S.B. and California’s Population Explosion

BABY BOOM: In three decades, Latinos will be the majority ethnic group in Santa Barbara County, according to state number-crunchers. People I talk to laugh. “They’ll just be taking back their own land,” one guy cracked. In fact, when California’s population soars to 60 million by mid-century, Latinos will make up 52 percent of the population, according to a new state report.

On the Beat

Santa Barbara County residents will apparently escape the explosive growth forecast for California, but not when we leave our borders. The impacts of adding 25 million people by the year 2050 on air quality, water demands, and traffic will be staggering. Costs of dealing with a 60 percent increase in Southern California’s population alone will be astronomical.

Of course, the state Department of Finance, which issued these mind-boggling forecasts, could be wrong. Although there seems little doubt that California is in for a tremendous skyrocketing of population, if the results aren’t dealt with, many people will decamp to places like Arizona, Oregon, and Washington.

And while some small counties are looking at growth rates of 200 percent or more between the 2000 census and 2050, Santa Barbara County is expected to add 133,332 people in that half-century. We’ll be going from 401,115 residents in the most recent census to 534,447 by mid-century, nothing like the avalanche that will be hitting L.A. and Riverside counties.

While the state report didn’t say where the new residents would be coming from, it’s a fair bet that many will be Latino immigrants, along with the natural increase of births over deaths. By the year 2040, the state predicts, there will be 225,601 Latino residents of Santa Barbara County and 220,894 Anglos, plus African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders. By 2050, it’ll be 249,000 Latinos and 213,530 Anglos.

Although there are many Latinos in positions of leadership now-including State Senator Abel Maldonado, Assemblyman Pedro Nava, county supervisors Salud Carbajal and Joe Centeno-we’re no doubt looking at a majority of Latinos in local office in the future. What of the coming generation?

Judging from the first-graders and other youngsters I’ve read to and observed in Santa Barbara schools in recent years, I see kids getting a far better education than I did. In the predominantly Latino classrooms I visited, I saw enthusiastic, dedicated teachers and well-behaved, alert kids getting a fine start in life and mastering English.

If we think traffic on Highway 101 is a problem now, what’s it going to look like when millions more want to use it as a major north-south artery? Will we become a Class A bottleneck? See the state double-deck the freeway? If air pollution from channel shipping is surpassing that manufactured here on land, how much smog will we have to deal with due to the vastly increased foreign trade that’s forecast?

Ventura County is expected to add nearly a half-million residents between 2000 and 2050. Will Santa Barbara County residents be happy with major freeway widening and the cost of commuter trains to get even more commuters to work and back home daily? And when we dare to venture out onto the freeways of L.A., Orange County, and the Inland Empire, will we find 5-mph traffic, perpetual construction of double-decker highways, and toll roads?

California has done a poor job of coping with smog in the coastal communities and particle pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. Are we to expect that our leaders will do a better job with the monumental task ahead? And where is the water coming from for that 60 million population? Icebergs from Alaska? A string of desalination plants the length of the coast?

And who’s going to pay for all this? I read that the cost of transportation and infrastructure to handle Southern California’s surging population (that doesn’t include Santa Barbara County) could be more than $100 billion. Are we ready for a major hike in the gas tax to finance this? At the same time, 60 million people make up quite a market. And think of the jobs required to handle all this growth and to build the schools.

Sorry to have raised all these questions (and ones I haven’t thought of) when most but not all of the horrific impacts may be beyond our borders.

It looks as if Santa Barbara County will remain a relatively secluded enclave of rational living, far-but not far enough-from the madding crowd. We can expect that on weekends huddled masses yearning to break free from the megalopolis to the south will beat a retreat to our beaches, (relatively) clean air, resorts, and shopping.

And yes, they’ll take one look at our home prices-and who can imagine what they’ll be?-and jump in the motel pool to cool off.


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