California: Then, Now

Too Many Californians? A Brief History and Readings
Foreward to California: Then, Now
a Project of CAPS

by Otis L. Graham, Jr., Ph.D., CAPS Board Member

In 1962, when California's population was projected to, and later did, surpass New York's as the largest in the nation, a three-day celebration was planned to memorialize the event. Magazines across the nation devoted coverage to the Golden State's new position as the nation's most populous state.

But the party mood soon fizzled and turned into the opposite. The theme of "runaway growth" and an almost apocalyptic tone emerged in the 1960s, making a bestseller out of biologist Raymond Dasmann's The Destruction of California.

Other books found large audiences for the theme that "population growth is the problem in California." One of the most influential was William Bronson's How to Kill a Golden State. "We live in ugly California," he wrote, complaining of pollution, dreary expanses of tract houses, extinction of wildlife and clogged roadways. He lamented the state's population growth from 5 million when he was born in 1926 to 20 million when his book was published in 1967.

What will 50 million feel like, Leon Bouvier asked in Fifty Million Californians?, as he projected more crowded schools and strains on other social facilities. Additionally, state wildlife biologists prepared a turn-of-the-century report and found that 800 of the state's wildlife species were endangered by human damage to their habitats.

What, if anything, could be done about the overpopulation of America? Recommended in the 1972 report by the National Commission on Population Growth and The American Future, as a nation we should "Welcome and plan for a stable population."

In California, Alfred Heller, then publisher of the Nevada County Nugget, along with Samuel Wood, a former state planning official, founded the organization, California Tomorrow, in 1961. California Tomorrow's journal, Cry California, sought to direct attention towards the need for statewide long-range development planning, slowing population growth and resource use.

Unfortunately, both of these institutions ended in the early 1980s, leaving CAPS as the sole statewide voice for ending out-of-control population growth.

Suggested Readings
Raymond Dasmann, The Destruction of California (1965)
William Bronson, How to Kill a Golden State (1967)
Alfred Heller, The California Tomorrow Plan (1972)
National Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, The Rockefeller Report (1972)
Leon Bouvier, Fifty Million Californians? (1991)
Robert Dawson and Gray Brechin, Farewell, Promised Land: Waking from the California Dream (1999)
Kevin Starr, Golden dreams: California in an age of abundance, (1950-1963, 2009)


Remember a time when life was simpler? When the pace wasn’t quite so frantic? When commutes were measured in minutes, not hours? When there was plenty of water for everyone and the air our kids breathed wasn’t so polluted? When beaches weren't regularly closed due to contamination? Remember when there were more trees and untouched land instead of so many parking lots and high-rises? CAPS remembers that too. And to help others remember, we’ve assembled a series of California “Then and Now” photos and memories.

Please review this video and let us know what you think. If you have photos or memories you’d like to add to the series, please send them to us. Sometimes taking a look at our past can help ensure a better future.


Claremont: Then, Now

1940                                                                            2013

Dreaming About Lost Orange Groves

On the way to Claremont, there is an abandoned orange grove,
weeds almost as tall as the trees are, growing between the ranks of the trees.
For five years now I have looked at them – tried not to look at them – as I drive past.
One day they will be cleared, and a shopping mall or condominiums will take their place.
Meanwhile, they stand, in hopeless rows, gray and dead.
                                                                                                                                     – M. S.