On February 14th, the Associated Press reported that during the last two years developers gobbled up irreplaceable California agricultural land for the purposes of new home and strip mall construction. [ San Joaquin Farmland Disappearing At A Record Rate, Associated Press, February 14, 2007]
Specifically, according to Molly Penbreth, manager of the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Department of Conservation:
"In just two years, more than 18,800 acres of farmland in several San Joaquin Valley counties became subdivisions, shopping malls or other developments, setting a new state record for loss of farmland, according to newly released state data. A healthy real estate and construction market spurred farmers in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare and Merced counties to sell 18,801 acres between June 2002 and June 2004."
Penbreth added that Fresno County, the nation's No.1 agriculture county in production value, lost the most farmland. Sadly, parking lots at California State University, Fresno, new schools and 100 acres of new homes in Selma replaced crops
Bridgett Luther, the Conservation Department's Director, reminded Californians that: "A couple of generations ago, Los Angeles County was the leading agriculture county in the nation. Not anymore. One generation ago, Silicon Valley was known as, 'The Valley of Heart's Delight' because of all the agriculture production."
Preliminary data from the program that tracks land development found roughly 26 acres of farmland were removed from production each day in the two-year period.
Given this grim background, it is not surprising that the Lodi City Council approved by a 3-1 vote the Stockton-based FBC Homes Westside development project. [Westside Project OK'd," Lodi News-Sentinel, Matt Brown, March 22, 2007]
According to the News-Sentinel, the 151-acre development will include 745 homes and a new school. Despite mounting foreclosures, plunging prices and an increase in unsold homes inventory in the San Joaquin Valley, these projects are never voted down.
Sprawl is an insidious problem that slowly but inevitably takes over communities like Lodi most often without the support of the general population.
Developers like FBC—whose 250-acre Southwest Gateway project in Lodi was approved in November—stress perceived benefits. In the case of the Westside development those include 24 acres of parks, the renovation of 25 Eastside homes and donations to public art and the Hutchins Street Square. [ Lodi's Southwest Gateway Project Clears A Hurdle, Chris Nichols, Lodi News-Sentinel, March 17, 2007]
But rarely taken into account are issues that create a lasting impact on society: traffic, water shortages, overpopulation, noise and air pollution and more cement everywhere.
These don't go away—no matter how many donations are given.
Among the many problems for people like myself who prefer less to more are that real estate development is the economic engine that drives California.
Look at who contributes—and how much they give— to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's war chest. Through January 4, 2007, real estate development companies donated a total of nearly $16 million, nearly $4 million more than banking and finance and five times as much as farming and agriculture.
As long as growth is California's mantra, sprawl will grind on...no matter what you or I may want.
With no end in sight to urban sprawl, here's a reminder to those who support more development and to those who sit passively by and let it change our lifestyles.
Whether it's soil, sunshine or water, the earth provides only so much. We need to protect what we have while we can.
When natural resources are gone, they're gone for good.