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Sustainable:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.




Part III of III.

California: Shaping New Directions

A State Planning and Population Growth
Position Paper

Californians for Population Stabilization*

Part III
The Future of the Central Valley:
A Policy Planning Case Study



Table of Contents
Part III: The Future of The Central Valley - A Case Study
Overview of State Comprehensive Planning
Creation Of The State Office Of Planning
Establishment of the Office of Planning and Research
California Government Code Sections 65025-65050,
Chapter 1.5. Office of Planning And Research


Part III:
The Future of the Central Valley:
A Policy Planning Case Study


The continued loss of rich agricultural lands to urbanization in the Central Valley of California illustrates the failure to recognize and act upon the threats to this $26 billion dollar industry. The threat is great now. If not abated, the potential loss over the next 40 to 80 years will devastate California’s agricultural base. A 40 to 80 year perspective is necessary today if California agriculture is to be preserved.

Sessions on Central Valley regional planning were held at the 1993 American Planning Association Annual Conference in Modesto, CA. The centerpiece of these sessions was a discussion and debate of three alternative futures for the 28 county Central Valley stretching from Shasta County to Kern County. Population projections to the year 2040 prepared by the State Department of Finance were used as a basis for this exercise. Those projections anticipated 63 million people in the State and 15 million in the Central Valley by 2040, along with a racial/ethnic mix that would find 70% of the statewide population to be non-White.

Three alternative futures show what might happen by the year 2040:

Alternative A

Reflects the probable pattern of urbanization if existing trends continue.

Alternative B

Reflects a continuation of current trends plus the development of new cities along the foothills of the Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada.

Alternative C

Reflects a population projection reduced from 15 million to 11.5 million, plus distribution of some of the added population to new cities on both sides of the valley.

Under Alternative A (continuation of existing trends), estimates indicate 5.8 million people employed, 5 million new housing units, the cumulative loss of 1.6 million acres of prime agricultural land, over $2 billion lost annual agricultural production and an increase in municipal and industrial (M & I) water use from 2 million to 6 million acre feet. The coalescence of urban and metropolitan growth along the State Highway 99 corridor would virtually eliminate any sense of travel through an agricultural region that still characterizes most of the Highway 99 corridor today. An important conclusion was that, unless major new sources of water are tapped for interregional transport to the Central Valley from Northern California, urban demands could only be satisfied by the permanent sale of agricultural water rights to urban water agencies in the valley.

The Grunwald study (1993) addressed some of the actions required by State government, as follows:

". . .it is submitted that the State’s lack of regional organization for its own operations remains as a basic obstacle to achieving intergovernmental solutions to regional problems and in meeting the needs of the State’s regions. As long as the State fails to perform certain key functions within a regional context, it can hardly be expected that local government can adequately define those roles and methods of organization which will best fulfill remaining requirements for successful regional decision-making. And, it is extremely doubtful that any attempt to create a truly meaningful State planning function would succeed as long as State government was not in a position to properly coordinate its own operations (and those of the federal government) within the same region.

"Notwithstanding the needs for and obstacles to achieving the right kind of regional cooperation among local governments within the Central Valley, it is time that the State moved with vigor to get its own house in order by conducting certain of its operations within a regional framework as a basis for State agency programming and investment decisions. The State clearly has a responsibility for that type of regional planning which is necessary: 1) for the intelligent operation of State government; 2) to provide a framework for understanding regional determinants of development and future requirements of regions; and 3) to permit local government and the private sector to better deliberate and time decisions with respect to State and federal operations.

"This approach to regional decision-making by the State should result in a crystallization and testing of regional objectives regarding functions already vested in State government by existing statutes - but which falls short of that type of organization which would also involve the formalized participation of local government. Regional planning in this context recognizes the need for an intermediate approach between the extremes of regional government organization at the local level and a State assumption of a broader exercise of authority than is provided by existing statutes.

"The State has variously conducted its operations within a regional context on an agency-by-agency and function-by-function basis, within different regional boundaries. Moreover, there has been little effort to examine the integral relationships of agency policies and programs with respect to their impact on the regional development process or how they may be used to either define or achieve regional objectives which local government might support. Unfortunately, the State ‘s record in the past 15-20 years is not even as good in this regard as it was in the 1960’s, when water, highway, recreation and higher education planning were at their zenith."

The American Farmland Trust study (1995) was conducted for a smaller area extending from Sutter County to Kern County, and excluding the foothill and mountain counties of the Central Sierra. Nevertheless, its findings with respect to the anticipated urban pattern and loss of agricultural land corroborated those of the Grunwald (1993) study.

Important conclusions of this study were that:

  • Housing should be better designed with somewhat higher densities overall.
  • Fragmented urban sprawl should be ended and replaced by contiguous urban growth and infill of vacant lands.
  • The most important farmland be designated as "strategic agricultural reserve" with a secure supply of affordable water.
  • The creation of an officially sanctioned public/private task force, or commission to lay the groundwork for further action to achieve more compact and efficient urban growth.

The Valley Vision studies (Platzek & Cone, 1998 and Platzek, 1998) take the prospects for population growth and urbanization within the Central Valley a quantum leap to the year 2080 in order to better understand the extent to which valley agriculture is truly at risk. As stated by Platzek, projections to the year 2080 cover the actuarial lifetime of a child being born today. Taken in that context, 80 years is not too far ahead to project.

Major findings and conclusions of the Valley Vision studies include the following:

  • Today, the Central Valley is one of the world’s most important farming regions. By the year 2080, this farming region could be seriously threatened by the 5-fold increase in population and related development projected by the study. By 1990, about 740,000 acres (7.3%) of the valley floor had been urbanized.
  • In 1997, the population of the Central Valley counties was about 5.7 million. The 1990 population of the valley floor was about 3.6 million.
  • The valley floor has about 10.2 million acres of which nearly 9.2 million are identified as "Original Irrigable Farmland."
  • The population of the Central Valley will increase from 5.0 million in 1990 to 15.0 million in 2040, and about 25.4 million in 2080; the population of the valley floor is projected to increase from 3.6 million in 1990 to 10.9 million in 2040, and 19.2 million in 2080. Nearly 2/3 of the projected growth is expected to occur in the 11 largest and most populous urban areas.
  • By 2080, urbanization may occupy more than 4.0 million acres, or 40% of the valley floor. The amount of remaining farmland would drop to about 3.9 million acres or only 48% of current farmland acreage.
  • The amount of farmland conversion by 2080 could be significantly reduced if the densities of urbanized areas could be increased. If present average gross residential density was increased from 1.5 to 3.8 housing units per gross acre, the amount of acreage consumed by urbanization could be reduced from 4.1 million to 1.6 million acres.

Platzek (1998) concludes as follows:

"The over-arching need is for the people of California to transform the way we value farming and the farmland base of the Central Valley. To meet this need will require the development of new attitudes and approaches which, considering the implications of the findings herein, motivate both private and public sectors throughout the valley and the State to respond in timely and coordinated ways. We must fundamentally transform our thinking and ways before much more of the valley’s productive farmland is irrevocably lost to the driving forces behind farmland conversion. The biggest challenge of all, however, will be to build public and private institutions which together which can conceive, plan for and achieve a sustainable future for the Central Valley."

Platzek & Cone (1998) state that:

"To save the Central Valley from its potential urbanization fate, it is now time to start thinking the unthinkable. That is, if 175 nations can come together in Cairo and agree to stabilize the world’s population at less than double the current world population by the year 2050, why can’t we start thinking that we can stabilize the Valley’s population at a sustainable level by that time? If we can start thinking that, we can also start thinking that valley urban boundaries can eventually be stabilized in order to save enough valley farmland to secure a significant portion of our nation’s needed future food supply."

Platzek & Cone (1998) offer an agenda to save the Central Valley, assuming the choice is made for an agricultural, rather than an urban, Central Valley as our future. This choice will require embracing the goal of a sustainable future for Central Valley agriculture, urban areas and the environment with a comprehensive agenda having three interrelated thrusts:

  • A major research effort by California’s best minds to identify the Valley’s sustainable population carrying capacity, based on the amount of farmland needed for a secure food supply plus air, water and energy resources.
  • A valley-wide planning process to develop a vision for a sustainable future for the area, including a protected farmland base. Institutional machinery will be needed involving State and local government.
  • Mobilization of a broad coalition of valley organizations and leadership to promote the above strategies, as well as to promote the intergovernmental framework referred to under item 2, above.

Platzek & Cone (1998) also mapped all of the general plan boundaries for cities and unincorporated communities as adopted by 1996. The major conclusion of this mapping effort is that valley urban areas have enough land area available under existing land use policy to accommodate about 10 million people (including the existing population). The significance of this finding is that the 10 million total is the projection for the year 2020, exclusive of the additional population that will undoubtedly result from the continuing General Plan update and amendment process from now to the year 2020.

The urban pattern in the year 2080 may become one continuous ribbon of urbanization from Bakersfield to Redding. Such a prospect can only be averted by the development of rational statewide policy on population growth and distribution.

Overview of State Comprehensive Planning

A number of states, notably Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Hawaii and Oregon, have experimented with various approaches to State planning. In general, the focus of these efforts has been on land use planning. In the case of Florida, the objective is the protection of areas of critical environmental concern. In Oregon, State planning has addressed the protection of sensitive resource areas by controlling urban encroachment and limiting the area available for urban expansion. While the experience of these states offers useful elements, none present a clear model for a State as populous and diverse as California. Moreover, none seem to have dealt explicitly with the consequences of future levels of population growth. This is equally true at the national level. As pointed out in the interim report of the National Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (1971), "Despite the pervasive impact of population growth on every facet of American life, the United States has never had a deliberate policy on the subject."

Creation of the State Office of Planning

While there were earlier efforts at State planning in California, the first truly significant movement occurred in 1959, when the State Office of Planning (SOP) was established in the Department of Finance. The functions of SOP included coordination of functional planning by State agencies and assisting in establishing priorities in the State Budget. Assistance to local agencies was also provided by establishing "regions" of the State that reflected similar socioeconomic and physical features and conditions, and for the management and allocation of local planning assistance funds under Section 701 of the Federal Housing Act. The major charge to SOP, however, was the preparation of a "State Development Plan," which was described as a "comprehensive, long-range general plan for the physical growth and development of the State."

The plan, which was to be reviewed and revised regularly, was to be based on:

". . . studies of physical, social, economic and governmental factors, conditions and trends, in cooperation with and utilizing the physical development plans as prepared by State, local, regional, and federal agencies and shall aim at the coordinated physical development of the State in order to promote the general welfare and prosperity of its people."

The supporters of the new planning statutes had great expectations for the State Development Plan. However, then Governor Edmund G Brown was uncommitted, and the Legislature was wary of giving the new SOP authority to implement planning. Further, the bill which the Governor eventually signed did not contain financing for preparation of the State Development Plan. (Cohen, 1977)

This new planning function at the State level should be viewed in the context of the political climate of the times. It was an era of dynamic growth which was hailed by most political leaders. The Governor had delivered on his campaign to develop the California Water Plan, and to construct the State Water Project as the first major unit of plan implementation. He also strongly supported preparation of a State Transportation Plan and the State Freeway and Expressway Plan.

The Master Plan of Higher Education also came into prominence as the prospect of a half dozen new campuses of the University of California fueled economic development programs in Southern California, the Bay Area and the Central Coast. When California surpassed New York as the most populist State in the nation, Governor Brown declared a State holiday.

Thus, the mood in the State capitol during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s did not support measures which might be seen as jeopardizing California’s emerging role on the national scene.

It was not until 1962 that funding became available which permitted the SOP to seriously begin preparation of the Development Plan. It is significant that this funding came through the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and did not represent a shift in support of SOP by the Governor or the Legislature.

In making a substantial multi-year grant of over 4 million dollars to SOP, HUD (1996) stated:

"In order to meet the increasing demands of the future, with the ever-growing complexity of the service delivery system that our population and technology require, it is important that an effective comprehensive planning process at the State level be instituted. Without such a process, the State can expect a higher incidence of State programs to have conflicting objectives . . ."

Heartened by this understanding and support of their efforts, State planners began the task of preparing the Development Plan.

A phased program of work on the plan proceeded over the next six years, and the plan was completed in 1968. Important contributions to the plan were made by the planning units of State agencies. Unfortunately, the plan did not live up to the expectations of its original supporters. SOP was criticized for taking a "systems" approach to State planning and for dealing with the State’s problems in a piece-meal fashion.

The plan, however, was far-sighted in recommending policies in areas such as energy use, marine and coastal protection, resource management, and for emphasizing the need for explicit State land use and population policy.

Unfortunately, the recommendations were not expressed in a form readily useful to the Legislature and State administrators. Reflecting the limited support given to SOP, and the lack of understanding of how the plan might be used, the plan languished in the latter days of the Brown Administration. The plan was published in a severely revised and abbreviated form, primarily to meet the requirements of HUD. No serious attempt was made to secure public support, or a commitment by the Legislature to the plan’s recommendations. Thus after five years, the first experiment in statewide planning in California came to an end. Shortly after publication of the plan document, Governor Reagan took office and promptly reduced the staff and budget of the SOP.

Establishment of the State Office of Planning and Research (OPR)

In 1970, the environmental movement was at its peak with books, articles and editorials decrying the threats occurring to the natural resources and overall environmental quality of the State and nation. Responding to this grass roots outpouring of interest and concern for the environment, then Speaker of the Assembly, Robert Monagan, appointed a Select Committee on Environmental Quality during the 1970 Legislative Session. The committee’s charge was to identify threats to the State’s environment and to propose legislative actions to address them. Accordingly, the committee produced a report (Report of the Assembly Select Committee on Environmental Quality, 1970.) recommending a number of actions which it considered to be of high priority.

From the report also came a package of legislation introduced in the 1970 session, including the California Environmental Quality Act, an act sponsored by then Assemblyman Pete Wilson, which reorganized the State planning function. The State Office of Planning was abolished and a new Office of Planning and Research (OPR) was established in the Office of the Governor.

This shift was a deliberate move to link State comprehensive planning to the highest level of policy and decision-making in State government. In enacting the bill, the Legislature affirmed its intent to foster effective State planning declaring:

"The Legislature finds and declares that future growth of the State should be guided by an effective planning process, and shall proceed within a framework of officially approved statewide policies directed to land use, population growth and distribution, urban expansion and other relevant physical, social and economic development factors."

The functions assigned to the new Office of Planning and Research are described in Part I of this report, and included:

  • assisting in the development of functional plans for State agencies;
  • preparing guidelines for the preparation of environmental impact reports;
  • assisting the Department of Finance in establishing funding for environmental programs; and
  • coordinating the development of a statewide monitoring system.

These were significant provisions, reflecting a sincere attempt to establish OPR as the central planning arm of California State Government. The centerpiece of the legislation was the assignment of high priority for OPR to prepare a "State Environmental Goals and Policy Report" (EGPR). The statutes defined the content and disposition of the EGPR as described in the Attachment to this study. The EGPR was to be prepared every four years and submitted to the Legislature for review, followed by formal adoption by the Governor.

It should be noted that while the Wilson bill received bipartisan support as it moved through the Legislature, the Reagan Administration was firmly opposed to any broadening of the powers of State agencies in environmental protection, particularly OPR. Weeks of intensive negotiation were required to arrive at a version of the bill which the Governor agreed to sign.

Despite being chronically understaffed and under-funded, OPR prepared and submitted the EGPR to the Governor in June, 1973. As was the case with the State Development Plan in the 1960’s, substantial funding support was made available through the Federal Planning Assistance Program which made production of the EGPR possible. Upon receiving the report from the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly Robert Moretti appointed a bipartisan Assembly Select Committee to analyze the report, and report its findings back to the Governor.

The select committee’s report, released in July 1972, concluded that the EGPR failed in a number of important respects to meet the provisions of the new statutes, including:

1. A lack of an overview of future State growth and development;

2. Failure to provide an opportunity for the public to respond to alternative statewide goals and objectives; and

3. No recommendations for new authority or funding related to environmental protection.

Based upon these findings, OPR prepared another version of the EGPR which Governor Reagan approved in June, 1973. However, except for declaring certain "guidelines for environmental control," the report was much the same as the original submission. It was not widely distributed, nor was it used as official State policy.

Soon after Jerry Brown was elected Governor in 1975, OPR began working on a second EGPR. Anxious to have the report as assurance to the public that the Brown Administration took environmental protection seriously, and noting the failures of previous attempts, OPR determined that a comprehensive report was not possible given the constraints of budget, staff and timing.

Accordingly, OPR developed a work program that envisioned three separate studies:

1. An Urban Development Strategy;

2. A Rural Development Strategy; and

3. An Economic Development Strategy.

Again, however, the "Strategies" proposed did not flow from any serious analysis of the implications of future population growth. The Urban Development Strategy was completed in 1976, with the theme that "decision-making by public agencies in California should guide new development into existing urban areas." A number of potentially useful proposals concerning housing, transportation, taxes and capital outlay were included. However, Governor Brown was lukewarm in support of State planning, particularly because the State Transportation Plan had just come under strong criticism. Further, the environmental movement of the early 1970’s had waned and strong backlash against environmental protection policies had developed.

Few, if any, of the measures in the environmental report were implemented.

Succeeding Governors have given little or no support to OPR, or its mandates.

No effort toward State planning emerged during the Dukmejian Administration. In the first term of his administration, Governor Wilson appointed a Growth Management Council which was comprised of the Director of OPR, the Secretaries of Business, Transportation and Housing, Health and Welfare, Environmental Protection and the Resources Agency, plus the Director of Finance.

A report published by The Growth Management Council (1973) concluded that:

"Only by managing our growth and by planning for our future can we shape our own destiny. A viable growth management program on the local and State levels is essential to ensure that California will remain a healthy, livable State, with a high quality of life for all, and that our common vision will become a reality. California in the 21st century can be all we want it to be . . .with leadership from the State . . .we need not suffer growth, we can shape it."

The recommendations of the report dealt with 14 topics, including the integration and coordination of State planning. However, the report did not receive serious attention. It is not known whether the Legislature received it or acted upon it in any way, and little has occurred to advance the council’s recommendations. In its discussion of the importance of preparing an integrated plan, the Strategic Growth document specifically mentions OPR’s existing State planning responsibilities, including analysis of alternative growth scenarios, assessment of the implementation required to achieve each alternative, and development of statewide growth management and land use policies. Unfortunately, the need for statewide population growth policy was not recognized as a key component for addressing growth at local, regional and State levels.

The report’s major contribution may be in recognizing the necessity to include agencies and departments that for years had avoided participation in State planning. The lack of such interest was a major stumbling block to continuing the State Development Plan Program of the 1960’s. This report shared the central flaw of previous planning efforts; it assumed that State population growth was inevitable and therefore concerned itself with the more efficient provision of infrastructure and delivery of services. In essence, "Growth Management reflected an unexamined accommodation to growth.

As described herein, only two attempts were made to produce an Environmental Goals and Policy Report during the nearly 30 years since the statutes were enacted. Both of those attempts were under-funded and not seriously supported by the Governor or the Legislature.

Admittedly, the foregoing overview of past State planning efforts in California is not encouraging, and begs the question: Is it reasonable to expect that a State as populous and diverse as California can be guided by overarching State goals and objectives? CAPS is firmly convinced that there is no alternative but to pursue this course.

One fundamental fact emerges from this analysis:

At this time, there is not one single program at the federal, State, regional or local level which is likely to significantly affect the present pattern of growth in California —growth which ultimately will overrun and deplete resources and drastically reduce the quality of life here in our magnificent State.

As Toffler (1970) observed, there is no collective vision to stir the public, energize our resources and hold out as a promise for the future.

Despite the flaws and misguided attempts at State planning identified in this report, CAPS believes that a well-conceived State planning effort, supported by the Governor and the Legislature, and understandable to the public, offers the greatest potential for addressing California’s future.

The noted novelist Kurt Vonnegut (1988), in an article in TIME magazine, succinctly comments upon the present attitude of our political leaders and much of the public-at-large: "Stop thinking that your grandchildren will be OK, no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a space ship. This is really mean and stupid."

CAPS agrees wholeheartedly.



American Farmland Trust (1995, October). Alternatives for Future Growth in California’s Central Valley: The Bottom Line for Agriculture and Taxpayers.
Assembly Select Committee on Environmental Quality (1970). Environmental Bill of Rights. Sacramento: California State Legislature.
Cohen, T. (1977). The California Office of Planning and Research: Past Efforts, Future Possibilities. Unpublished report.
Council on California Competitiveness (1992, April). California’s Jobs and the Future Sacramento: Author.
Demographic Research Unit (1998, January). Population Estimates. Sacramento: California Department of Finance.
Growth Management Council (1993, January). Strategic Growth: Taking Charge of the Future. Sacramento: Author.
Grunwald, R. (1993, October). Alternative Futures for the Central Valley. Paper presented to the California Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA). Modesto, CA.
"Manage Not Prevent Growth, Says Wilson’s Plan" (1993). California Development Bulletin, 7(2). Sacramento.
National Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (1971). Population and the American Future. Washington, DC: Author.
Platzek, R. (1998). California’s Most Important choice: An Agricultural or an Urban Central Valley? The Valley Vision Project.
Platzek, R. & Cone, J. W. (1998, March). Population, Urbanization and Farmland Conversion in California’s Central Valley, 1990 to 2080. The Valley Vision Project.
Toffler, A. (1970). Future Shock. New York: Random House.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (1962). California’s State Planning System. Washington, DC: Author.
Vonnegut, K. "A Letter to the Next Generation." TIME, February 1988.

[MFS note: similar works of several authors are available on the "Sustainability Authors" page here. See, Population and the American Future.]
Used with permission of Californians for Population Stabilization ( CAPS).
* "California: Shaping New Directions: A State Planning and Population Growth"
A CAPS Position Paper
Consultants: Robert E. Grunwald & Frederick Styles
Contributor: Tom McMahon, former Executive Director, CAPS
Californians for Population Stabilization
1129 State Street, Suite 3-D
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Phone: 805-564-6626
Fax: 805-564-6636
Website: < http://www.cap-s.org/ >.
Email contact: <info@capsweb.org>.


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