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Can the West grow wisely and well?

Can the West grow wisely and well?

In May 1898, the first Sunset appeared, promising to chronicle the world of the West, "over which the dawn of future commercial and industrial importance is just beginning."

Ninety years later, that dawn has given way to full day. Our commercial and industrial importance is taken for granted. And yet, in some essential way, this region is still just beginning.

That may be because, today, so many of us are just beginning to live here. California's population shot up by more than five million in the last 10 years: an increase that by itself if bigger than the populations of 35 states.

Since 1980, Los Angeles County added more new residents--818,700--than any other county in the nation. In second place was Maricopa County, Arizona (391,000 newcomers); fourth was San Diego County (339,000). Demographers project the Puget Sound region will grow by 15 to 25 percent by the year 2000, the Bay Area by nearly a million, Southern California by four million.

In sheer numbers, big cities such as Los Angeles and Phoenix are absorbing the most newcomers. But perhaps it's the changing metropolitan fringe that makes us feel most like Rip Van Winkles, blinking and wondering where we are as out-of-the way crossroads burst with houses and office parks. The one-time sugar beet center of West Jordan, Utah, has gone from 4,200 in 1970 to 47,000 today. Hercules, 25 miles east of San Francisco, is the fastest-growing town in the Bay Area. And last year, Riverside County's Moreno Valley grew 21.3 percent and San Diego County's Carlsbad 13 percent.

Not that every Western locality is booming. Rural counties weakened by slumps in mining or timbering or ranching would happily take on a few of the headaches suffered by a burgeoning semiconductor suburb. "It's a classic dilemma," notes Cynthia Kroll of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at UC Berkeley. "Many places are getting more growth than they want, and many places that want growth aren't getting any."

The West's growth brings with it economic benefits: employment opportunities, improved tax bases, and the pride that a place like Los Angeles can take in saying it is the nation's number one manufacturing center. Along with the bottom-line blessings come urban diversions: museums, theater companies, restaurants, major-league franchises.

But growth also means burdens. We probably don't need to tell you what they are. But in case you thought your hometown's plight was unique, consider this:

Traffic. The Southern California Association of Governments warns that within 20 years traffic will be "intolerable." They estimate that, by 2010, the number of driving trips will rise 45 percent, but, because freeways are already clogged, the hours needed to complete those trips will rise 225 percent. Half of every driver's travel time will be spent in delays, and average driving speed will fall from 35 to 19 miles per hour. Southern Californians may be nearest to gridlock. But residents of San Diego, the Bay Area, and Honolulu all endure teeth-gritting rush hours.

Air pollution. Los Angeles breathes the worst air in the nation. Denver has the highest levels of carbon monoxide, San Diego the second-highest levels of ozone. Other Western cities can't sigh in relief; Phoenix, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Sacramento, and 30 more have failed to meet standards mandated by the Clean Air Act. As traffic worsens, so will our air: cars stuck in traffic throw off several times more pollutants per mile than cars traveling at 55 miles per hour.

Waste. Portland's landfill will hang out a no-vacancy sign within a year and a half. It's estimated that of the 1,200 landfills currently operating in California, most will be at capacity within 10 years. Sewage continues to threaten Santa Monica and San Diego bays.

You can add to these worries a whole cluster of other quality-of-life concerns. As development transforms small towns into suburbs and suburbs into office centers, there is a sense of misgiving about what is being lost.

Especially in California, this unease finds its voice in the initiative process. Up and down the state, voters have used initiatives to slam the brakes on commercial or residential growth. Los Angeles planning consultant Madelyn Glickfeld has studied the rise of antigrowth sentiment at the polls. She sees citizens taking the planning process into their own hands: "There's virtually a Proposition 13-like revolution out there."

The worth of such initiatives is a matter of debate (see page 117). But so is the value of almost any action by any single city or county. "What one city does now affects many, many other cities . . . Housing and traffic effects of development in one place can reverberate 30 or more miles in several directions." That report, "The Bay Area at a Crossroads," from People for Open Space, could apply throughout the metropolitan West.

For it isn't simply that our cities are growing. They're undergoing changes sweeping enough to make them new urban forms entirely. Postindustrial cities, some experts call them.

The first of these changes is the dispersal of the workplace. The skylines of downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle attest to their continued vitality. But pulling against the center city are increasingly influential satellites: massive office developments, some in old established suburbs like Glendale and some rising almost from scratch: Irvine, California; Englewood, Colorado; Bellevue, Washington.

The new downtowns demand a new commute. Most of us used to work in a center city, then head home to a bedroom suburb. Now we're as likely to live in one suburb and earn our salary in another. In between, we're probably stuck in traffic, because neither highways nor transit systems were designed for this pattern.

Many of us are simply living farther from our jobs. Particularly in Post--Proposition 13 California, cities anxious to boost their tax bases view commercial and industrial development as a boon, residential development as a bane. Housing gets pushed to the metropolitan fringe. Solano County houses significant numbers of Bay Area workers; Riverside County is home to Newport Beach employees.

Struggling to master these issues is a tangle of jurisdictions: cities, counties, and water, transit, and air-quality districts. Slow- and pro-growth partisans agree that the tangle hinders decision-making. Says Richard Weiss, partner in the Los Angeles development company DISCO, "We're so fragmented down here. We have 157 separate municipalities. There has to be some sort of regional coordination." Worries Larry Orman of People for Open Space, "Growth problems are too big to handle on a community-by-community basis. But our means of dealing with regional problems are woefully--maybe fatally--undeveloped. We're approaching both political and physical gridlock." Says one long-time observer of the planning process, cSometimes it's tempting to zone a lot of places 'H' for hopeless."

Against hopelessness it's important to weigh the West's tradition of civic spirit. In 1866, when San Francisco was but 16 years old, it charged landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to envision a spacious urban park. Olmsted declared that whatever was built "should be laid out with reference to the convenience, not merely of the present population, or even of their immediate successors, but of many millions of people." And so, for the millions, came Golden Gate Park.

The growth debate is fractious. But it has at least focused public attention on important issues. The next challenge may be to get all sides talking to, rather than shouting at, one another.

On the following pages, we look at seven Western communities that are tackling some of the toughest issues of our times. And here we return to the promise the first Sunset made, back in 1898. Once again we're talking of beginnings--not complete solutions, just hopeful starts. These are approaches that merit our thoughtful attention as Sunset celebrates nine decades of change, and as we enter a tenth that promises more.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sunset's 90th Anniversary Special Report
Date:May 1, 1988
Previous Article:Getting your hands on art ... two days in Sunnyvale.
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