View From Lodi, CA: Sprawl: The Variable is Immigration
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Here's a shocker about Lodi's population culled from the U.S. Bureau of the Census recently released report,  Annual Estimates for Incorporated Places, April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2004.

According to the data, during the period from July 1, 2003 and July 1, 2004 Lodi added a mere 503 people as the city increased from 61,458 residents to 61, 961.

Similarly, Galt—Lodi's neighbor to the north—had a miniscule growth of 503 people to a total population of 22,965 from 22,576.

In light of the Census Bureau data, I guess I can stop fretting about all the new residential construction and box stores popping up all over Lodi.

The new houses must be occupied by phantoms.

Unfortunately, Lodi gets the worst of it. The city is plagued with never-ending land infill from residential and commercial construction and urban sprawl as houses are being built to the north, south, east and west.

Population growth as well as the sprawl that inevitably evolves from it are grave issues that sooner or later will have it be addressed.

Sadly however, judging by political inaction to date, the day of reckoning will come later—if at all.

To give you some perspective about the depth of political denial, read this quotation from Ric Oberlink, formerly the Executive Director of Californians for Population Stabilization.

Oberlink, writing in a 2002 San Francisco Chronicle column, summarized an exchange he had in 1994 with then-gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown.

Oberlink asked Brown:

"In 1959, the administration of Gov. Pat Brown began with a state population of 15 million. In 1975, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown began with a state population of 22 million. A Kathleen Brown administration would begin with a population of 32 million. Can our environment survive this never-ending population growth? If so, how? If not, what will you do about it?" [Too Much Space or Too Little? Population Growth Missing from Gubernatorial Campaign,  Ric Oberlink, San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 2002]

Naturally, Brown dodged the question. And so has every governor since 1994: Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

One possible solution to sprawl is so-called "smart growth" that promotes mixed land uses. In theory, neighborhoods would be built around town centers so that residents could walk to stores and parks.

Joel S. Hirschhorn, the former Director of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources at Washington, D.C.'s National Governors Association, has written an important book endorsing smart growth titled  Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money

According to Hirschhorn, sprawl has:

"Killed our environment by gobbling excessive amounts of land, open space and greenspace. Sprawl is killing millions of Americans because it promotes sedentary living and terrible diets by keeping people in their cars. Sprawl has killed social capital as people retreat from bland, ugly surroundings into their homes."

And Hirschhorn's book exposes what he calls "sprawl shills" that include corrupt government officials who are in the pocket of land developers, road builders and the real estate industry.

Those groups, identified by Hirschhorn as the true villains, have erected obstacles to building alternatives to sprawl.

But as much as I admire Hirschhorn and recommend his book with its right-on evaluation of sprawl's horrible consequences, I would not pick smart growth as the starting point in the battle to restore livable environments.

I would focus first on population. Until growth is slowed, every other solution is ultimately doomed.

Look at this fascinating (and frightening) chart posted and continuously updated at the U.S Census Bureau website. Called the U.S. POPClock projection, its statistics are as follows as of 9/15: one birth every seven seconds; one death every thirteen seconds and one international migrant (net) every twenty-six seconds.

The result: the net gain of one person every ten seconds!

As long as the POPClock ticks away, all the smart growth in the universe can't alleviate sprawl because each of those net gained people will need all the components of sprawl—housing, transportation, schools, parks, etc.

An interesting thing about the POPClock is that immigration is the most easily controlled variable.

While the U.S. can't do much about births and nothing about deaths, the federal government could formulate an immigration policy whose goal would be to reduce population pressures.

But will it? I asked Hirschhorn to elaborate about the impact of immigration on sprawl politics.

Said Hirschhorn:

"The huge contribution of illegal immigration to our high growth is a major problem that drives the housing market to continue using its familiar and profitable business model. Immigrants flock to urban locations, but as soon as possible they buy into the myth of the American dream and buy a home in sprawl land. The sad truth is that over recent decades there has been no will in this country to examine our high population growth (the equivalent of adding a Chicago every year) and the implications for land use.  If people would contemplate the additional 100 million people coming our way soon, and our current gluttonous land use, they might become more alarmed."

Hirschhorn concluded:

"We definitely must begin building well designed higher density communities. Design trumps density—so outstanding design makes higher density completely attractive to Americans."

I'm all for high-density housing. But let's be sure that while we're building new communities we're also working equally hard for sensible immigration.

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.

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