SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 10, 2005 — Urban growth is coming to the heart of agriculture in California — but the scale, tempo, and geography of that growth will be directly affected by public policy decisions made today, according to a study just released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Using a sophisticated computer model, the study’s authors have created four scenarios showing how the San Joaquin Valley is likely to grow over the next four decades, based on different public policy schemes. Although distinct in many ways, each scenario predicts major urbanization and significant loss of farmland throughout the region.
Three of the four scenarios estimate that at least one million additional acres of land will be urbanized by the year 2040 – a tripling of the current urban-use acres in the San Joaquin Valley. And as cities and suburbs grow, space for agriculture dwindles: These same scenarios reveal at least a 15 percent decline in the valley’s farmland. Even the fourth scenario – an unlikely option that assumes all prime farmland in the valley will be protected from urbanization – forecasts a 9 percent decline in the region’s total farmland.
Despite agreement about future urbanization, there are key differences among the scenarios in terms of where development will occur – reflecting the future effects of present-day policy choices – from the development of a high-speed rail system to the creation of new highway corridors to improvements in existing highways and interstates.
Another important difference concerns population density. One scenario assumes urbanization patterns will persist as they have for the past 60 years and finds that newly developed areas will be sprawling and less dense. Conversely, the scenario that assumes the preservation of prime farmland results in higher population density within urbanized areas.
“There is no one, certain future for the San Joaquin Valley,” says PPIC senior fellow Michael Teitz, who co-authored the report with PPIC dissertation fellow Charles Dietzel and Solimar Research Group president William Fulton. “These projections allow the region’s communities and leaders to conceptualize the future, to see where certain policies may lead, and to make choices that can help build a better future.” The report, Urban Development Futures in the San Joaquin Valley, includes a series of color maps that illustrate the spread of urbanization.
The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.