An interview with...
do you mean when you say, "The Central Valley is the California
Well, I think the
central valley is what all Californians have in common. The central
valley incorporates within itself all the constituent elements of California.
The central valley after all is both northern California and southern
California and central California. Central California incorporates all
the landscapes of California and I think, most powerfully, central California
incorporates all the people of California. And now with the diversification
of the central California economy, central California is also reflecting
the total economy of California. So it's the one region that all California
has in common. It's the California of California.
established that, that how important is the Central Valley to the overall
well being of the state?
Well, I think without
the central valley, California would be claustrophobically confined
to its coastal regions. California as we know it would not exist. Central
California is the heartland, and the heartland is a physical place --
but it's a psychological place as well California is centered on central
California. It's the tabula rasa, really, on which we write the future
history of the state. The historical patterns of coastal southern California
and coastal northern California are rather determined. They're determined
by population; they're determined by environment regulation; they're
determined by over a hundred and fifty years of industrial history.
The narrative of central California is not that complete. In fact, it's
only being assembled in a more sophisticated format in our own time
as diversity is added to the economy of central California. So 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 a ecumenical civilization, we have to think
in significant measure about central California. That third shoe if
you will is falling now with a very dramatic clunk on the consciousness
a historian's point of view, have the people who are controlling the
state learned anything from the history of California's development
that would help the central valley?
In the 20th century
two major political lessons were learned from the history of California
by public officials. In the first part of the 20th century, our political
officials learned the lesson of political reform: that California had
to be better managed politically, and thanks to progressive movement,
by the 1920s those ideas were largely implemented. In the latter part
of the 20th century, California began to contemplate the next big challenge
from its history and that was the management of its growth. And that
process is still underway and central California is crucial to both
the challenge and the solution.
do you think is the biggest problem that we now face in terms of handling
is devoid at present of a central metaphor, a central vision of itself
as a totality. A totality that that would embrace proper growth, that
would embrace the preservation of agriculture, that would embrace the
implementation of high technology industries that are environmentally
favorable, that would embrace the further assimilation of its ecumenical
population in terms of language and other academic skills. We need a
central vision for central California -- and we're going to get it.
We're working on it now, we're thinking about it. It's the next great
issue, especially as linked to growth. It's the next great issue of
the association of Bay Area governments serve as a template for managing
growth in the Valley?
I think the success
of the Sierra Business Council points the way for central California.
The Sierra Nevada mountains sustain toward a quarter of a million people
living there now. They live in the north, and the center and in the
southern part of the state because the Sierra Nevada extends down dramatically
throughout the eastern side of California. They've learned to think
Sierra Nevada-wide and I think that the central valley has to learn
to think central valley wide. We have foundations: the Great Central
Valley Foundation, the growing interest of the Irvine Foundation in
central California. It is dawning on policy makers, planners both within
the central valley and California as a whole, that the crucial arena
for the management of growth and for the successful negotiation of our
new inevitable population by 2040, that central California is at the
matrix of either the solution or the matrix of the catastrophe.
you give us a brief history of growth patterns in the state?
by booms. The boom of the gold rush was succeeded by the boom of the
1880s, when the railroad connections began to have their effect. The
boom of the 1880s was succeeded by the boom of the early nineteen hundreds
which brought over three million people into southern California. The
boom of the early nineteen hundreds was succeeded by the boom of the
World War II period, which pushed our population up to nine, ten, twelve
million. The boom of the World War II period yielded to the boom of
the 1960s when the immigration laws were reformed and California became
significantly Asian-American and Mexican-American in its population.
Those booms are the pattern of California growth.
the boom of this time is
The boom of this
time is the living population reproducing itself and the fact that California
is such a creative economy, such a wonderful place to live that literally
we're going to have continuing mass migration into California from the
rest of the United States, and the world. In fact if you looked at the
DNA code of Native American California -- of the million Americans who
lived in the present day United States at the point of Columbus's arrival
-- more than a third lived within the present day boundaries of California.
I wouldn't be surprise if 150 years out, one third the total population
of the United States could be in California. We certainly see an emptying
out of the difficult regions in term of weather. People don't say, "Gee
when I grow up, I want to move to North Dakota," -- and I'm not
insulting North Dakota! California -- the lifestyle, the weather, the
climate, the dynamic interactive economy, the ecumenical civilization
-- I think is going to continue to attract population in the century
is this growth going to do to the demographics of the central valley?
Well, I think the
demographics of the central valley, given the growth that California
is going to be experiencing, will be a composite representative mosaic
of the entire state. I don't think there will be one population not
represented in the central valley. Now you have to remember this about
the central valley: it was the last part of the California to be settled.
It was settled by the native Americans, of course; but it really wasn't
settled by Spain, it was not settled by Mexico -- they just nibbled
the edges of it. It was not even settled by American Californians till
the late 19th century, when you began to have irrigation technology
to make life in the central valley feasible. It was not fully settled
by cities and towns till the invention of air conditioning in the 1930s
and 40s made it a much more salubrious place to live. So there is an
invented quality to central California; I call it "the invented
garden." What took a hundred years to achieve on the coast is being
achieved for better or worse in the central California in a matter of
are the ramifications going to be if we start moving away from our agriculture
I think growth is
presenting California with an institutional crisis. Cities that grow
too quickly move beyond the ability of their institutions to serve --
beyond the ability of churches, synagogues, schools to serve a too rapidly
expanding population. Agriculture is a business but agriculture is also
an institution. Agriculture is at the core of the DNA code of the central
valley and the continuing of agriculture is more than just, like we
say in Los Angeles, "Don't quit your day job." It has something
profoundly Jeffersonian about it. Jefferson was not delusional when
he said that this nation could never detach itself fully from its agriculture
capacity and remain a great and moral society. And the challenge today
is to reconcile this agricultural foundation of California and the needs
of a population.
do you do that if you're losing 250 acres a day of prime farm to urban
The paradox of growth
has to reconcile two very antagonistic principles: the free market and
the jurisdiction of the public sector. And there is going to be a painful
clash between those two principles in the immediate future on the issue
of agricultural properties that we're pawing under. You see because
agriculture properties are not just business commodities; they represent
a form of trust, of public trust. Agriculture is open space; agriculture
is necessary for the total social, communal, and cultural well being
of a society. Therefore, the paving over of the central valley represents
not just a threat to California economy, not just a threat to the California
formula; it represents a threat to the whole culture and way of life
that we have in this state. And at some point, just as we said to politics,
"Reform yourself," we're going to be saying to the loss of
agricultural properties, "Enough is enough," and that's going
to be politically painful.
well can the central valley accommodate the building of major urban
--whether in central California, northern California or southern California
-- learn to live, of their own free will, more comfortably with the
principle and fact of density, this state is going to be in terrible
trouble. But I have great faith that the people will learn those things.
I think we're seeing that now in the kinds of townhouse developments;
in the best aspects of the smart growth movement; in our recognition
of what we've lost, for instance, as the city of Fresno metastasizes
to some one hundred square miles; in the struggle of metropolitan Sacramento
-- as its growth moves toward the two million mark -- to maintain its
institutional coherence. I think the battle is being joined. The exact
formula, and political compromises, and détentes that we have
to reach to manage growth in central California is not exactly clear,
but the process is under way. Don't forget: when we take about two hundred
fifty acres being lost to California every day, it's the people who
give the permission. The people ultimately are the sovereign authority
behind every planning commission. It's the elected officials who set
up the parameter of land transfer; it's not just the market. Land is
a public trust and the most conservative people will acknowledge ultimately
that the people have jurisdiction in the question of land use. And so
what we have to have is a growing awareness on part of the people of
central California as to what would be lost. We had that awareness regarding
our coast; the coastal commission is a result of the fact that we realized
that our twelve hundred mile coast was in danger. We had that in terms
of endangered species; we had that in terms of redwoods. As many of
the acres of redwoods that we lost, we would have lost even more had
not it dawned on people at the turn of the century that we're losing
that commodity. It is dawning on us now that we're on the verge of losing
California in a way that would be tragic if we don't come up with proper
modes of handling growth and if we don't learn to live more densely
in our landscape.
long will it take to develop the processes needed to manage growth ?
Ideas have consequences.
Ideas that were social welfare ideas in the 1960s dominated social welfare
programs in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It's the ideas that we have now --
the good ideas, the challenging ideas regarding growth management --
that will dominate the decades to come. But the time frame, the workout
time, the build-out time of these ideas is not in years but in decades.
On the other hand the rate of growth, the fast forwarding of our culture,
and civilization is so dramatic that I think we can compress those years
by some factor -- but not completely. You need complex political agreement
for this kind of planning, and that kind of complex political agreement
just takes time; that kind of consensus takes time. If I were a elected
official I would be frightened of end run -- a proposition 13 statewide
regarding growth. That is to say, a well-intended but draconian measure
that would bypass the subtleties of the legislative process and would
impose on California an antigrowth program that might have disastrous
albeit unintended consequences. And that's why we have to back our elected
officials as they struggle to do something which we have not done really
very well, and that is to manage growth on a statewide basis.
sum up, what do you think the next quarter century holds for us here?
Given the growth
facing the central valley, the next quarter century will either have
for us a spectacular coping with the problem
or a catastrophe.
That catastrophe could be a catastrophe of just runaway growth, or it
could be a catastrophe of bad antigrowth laws that have unintended consequences.
The more utopian or hopeful scenario would be a balanced society, which
is going to allow for more growth but at the same time halt the runaway
plowing, the "asphaltization" of California agriculture --
and at the same time have environmental concerns pervading every sector:
agriculturally, in terms of wilderness preservation, and in terms of
urbanism, suburbanism... I would like to see for instance a stopping
of the runaway growth of cities. I want to see Fresno come back in on
itself, fill out those brown fields, regain its institutions, and recapture
the mood that Fresno had when I was a teenager working at Yosemite National
Park in the 1950's, when all the college kids, the students from Fresno,
the people had sense of an institution because you had a manageable
city. Sprawl vitiates culture, isolates people, and makes it more difficult
to maintain parks, symphony orchestras, athletic leagues, etc. So I
think that just the sheer desire of people to be happy in their lives
will provide a tremendous motivating force to manage growth in central
California in the next ten years. And we won't have the catastrophic
scenario; we'll have something not utopian, but we'll see certain corners