Wise up, California

President of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association

California’s growth is inevitable. We will grow, but will we grow “smart” or grow “dumb”? California is growing faster than any other state. From 1990 to 2000, California’s population increased nearly 14 percent—from 29.8 to 33.9 million. That rapid growth is expected to continue: 42.7 million people will call California home in 2015. We’re big and getting bigger fast.

It is not growth that California needs to fear, but “dumb growth” where there is insufficient planning and/or incentives for families, businesses and communities to make “smart” choices about where to locate. Whether this inevitable growth provides more benefits than drawbacks depends on how we plan to accommodate that growth. Rapid unplanned population growth can result in a loss of open space and farmland, strains on infrastructure and resources, unbearable traffic congestion, greater air and water pollution, a “cookie-cutter” approach to building new subdivisions, and that ugly side effect of unplanned growth: sprawl.

Growing “smart” means finding adequate water resources before it becomes California’s next major crisis. California must link water resources and land-use decisions. We should not be approving new developments without reliable, sustainable and high quality sources of water. Careful long-range planning, finding new sources of reliable, quality water supplies, and being smarter in how we use the water we have is critical. Someone has to take the plunge to fix a broken state, regional and local fiscal relationships. The state needs to provide incentives to local governments to plan and grow cooperatively, and enact laws that guarantee that cities and counties will retain stable revenue sources. At the same time, the state should encourage local governments to share resources derived from an entire region, such as requiring regional sales tax sharing agreements. Public agencies should set a good example. Let’s require both state agencies and local governments to incorporate state smart-planning principles into their planning, and use smart-growth principles to govern state infrastructure project funding.

We must guide how California grows before it is too late. We don’t want to wake up 20 years from now screaming, “If only we’d preserved that habitat and agricultural land, saved that open space, and developed walkable, beautiful communities where businesses want to locate and people want to live. If only we’d planned!”

Let’s grow “smart,” California.