High water mark?

Anyone who drives into Sacramento from the north on a regular basis is keenly aware of the dramatic ongoing sprawl taking place up that way. One after another of those dismal but pricey housing developments pops up like mushrooms after a rain, with overgrown houses on minuscule lots. Nothing about these developments is suggestive of long-range planning. Supportive infrastructure for such developments lags behind growth as battered highways take on more traffic, under-funded schools take on more students, and beleaguered police and fire officials take on the challenges of swelling populations. And perhaps the most irresponsible element of that paucity of planning in this particular area is the peril of future flooding.

Given all the recent hand-wringing over the flood risk in these new growth areas, shouldn’t there at least have been an honest debate about whether we should continue with business as usual in the Natomas floodplain?

The Sacramento City Council says no. It supports more elaborate and more expensive levee projects. But the council refuses to consider a building moratorium or to acknowledge what to us seems obvious: Building a city in a swamp is just asking for trouble.

And so a sort of pyramid scheme emerges. More growth means more revenue to fund the flood protections for those who’ve already moved in. That provides the political cover to approve even more development. The stakes, and the costs, grow ever higher.

Anyone who has lived in Sacramento for very long can feel the decline in our quality of life on a daily basis. Anybody who breathes should recognize our air-pollution problem. Anybody who uses our clogged highways has to notice the ever-longer commute times. Meanwhile, the Sacramento many people have known and loved gets swallowed up by sprawl, becoming indistinguishable from most any other town or city in the nation with its dreary panoply of mega-stores and franchises, one after the other, mile upon predictable mile.

It’s been said that growth for growth’s sake is the pathology of the cancer cell. As some of the world’s most productive farmland gets converted to malls and parking lots, it is once more imperative that we question elected officials whose sense of boosterism is wedded to commerce at the expense of intelligent growth. When the love of growth blinds them even to concerns about almost certain flooding, things have slipped rather badly out of perspective.

Developers seem to have the city officials in place who will look to their futures, but it’s open to question whether the rest of us do.