In 1845, Lansford W. Hastings, best known for developing the Hastings Cutoff, a travelers’ shortcut through what is today Utah, wrote The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California. Hastings’ effusive portrait included this California description: “Here perpetual summer is in the midst of unceasing winter; perennial and never-ending autumn stand side by side, and towering snowclad mountains forever look down upon eternal vedure.” In other words, Paradise.
Hastings, a trained lawyer, left his native Ohio in 1842, Oregon-bound. Then, in the spring of 1843, Hastings headed for Alta California, a sparsely populated Mexican province. Hastings, who was later a Civil War Confederate States Major, sought to lead Alta California’s acquisition, and hoped his guide would attract enough residents to overwhelm Mexico through sheer numbers.
What role Hastings’ guide played in the United States’ eventual acquisition of Alta California and the Golden State’s subsequent decades long, and still ongoing, population growth is hard to pinpoint. But, whatever the case, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that in 1848 ended the Mexican-American War ceded Alta California to the U.S.
In 1850, five years after Hastings’ book went into print, California’s population was 93,000. By 1900, the U.S. Census reflected a 1.5 million population. Between 1900 and 1950, a period that included my birth in Los Angeles’ Good Samaritan Hospital, California’s population had reached nearly 11 million.
The California I grew up in and remember so fondly was sunshine-bathed and thriving, abundant with crops, vineyards and cattle ranches. Farmers and ranchers, including my Sicilian-born grandparents, worked the vast San Joaquin Valley that stretches from Sacramento to Bakersfield.
I left California in the mid-1950s for school and my first professional jobs in New York. When I returned in the mid-1980s, a mere 30 years later, California was unrecognizable to me. With a population of about 24 million, urban sprawl’s effects were visible throughout the once pristine San Joaquin Valley. Major urban hubs like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose were gridlocked cities to avoid. Smaller cities like Modesto, Fresno and Stockton were overwhelmed with development.
By 2006, disgruntled Californians saw Paradise Lost. With the handwriting on the wall, Californians began a sustained outmigration period. Between 2004 and 2013, the state lost five million residents. Still, the state’s total population continued ever-upward, driven by high international migration and births to those immigrants. Population today stands at nearly 40 million. By 2050, California is projected to have at least 20 million more residents, an unimaginable 60 million people.
Federal, state and local governments have purposely refused to consider population growth in their planning. Not even the slightest reduction in immigration, the primary population growth driver, has been enacted.
Since the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, Congress has admitted more than 75 million immigrants who have moved into the nation’s states, cities and counties. Roads, schools and hospitals have been built to accommodate them. If Congress doesn’t reduce immigration, by 2065 another 75-plus million residents will be added to the population to bring it to 441 million. Even modest immigration cuts could prevent the additional 75 million people, and limit the total to 25 million, a more manageable number.
The eventual 60 million population of California and 441 million total of U.S. inhabitants will be bad for all, an unsustainable folly that’s unfailingly endorsed by Congress with its existing and expansive immigration policy.