodians are surrounded by housing and commercial developments. No matter how many superstores Lodi already has, more are just around the corner.

Lodi 2003 barely resembles the Lodi that I moved to in 1987. The question is not whether we can maintain a greenbelt between Lodi and Stockton but whether California will be able to preserve any space, anywhere.

The News-Sentinel series dealt mostly with growth in the immediate Lodi neighborhood. But wherever you travel in California, cement is everywhere.

And, to coin an old phrase, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." Coming soon to southern California are two of the biggest building projects ever undertaken, Newhall Ranch and Tejon Ranch.

Newhall, long plagued by controversy, got the green light from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last June to build 20,885 homes on 12,000 acres. Construction will begin in 2006. Tejon, still awaiting formal approval, would add 23,000 additional homes.

The two projects will be adjacent to I-5 and will draw 130,000 new residents to what is already one of California's most congested areas.

The growing nemesis we call sprawl is defined as the rural acres lost as an urbanized area spreads outward over a period of time. And sprawl is driven by two elements: an increase in per capita land use and population growth.

In California's case, per capital land use (number of acres used per person) has remained stable since 1982 at 0.167 acres used per person. Population growth pushes California's sprawl. Since California's population increases by 600,000 people every year, no solution to growth can ever be reached.

Every one of those 600,000 people needs housing, roads, schools and hospitals. Building those facilities creates sprawl.

In the on-going debate about what the answer might be, analysts are willing to talk about how to more efficiently use land but not about methods that might help stabilize population.

Most sprawl studies—including the recent News-Sentinel series—emphasize urban planning. But no matter how creative the urban plans may be, at the end of the day the question remains: how are we going to accommodate 600,000 new people every year?

One popular proposal is to build "in" and "up." Homes or apartment built within the city alleviate the need to construct homes on the edges of town. 

But an infill only delays sprawl and creates a series of urban woes, mainly traffic and pollution.

Look at Los Angeles to see what happens when growth reaches its apex. Los Angeles is one of the most efficient California cities in terms of per capita land use. The number of acres used per person has gone down consistently since 1970 and is now 0.1205 acres per person.

But also since 1970, Los Angeles sprawled out 252, 160 acres because it had to accommodate huge population increases. [PDF]

Today, Los Angeles is literally out of land. The little remaining land in Los Angeles cannot be developed because it is too mountainous, too hazardous or reserved by the federal government.

Ultimately, all discussions about California's future lead back to the same point: can we absorb 600,000 new residents indefinitely?

The answer, of course, is no. And the goal of population stability is ever more elusive because of the lack of political will. No one wants to talk about it.

[Joenote to VDARE.COM readers: I asked Leon Kolankiewicz, environmental scientist and national natural resources planner who recently co-authored the Center for Immigration Studies report, "Outsmarting Smart Growth: Population Growth, Immigration and the Problem of Sprawl" , to comment on the impact of immigration on California's urban sprawl. He said:

"These newcomers and their California-born descendants need land to live, work, play, go to school, drive, shop, etc. And much of that land will be farmland or natural habitat.

Foreigners don't forsake their homes to transplant themselves on American soil to continue to consume modestly at Third World levels…immigrants want SUVs just like Americans, use disposable diapers just like Americans, live in large, air-conditioned homes with yards just like Americans, and so forth.

Immigrants don't abandon their homelands to come here, and work cleaning our buildings, cooking our food, and tending our gardens and toddlers only to ride bicycles and buses and live in cramped apartments. They aspire to more."]

Over 25 years ago, China introduced its one-child policy. Contrary to popular misapprehension, the policy is not law. China does, however, advocate delayed marriage, delayed childbirths, fewer and healthier births and one-child per family. The result is that fertility rates in China have dropped significantly in recent years.

India, with a population above one billion and home to 17% of the world's population on only 2.5% of its land, has authorized its states it seek out policies to effectively deal with reducing population by limiting births.

The problems in China and India are wildly complex. But I admire the fact that the two countries realize that action on population must be taken or the countries will lie in total ruin.

In the meantime, the US—with population growth rates higher than both China and India—takes the opposite approach:

  • The United States encourages births through federal tax incentives, most notably the child tax credit.


  • The federal government will not enforce immigration laws. Not only do nearly two million legal and illegal immigrants annually add directly to the population base but the larger families they have after arrival insure that population pressures remain intense.

Native-born Americans have reduced their family sizes to replacement level. But California still gets 600,000 new residents annually. It can't cope. And until we get real immigration reform, we're just whistling past the construction site.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.