Disasters prove urban sprawl kills

GUEST COLUMN

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Joe Guzzardi

Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populated with more than 10 million residents, is in an emergency state, per Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration.

The largest inferno in Los Angeles’ history has forced hundreds from their homes.

Little more than two months ago in Northern California, wildfires destroyed houses and sent people fleeing for safety. Urban sprawl created housing developments in remote, difficult-to-access regions that stalled rescue crews’ arrivals.

Northern California was once a haven for Los Angeles denizens looking to live in a place where they could breathe fresh air and put traffic nightmares behind them.

But five Northern California counties are among the state’s fastest growing — Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Sacramento and Santa Clara. As the population increases, more homes are built in the outskirts, and sprawl expands. When tragedy strikes, rescue crews face difficulty accessing imperiled neighborhoods on the outskirts.

In Houston, similar sprawl-related challenges impeded rescue missions after Hurricane Harvey. Billy Fleming, a city planner and University of Pennsylvania School of Design research director, blames the Houston disaster not on an unforeseeable act of God, but instead on policymakers’ determination to build a megalopolis on a slowly submerging swamp.

Cheap developments built atop of those swamps helped make the city the nation’s fourth largest. Between 1995 and 2015, the greater Houston area experienced a 42 percent population growth as urbanization overwhelmed 25,000 acres of swampland and grassy meadows, according to Texas A&M University research.

Reporting in the British daily The Guardian, Fleming wrote that Houston’s bogs and wetlands which once served as natural flood protection for the city have been replaced with strip malls and suburban tract homes. For years, city planners ignored Texas A&M’s Samuel Brody, director of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores, who predicted that disaster was inevitable.

Earlier tropical storm-related deaths were, inexplicably, insufficient cause to prompt local officials or residents to approve stricter zoning. In May 2015 eight perished, and 17 lives were lost in April 2016. Yet, on three occasions, residents voted down urban planning code proposals.

Fleming warns that nothing is likely to change as long as the failed George P. Bush remains the Texas land commissioner. Bush is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and although he has no obvious credentials to do so, is empowered to plan, engineer and manage the Texas coastline.

Between the California and Houston tragedies, dozens of lives were lost, and thousands of homes destroyed. A new round of California wildfires could begin this week.

In San Francisco, traditionally known for its cold and foggy summers, at the start of September temperatures hit 106 degrees.

The future for California and Texas is frightening.

By 2050, California’s population will increase from today’s nearly 40 million to more than 50 million, a 25 percent rise. Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has five of the nation’s fastest growing cities with no slowdown in sight, and Houston is poised to overtake Chicago as the third largest metropolis in the U.S. Build, baby, build!

Although it’s heresy to say in politically correct quarters, the time to reconsider the folly of adding 1 million new legal immigrant residents annually — all future home owners or renters — is past due, and urgent.

— Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization senior writing fellow. Email him at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org.

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