Population Boom Fuels California's Energy Crisis

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Nation: Population boom fuels California's energy crisis

Power alert issued in California Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy

By CHELSEA J. CARTER, Associated Press NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (March 19, 2001 2:04 p.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com) - Jane Ruetze inches her car through Southern California's infamous freeway traffic every day during her three-hour round-trip commute between her Whittier home and her job 33 miles away.

It was in the car, listening to the radio, when she heard of California's power crisis, dot-com decline and cooling economy.

"A part of me was like, 'Good, maybe people will stop wanting to move here,"' said Ruetze, a law firm billing clerk. "All you have to do is look at the traffic to know there are too many people here."

She's not the only one searching for a silver lining in the state's power crisis and economic slowdown.

With California increasingly crowded and congested, some are hoping rolling blackouts and higher utility bills will help keep the state's population in check to maintain a semblance of the famous California lifestyle.

"Some of the California myth is actually fiction," said Shepherd Bliss, who grows berries about 60 miles north of San Francisco. "It's a lovely state, but there's too many people here. It's not good for the environment. It's not good for wildlife. It's not good for the farming community."

The state's power crisis resulted from several factors, including high wholesale energy costs, a consumer rate cap and too few power plants being built in recent years.

But many residents and analysts believe it also is a symptom of a larger problem - too many people and inadequate infrastructure to support them. California faces strained water supplies, jammed freeways, rising housing costs and overcrowded airports and urban schools.

While analysts say it's unrealistic to believe the power and economic problems will lead to slower growth, many residents hope it stems the tide.

California is the nation's most populous state with 35 million residents, a 75 percent increase since 1970. Estimates say the state will add a population equivalent to that of Texas by 2040, swelling to 55 million people.

The energy crisis is a wakeup call, said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.

"If we don't attend to the infrastructure needs in the state, the first victims will be us, through the degrading of our quality of life," he said.

Others say the state's quality of life already has been on a slow decline for years. The power crisis might simply accelerate it.

Ernie Jimenez, a retired construction worker from Sacramento, said he hopes the publicity from the energy crisis persuades others to avoid relocating to California before the Golden State's quality of life is tarnished beyond repair.

"The people come, they build houses, and that doesn't help the blackouts," Jimenez said. "I hope people stop coming when they figure out there isn't enough electricity here."

Growth and development captured the public's attention even before the lights went out and energy bills began rising.

Last year, antigrowth or slow-growth measures were on the ballot in more than 50 of the state's 58 counties. Dozens more may go before voters this year.

"It's a time to look at what our capacities are, how big of a place we should be - what's economically and environmentally sustainable," said Nat Rogers, an environmental policy analyst for the city of San Jose. "It's quality-of-life issues. If it brings those to the forefront, that's good."

But he doesn't believe an economic cooling or the electricity crisis will slow growth. Cities continue to recruit businesses while overlooking such issues as affordable housing, he said.

Rogers, who commutes from San Francisco, said he isn't going to wait to see whether the state's power crisis will lead to its population growth tailing off. In June, he and his family are moving to Charlottesville, Va.

"We just can't afford a home here," Rogers said. "It's coming down to quality of life issues. And having a kid here is not that appealing."

The Los Angeles metropolitan area already has nearly reached its population limit, according to a recently released study by the Brookings Institution's Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy.

The study found Los Angeles and Orange counties will run short of developable land between 2010 and 2020, with housing extending farther east. That means longer and more congested commutes, more air pollution and higher home prices in the neighborhoods closest to decent-paying jobs.

During the recession a decade ago, the state recorded its first population loss since the Gold Rush - but only temporarily.

"In the 1990s, you saw people leave the state. But when the decade was done, the state still gained 4 million people," said Mark Baldassare, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute in San Francisco. "There are forces at work in the state that continue to promote population growth."

Among them, he said, is record low unemployment, business incentives such as tax breaks, and millions of acres of open land, primarily in the Central Valley, for development.

Such forecasts do nothing to cheer Ruetze, the law firm billing clerk. She envies her brother, who makes roughly the same amount of money as she does but was able to buy a home in Las Vegas.

"What he paid for a house won't even buy a condo here," she said recently by cell phone as she ventured into traffic for the grinding commute home. "You know, I don't think the electricity problem and the other stuff will really stop people from coming here.

"But I can hope, can't I?"

Personal Note: Then we have morons like Bjorn Borg who suggest to his fellow countrymen to hurry and have more children so that they will have a population base to take care of senior citizens. With logic like that, its no wonder the globe is on a one-way road to disaster.

-- Guy Daley (guydaley@altavista.com), March 20, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ