California’s Central Valley is home to some of the world’s most productive agricultural land…and it’s poised for growth. The state of California projects a whopping 85% jump in population by 2060 in the southern end of the valley.

And that’s without the construction of a new $68-billion California High-Speed rail system, a pet project of Governor Jerry Brown. Brown argues that the “bullet train” will concentrate growth in the Central Valley’s existing population centers, preserving agricultural land from the sprawl that characterizes large swaths of the state.

Many disagree with the governor’s assessment, including farmers, land-use experts, and elected officials in the Central Valley.

The bullet train will connect large urban centers – the Silicon Valley and Los Angeles – to farm centers Fresno and Bakersfield. With a commute of an hour via high-speed rail, it’s possible – even likely – that Fresno and Bakersfield could become bedroom communities for large urban areas, which have high housing costs. Land costs in the Central Valley are relatively lower, and that, coupled with consumer demand, could lead to more development.


“Any time you bring fast, efficient transportation to outlying areas you bring the possibility of faster growth,” said Chris Scheuring, an environmental attorney at the California Farm Bureau. “Developers are going to respond to that.”

Some critics point to Los Angeles County as a case study of what might happen. A freeway system developed in the mid-20th century fueled population growth and sprawl, and effectively minimized what was the nation’s leading agricultural county.

There is push-back against the governor’s vision. Ralph Vartabedian (@rvartabedian) reports for the Los Angeles Times:


Officials in Kern County dismiss both the idea the bullet train will help its agriculture industry and that increasing urban density is a desirable goal. “We are being told by people who live outside of our community how we should live,” said Lorelei H. Oviatt, director of the Kern County planning and community development department. “If you live in Santa Monica and love to walk to get your morning coffee, it makes perfect sense that the rest of California should look like that.”

This is a must-read piece that explores in detail the challenges of balancing the needs of agricultural producers and a growing population. Access the full article at the Los Angeles Times.