Can we stay golden?

Think California is ungovernable now? Just imagine what it will be like in 2050, when it is expected to have nearly 60 million residents.

That figure comes from the state Department of Finance, which on Monday (July 9) issued its latest population predictions. They should cause fear and trembling in any Californian who worries about the future of the state.

Little Butte County, for example, will more than double its population by 2050, to 442,000.

Such growth will present huge challenges to a state that is already struggling to deal with a population of 37 million and the demands it places on our economic, social, political and natural systems. We’re short on housing, schools are suffering, traffic is nightmarish in many places, cities are gobbling up prime farm land, and there is never enough water for everyone.

In Butte County, the addition of more than 200,000 new residents in the next 43 years—along with similar increases in other Central Valley counties—will inevitably result in greatly increased traffic and air pollution and put huge demands on schools and other services. It will also exert tremendous pressure to continue turning good agricultural land into housing subdivisions.

These are all factors that should be kept in mind as the city of Chico and Butte County go about updating their general plans. We have to plan now to accommodate this growth is ways that minimize its impacts. It’s simply not going to be possible, for example, to continue building mostly single-family houses on large lots in sprawling suburbs and at the same time preserve farm land and keep the air clean. We need to rethink our way of life and adjust appropriately, or the Golden State will lose its shine.