How green will our Valley be?

Uh, oh … last in sustainability.

Uh, oh … last in sustainability.

The population of the Central Valley is predicted to spike from 7 million to 12 million over the next 30 years. Researchers at UC Davis wanted to know what all that growth is going to mean for the sustainability of our Valley communities into the mid-21st century. Can the Valley grow greener? “I’m actually pretty pessimistic about the possibility,” says Mark Lubell, a UC Davis expert on environmental policy and local government and the lead researcher on the report “Achieving Sustainability in California’s Central Valley,” just released by the UCD Sustainable Transportation Center.

Lubell and his colleagues looked at 100 different communities and ranked them according to which cities were most on the ball with regards to sustainability and smart-growth programs. That ecotopia that Ruth calls Fresno topped the list, thanks to its enlightened Fresno Green sustainability program. Sacramento came in second with its vision of being “the most livable city in America,” and Davis ranked third with its, well, Davisness. Tiny, one-gas-station Maricopa came in last on the sustainability index. Ruth assumes that the Valley’s least sustainable community will have simply blown away by the year 2030.

Clearly, size matters in this particular system. The big towns have the bureaucracies, the interest groups and often the more progressive politics to launch smart-growth initiatives. But Lubell said it’s really the medium-sized cities, or the “transitioning” communities, that can make the biggest difference. They have the chance to avoid some of the mistakes of their bigger siblings, and the resources to launch new initiatives.

And he says that Republican-dominated suburban cities are often more forward-looking than Auntie Ruth likes to give them credit for. After all, Roseville is ranked fifth in the index, even sprawl-happy Elk Grove placed at number 17, way ahead of Yuba City, Lathrop and Shafter. Sorry, Ruth just got the chills a little bit when she said Lathrop.