I'm surrounded by earthmovers, swirling dust and development. And with Lowe's and the Wal-Mart Super Store a certainty, I wonder when the last square mile of open space in Lodi will be paved over.
Less than a half-mile north of my home, the "Tienda Place" housing development nears completion. That will add 150 new houses to what our town fathers like to call "Loveable, Livable Lodi." That label may have been appropriate at one time but no longer.
Driving south, three more developments—Main Street and Century Meadows One and Two have started construction.
"Tienda Place" is right on Lodi's already overcrowded main thoroughfare Highway 12; the other homes are on Harney Lane, another well traveled road.
Heading further south toward Stockton, it is readily apparent that any talk of preserving the "Greenbelt" that separates Lodi and Stockton is whistling past the graveyard. Driving west on Eight Mile Road toward Interstate 5, the vista is houses, houses and more houses.
Officially confirming what anyone with eyes in his head already knows, the U.S. Census Bureau recently issued a bleak compilation of population data titled "City Population Estimates."
The statistics— which rank the fastest-growing cities in the country from the period between April 1st 2000 and July 1st 2002—laid out the obvious: California's population is up, up and away.
Among California cities with 10,000 or more residents, Lodi ranked 75th in terms of population growth according to percentage increase.
Unless you view growth the same way a baseball fan views the pennant race, 75th place is pretty good. Most of Lodi's neighbors like Tracy (6th), Galt (16th). Turlock, (33rd), Antioch, (34th), Stockton, (48th) and Sacramento (68th) finished higher.
The bad news, however, is that Lodi's net population increase of 3,648 represents 6.4% growth.
While it is true that Lodi's percentage of population growth is less than Tracy (26.8%) or Galt (15.6%), it is an alarming rate nevertheless. Lodi and other once quaint San Joaquin Valley agricultural towns are changing right before our eyes.
But Lodi, Galt and Tracy play just a small role in the national trend of population shifts to the southwestern United States.
Of the top 100 fastest growing cities in the U.S., California has 39. The Los Angeles suburbs of Irvine (+13.3%), Rancho Cucamonga (+12.5%), Chula Vista (+11.7%) and Fontana (11.4%) rank sixth through ninth.
The federal census figures define more sharply an earlier 2003 report by the California Department of Finance that found that California's population, now nearly 36 million, increased by 591,000 since last year.
The DOF report stated that Los Angeles County posted the highest annual numerical population gain in the state, adding 162,200 people in 2002 to bring its total to 9,979,600. Next was Riverside County, which added 60,200 (total: 1.7 million) and San Diego County ranked third in population gain, posted an increase of 53,100 (total 3.0 million).
According to Hans Johnson, a demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California, the combination of more affordable homes and a cheaper cost of living were the major factors in the huge growth rates in these towns.
(JoeNote to VDARE.COM READERS: A more significant factor is immigration's impact. A recent Californians for Population Stabilization demographic report [PDF] showed that virtually 100% of California's population growth is driven by immigration.)
And at the CAPS 2000 conference held at the University of Southern California, another report titled "Sprawl in California: A Report on Quantifying the Role of the State's Population Boom." emphasized that California sprawl comes from population growth and not per capita land use.
If you are thinking of escaping to Arizona or Nevada, think again. The Arizona cities of Gilbert (+22.8%), Chandler (+14.4%) and Peoria (+13.4%) were the fastest growing in that state. Gilbert is the number one growth city in the nation. And in an interesting footnote, Peoria, AZ. with 123,339 residents is now larger than Peoria, Ill. with 112,670.
One Gilbert resident, Rachelle Iadicicco, who recently moved from St. Louis (-1.3%) two years ago said, "There are two kinds of roads in Gilbert: under construction and not enough lanes."
(Read a report on sprawl in Arizona, also being revised and updated, here.)
In Nevada, for years the destination of choice for disgruntled Californians, the news is no better. North Las Vegas, Nev. (+17.7%) and Henderson, Nev. were tops among the states fastest growing cities.
At one time, demographers predicted that California's population would reach 50 million by 2050. Based on current estimates, we might get there by 2030. And when California reaches that inevitable population milestone, there will be many more questions—all of which we should be asking now— than there will be answers. Where will the money to build schools and provide social services come from? Will there be water and electricity. How will we cope with the congestion? Does quality of life mean anything?
What the future holds for the southwest is unclear. But the picture doesn't look pretty.
Two things are certain, however. One is that the current rate of population growth is not sustainable.
And second, "smart growth"—a term land developers invented and love—is dead in the water.
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.