Preserving the Dream

This program is brought to you through the generous support of viewers like you.

Presentation of New Valley is made possible by Intel Corporation -- taking a leadership role in bringing citizens, business leaders, and government together, to examine the impact of growth in the Central Valley.

And by U.S. Home, committed to developing a positive future where we live and work by promoting responsible growth, and preservation of our quality of life.

And by the air districts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.


It's larger in area than 10-states and exceeds 20 states in population. It ranks ninth in the nation in the growth of that population which is now pushing six million. It's a huge basin 450 miles long, and 60-miles wide. 42-thousand square miles of arguably the most productive land on earth. But if it is the most productive it is also the most endangered. The Central Valley of California is being "loved" to death…

Kevin Starr, State Librarian-Historian: "In thinking about California, in thinking about the future of California -- whether in terms of population growth, further economic diversification, the success of California as an ecumenical civilization -- we have to think in a significant measure about Central California. That third shoe, if you will, is falling with a very dramatic clunk on the consciousness of California."

In the path of unprecedented growth California's great valley appears to be slowly smothering. Stifled by an evolution that is threatening its fertile acreage, its Mediterranean climate is in danger of choking under a cover of pollution and its resources diminishing to a trickle. From Bakersfield to Redding there is a fear that the cancer of undisciplined growth is metastasizing in the form of strip malls, shopping centers and housing tracts. And there is an unease that the cornucopia of California is under siege.

Carol Whiteside, President of The Great Valley Center: "I'm troubled by the fact that there isn't a cohesive strategy. It doesn't have to be a regional government, but we all ought to be, it seems to me, thinking about how we deal with the kind of growth that we have coming. Where do we get the water? Where do we get the power? How do we handle the traffic? Where do we put the houses? How do we save the wetlands and the habitats for the birds, and what do we do about agriculture? We're doing a lot of it willy-nilly with a lot of short-term, quick fix solutions rather than having a strategy, even though we have the ability to understand what the implications of this tremendous growth are going to be."

The American Farmland Trust crunched the numbers and projected the valley's fate into a crowded and less fertile future. By 2040, claims the Trust, more than one million acres of cultivated land will be lost. That worries the Farm Bureau.

Bill Pauli, President of The California Farm Bureau: "You know, things are difficult in agriculture, and it's across the board, and so if you take a look at what it takes to have a viable agriculture, if we're not making a relatively good rate of return on our investment, we're not going to stay in production ag, and if we're not there fighting for the preservation and protection of that primary agriculture land and you only have the conservationists promoting the protection of land, I think you're going to quickly run out of land."

The state legislature has formed the "Smart Growth Caucus" to craft growth policy. Housing, urban revitalization, education and transportation issues are being scrutinized. And, while legislators grapple, some valley towns have already put the brakes on growth, while others are unable to stop it...

Clyde Band, Former Tracy Mayor: "Tracy has been a railroad town and an agriculture community . . . it has always had that warm community feeling about it. I want to see Tracy grow with plans that the citizens have had the opportunity to say, 'This is what we want Tracy to look like tomorrow and the next day.'"

The Central Valley has always been a distinct region from the fast pace of the Bay Area. Tracy, about 60 miles east of San Francisco, is where the two worlds intersect. In the last decade the city has added more than 20,000 residents. That's the fastest growth rate in the San Joaquin Valley and about 3 times the state average.

Mark Connolly, Tracy Resident: "Well, my family has been here since about 1872. Tracy's been growing just as a residential subdivision for the Bay Area, and, uh, it hasn't been good growth. Most people say that a community happens when you get more than one generation that stays there, and we don't have that right now."

Commuters buy about 90 percent of new homes in Tracy. Most new developments are like ghost neighborhoods during the work day.

Patrick Smalling, Commuter: "The commute is hell, but those are the kinds of choices that you have to make."

Patrick Smalling goes to law school in San Francisco. His commute is at least 2 hours a day -- one way -- depending on traffic. But San Francisco is where the opportunities are, and Tracy is affordable.

Patrick Smalling: "I think when we first moved here, I felt it's as it's described, as a bedroom community, like we just slept here, but as time has gone on-again, it's been about four years-it has really become our home. Clearly, people are sort of getting into the swing of Tracy, and it's growing by leaps and bounds and I can't complain."

About 30 miles away: the town of Escalon, where residents say bigger is definitely not better.

Carl Vilen, Escalon Resident: "Well, my grandparents moved here, and my dad and mom were raised out here. We're about the last of the line, I think, right now."

Jeanie Vilen, Escalon Resident: "We have four children, one son and three daughters, and now we have seven granddaughters."

Carl Vilen: "Well, I like it because it's a friendly town, and we try to keep it that way."

Like Tracy, Escalon was built around the railroad and on farming…

Carl Vilen: "When I was a boy, my dad had 20 acres and made a pretty good living on that. Now it's getting developed and houses being put on top of it, and I don't know where they are going to grow the food one of these days. We want growth but not just boom, you know."

Dave Ennis, Escalon City Councilman: "I've lived here my whole life, 54 years. I was born here."

Dave Ennis helped pass the city's growth ordinance in 1978, limiting the number of new homes to 75 a year; the city actually averages about 46.

Dave Ennis: "We don't have the big theatres; we don't have the bowling alleys; we don't have the roller rinks; we don't have the skate parks, but we do have the quality of life that a lot of people aspire to."

Jeanie Vilen: "Even from the beginning, we felt safe with our kids walking to and from school, and that's a real treasure to have that good feeling."

Clyde Band: "What's happening in Tracy is right on course for the plans that were laid out about 12 to 15 years ago. That plan was to build on less productive soil to the south and west, stay off the best farm land to the east as well as the flood zone to the north."

But driving through Tracy, even this 37-year resident can't ignore the signs of sprawl…

Clyde Band: "No, it's no longer a sleepy little town."

Drive in almost any direction, and the 8 foot walls start popping up. Endless fields in one direction, countless rooftops in the other.

Clyde Bland: "The day of the individual family farm of 160 acres can't be very successful on 160 acres."

And on the outskirts of Tracy? A new mall and outlet stores which suck business from downtown,

Betty Alvarez, Tracy Business Owner: "Going into any area, you don't see the same shop you saw 20 or 40 years ago."

Betty Alvarez is a 60-year resident. She leases a handful of properties to small business owners. At first, they did everything to try and slow the changing times.

Betty Alvarez: "We were scared; I went to every council meeting and fought everything. You've got to show them that you're in there and that you're alive and you're not just gonna die because a big box has come into town. Of course, they outdo us all the way, but they don't have the charm of the small, independent merchant or the independent businessperson."

That's also what they're also selling in Escalon…

Larry Swanson, Escalon Business Owner: "We know most of our customers by name and they know us. If they need help, we can help them and solve their problems hopefully."

And they have the protection of the city, which has banned big box retailers in favor of family run businesses.

Dave Ennis: "In essence protecting them, but also providing a level of service to the current residents."

Larry Swanson: "We've been here 26 years, we're going into the second generation, and I haven't missed too many meals and I still pay the rent."

Clyde Bland: "You could say Tracy is growing like a teenager."

With all the aches and pains of a teenager, and the uncertainty of what the future holds.

Mark Connolly: "If Tracy actually stops at this point and reevaluates and develops a strategic plan for job creation, for preservation of agricultural land, for better parks, better schools, then Tracy could be a pretty good community."

Sylvia Alves, Tracy Homeowner: "Okay, now we've got to figure out who Chandler's coach is."

Sylvia Alves says she wouldn't miss this day for the world, and luckily - she doesn't have to. It's her 5-year-old son's first day of tee-ball.

Sylvia Alves: "Justin, do you want to take your sister and play on the slides?"

This mother of three says it's not a chore to stay home with her kids, but a fortunate choice.

Sylvia Alves: "For me to be able to have 3 children & do everything that needs to be done."

Sylvia admits she misses her old job, but says you can't put a price tag on raising your own children. Sylvia and husband John settled into the Tracy area 7 years ago. Two months ago, the couple moved into this 4,700 square foot home in the Redbridge community. The only problem is that John works in the Bay Area.

Sylvia Alves: "We both would have to work to afford a home there."

John is a CPA and controller of Serena Software in Burlingame

John Alves, Tracy Homeowner: "The real decision maker was affordable housing.. I couldn't afford a home in San Leandro, the area I was living in in the Bay Area. I'm more comfortable in a suburb environment, so it was nice, but really, it was being able to get a much bigger home."

A much bigger home for about half the cost. In Tracy, the median price of a house is $270,000. That's up 60% in the last 10 years. The Alves paid a lot more for this house, but say it's still a great deal considering what they get for the price.

John Alves: "This house would go for one and a half times what it's worth here, easy."

With the good also comes the bad. The consequence is that John commutes two hours each way to work…

John Alves: "She's almost like a single mom; a lot of times, I'm just not around a lot. Particularly when it's busy. I could go two or three days without even seeing the kids. They're asleep by the time I get home."

According to Housing California, The state is experiencing a serious housing shortage. Analysts say at least 250,000 units must be built per year just to meet population demands.

Tim Coyle, Sr. Vice President of the California Building Industry Association: "The challenge that we face with the growing population is how to take advantage of the land that's available for development for new housing and accommodate that growth."

California also has the lowest rate of homeowners in the entire country. Only 56% of Californians own their homes, compared to 65% with the nationwide.

Carol Whiteside, President of the Great Valley Center: "Right now, the historic pattern for the last 10-20 years is to build out in the fringes, keep moving further out, keep using up new land, and what that means is people drive further, their less connected."

CalTrans reports that every month, more than 79,000 people hit the 205 freeway on their way to the Bay Area.

Carol Whiteside: "You can't build enough roads to support the kind of population that are going to be in the region and expect that any of us are going to be able to breathe."

Whiteside believes a high speed Valley train may be the best solution. Others, like State Historian Kevin Starr, disagree…

Kevin Starr, State Librarian-Historian: "What I think is to use the excisting highways with more para-transit."

The Alves say they're hoping John finds a job closer to home, but it's not easy. So for now, the Alves say they'll just deal with John's long hours on the road. For them, it's more important that their children grow up with a yard and a parent at home.

John Alves: "I think this is where we plan to stay."

Sylvia Alves: "Yeah, I like it here. It's nice."

As the population of the Valley swells, its freeways choke with traffic. Though tie-ups and long commutes can wreak havoc with people's schedules, they can have an even more devastating effect on the environment. Californians' dependence on the automobile poses the greatest threat to the air we breathe -- and in turn to the Valley's economy.

Bill Pauli, President of the Farm Bureau: "There's substantial impact to many of our crops, because we know that air quality is continually a problem in terms of shading and reducing the amount of sunlight we get."

Although Metropolitan Sacramento suffers from the 10th worst ozone levels in the country, air quality is a Valley-wide issue.

Christopher Cabaldon, West Sacramento City Council Member: "We're hemmed in by mountains and hills on all sides and so we don't have a lot of places for our pollution to go. The Bay Area, they can build all the power plants they want to, because their pollution either goes out to sea or into the Valley. We don't have that kind of a luxury; we have to deal with the pollution that we produce."

Whatever the solution, it must come soon. Unless Sacramento cleans up its air by 2005, the federal government may withhold federal highway funds. Without this money, Valley drivers can expect more traffic snarls and longer commutes, which would lead to even greater pollution…

Hopefully, we've learned from our experiences in using -- and abusing -- the Valley's most precious natural resource: water. It is the foundation of our economy. It powers our cities, and transformed the Central Valley into one of the most fertile regions on earth. But our dependence on water has sometimes undermined our aspirations, and our use of it has often been disastrous to the environment…

Kevin Starr, State Librarian-Historian: "The Gold Rush resulted in many fine things, but it also resulted in an environmental catastrophe."

Hydraulic mining -- washing away hillsides with high-pressure hoses -- savaged the ecology of the Central Valley. Rivers were diverted and drained of their water, while run-off heavy with silt and impurities poisoned farmlands. But farmers fought back to preserve their land and water rights. Their 1884 legal victory marked a shift in California water policy -- a new direction that would prevail for nearly a century, as California's fortunes increased with its crops. But what benefited our farms has often devastated the Valley's natural environment. As more water was set aside for growth and agriculture, rivers and wetlands dried up, and many native species dwindled. In recent years, significant strides have been made to halt and even reverse the damage. CalFed -- the joint state and federal agency that distributes California's water -- has removed dams to restore the natural flow of the Valley's rivers. Perhaps their most important endeavor is the stabilization of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Christopher Cabaldon: "One thing that the Delta Protection Commission has really done well, which is to say, "No more!" We're going to protect and preserve what we have to the extent that we can, and we're not going to allow any new residential subdivisions, or sewer plants, or any of those kinds of uses in the Delta. And that's making a difference."

But not everyone is happy with these efforts. Several agricultural organizations are suing CalFed in an effort to secure more water that they say is needed to maintain production. On the other hand, some environmental groups complain that CalFed has not gone far enough to repair the damage done by decades of unbalanced water policies. But more and more, these two sides are coming together, as they realize that they have more in common than not…

Kevin Starr: "I think it's a recognition that conservationists have to make: that agriculture is a form of conservation. And conversely, agriculturists have to realize that conservationists are preserving the conditions of agriculture."

Of course, consensus on water policy would be easier to achieve if the Valley had an unlimited supply. But in years when rainfall slips below average and melting snow water from the mountains fails to meet our needs, the Central Valley must tap even deeper into its groundwater reserves or learn to conserve…

Carol Whiteside, President of the Great Valley Center: "Going into this year, where we may not have big rainfalls again, it may require further cutbacks, and we may see the same kinds of shortages that we've seen in energy."

Because the Valley relies so heavily on water, we're liable to think of it solely as a resource. But from time to time, nature reminds us that it is also a force to be reckoned with. Too much water can pose an even greater danger than too little. Levees aren't always effective, and even when they are, they often save one area at the expense of another. Ultimately, the Central Valley must try to strike a balance between urban and agricultural concerns…between generating power and preserving the environment…between protecting against floods and staving off drought. There may not be a "perfect balance" but we must realize that growth in the Valley doesn't preclude conservation; it depends on it.

An overview of the Central Valley reveals a region that shares similar concerns with other parts of the state -- rapid growth, congestion and maintaining quality of life. A booming population accompanying the Valley's growth has also filled classrooms to capacity, making an equal education for all a challenge in itself.

Heidi Dyar-Gonzalez, Delano Teacher: "Students come in with more problems, problems from home. I can't tell you how many challenges there are."

There are also educational issues unique to the Central Valley.

Delaine Eastin, Superintendent of Public Instruction: You have a large number of migrant students in the Valley and these students pose significant additional challenges to educators because their families move.

Students from different backgrounds represent the diversity of the Central Valley. They often have greater language or educational needs. Experts say the earlier these needs are met the better…

Delaine Eastin: "The areas of the country that do the best are the areas of the country with pre-kindergarten. The Central Valley has one of the lowest rates of preschool attendance and child of development."

There is also the problem of the Central Valley's so-called digital divide -- the highest in the state.

Carol Whiteside, President of The Great Valley Center: "Right now in the Valley, we still have 40 to 50% of some of our populations that don't have Internet or computer access. They can't access government services, they can't do research for school projects, they can't do a job search online, they can't find out about medical care or a whole lot of things that we are increasingly becoming dependent on online."

Innovative partnerships with the private sector help, so do cutting edge classes like this one: digital TV at Sacramento's McClatchy High. But much more is needed to interest and prepare kids for technical skills they need in today's economy.

Ken Starr, State Librarian-Historian: "We don't want to raise a generation of Californians who can't stay in their own state because they don't have the skills to be here."

Valley students say they have a stake in improving the system. At a recent summit they offered some candid insight.

Lazarus Mason, Sacramento High School Student: "Most of the campuses said that they need to have more counselors because some schools only have two or three counselors for two or three thousand students, so they need more counselors because most students don't get to see their counselors when they have problems. They have to wait in long lines."

Parental involvement is also seen as key, but some Central Valley parents face logistical barriers.

Delaine Eastin: "They're moving to the Valley and commuting back to the Bay Area. That makes it devilishly hard, if you're a parent, to go and help out at your children's school if you have a two to three hour commute each way."

Teachers say that while resources are tight and challenges numerous, they are surmountable, and each child is worth it.

Heidi Dyar-Gonzalez: "I just love kids."

Heidi Dyar's dedication is paying off; her school is one of the rising stars. Some of the best performing schools are found in the Valley, but also, so are some of the lowest…

Delaine Eastin: "Well, I think we're improving, but I think you could say that overall needs to improve. First of all, we have some of the real high-flier districts in terms of student achievement. We do have the Davis, Clovis, you know, some of the Granite Bay, Roseville, and Rocklin are doing well, but on the other hand, you have some of the Sacramento City, Stockton City, Fresno City, that are not doing very well."

Experts believe as the region grows, so must support for its educational system. The valley's future success may depend on it…

Delaine Eastin: "You improve the schools of a city and of an area, and you'll see property values skyrocket, you'll see crime go down, you'll see unemployment and welfare diminish. It is magic."

So is the glass half full or half empty?

Ken Starr, State Librarian-Historian: "I think there is a pause in California today on the issue of growth. I think it's in a condition of creative contemplation in which the mistakes of the past can be possibly avoided. Now there is a pause saying, "Given our population growth, what should we be doing?" Now the very asking of that question will prevent, I believe, wholesale abuse in the next decade in terms of growth patterns."

Carol Whiteside, President of The Great Valley Center: "Everybody knows there's going to be growth; that's a given now. So, now people are beginning to go to the next step and saying, 'What are we going to do about it, and how are we going to deal with it?' And we're beginning, just beginning, to get people engaged in saying, 'How can we insure that our future is what we want it to be?'"

In the coming months we'll try to determine if that cautious optimism is warranted. Time, it appears, is a critical factor in confronting the issues facing this great Central Valley of ours, home to a new breed of California Argonaut.

This program is brought to you through the generous support of viewers like you.

Presentation of New Valley is made possible by Intel Corporation -- taking a leadership role in bringing citizens, business and government together, to examine the impact of growth in Central Valley.

And by U.S. Home, committed to developing a positive future where we live and work by promoting responsible growth, and preservation of our quality of life.

And by the air districts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.