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Jack Smith

'Progress, Smogress,' says organization that wants to : tarnish Golden State's image to discourage newcomers

September 18, 1986|JACK SMITH

I have received a flyer from an organization called the California Depopulation Commission. Acronym: CALDEPOP.

Evidently it has been in existence since 1965.

I don't know why I was not aware of it, since it seems to serve a praiseworthy cause.

It seems to be poor. Its flyer is not glossy, not fine-printed, not in color. It looks like a computer printout.

Its heading is "PROGRESS, SMOGRESS!"

CALDEPOP's purpose is to discourage the continued population growth of California.

"CALDEPOP was founded," it says, "as a negative response to all the whoop-tee-do attendant on California's becoming the most populous state in the Union."

I'll admit that my pride in our progress was mixed with alarm when we topped 20 million and kept on growing. According to the California Almanac, the state's population in 1985 was more than 26 million, which put us in first place--almost 9 million ahead of New York state.

Is that too many?

CALDEPOP quotes a man they identify as Dr. Sripati Chandraskekhar, a member of the Indian Parliament and director of India's Institute for Population Studies, as predicting that Southern California will soon become "the most overcrowded, blighted area in the history of man's settlement on Earth."

This is a grim forecast indeed, especially since its author is probably familiar with Calcutta and its miserably crowded millions.

To Dr. Chandraskekhar's gloomy forecast CALDEPOP adds: "The area (Southern California) is fast becoming the world's most awesome wasteland--its hills leveled by real estate promoters, its smog-covered highways overrun by unnecessary cars, its population rising uncontrollably and its water supplies vanishing."

CALDEPOP says it endorses Dr. Chandraskekhar's suggestion that California restrict migration.

Restricting migration is a very controversial option. Migration is already restricted to some extent, but many people seem to be embarrassed by the methods.

More acceptable is CALDEPOP's campaign to warn people against coming here and to publicize the attractions of other states.

For example, they declared August "Florida Appreciation Month," pointing that if it were not for Florida, California would be much more crowded than it is.

They have issued their certificate of honor, "The Blessings of San Andreas," to persons who have helped the cause. One went to Prof. Raymond Dasmann for his book, "The Destruction of California," and another to Dean Martin for his rendition of the song, "Goin' Back to Houston."

More applaudable is their "Elsewhere Is Beautiful" campaign to publicize the fact ("which is certainly true") that there are many attractive places to live in outside California.

"We distribute literature furnished to us by promotional entities from other states describing the beauties of their particular area."

The admirable thing about CALDEPOP is that it doesn't ask anyone for money. It has no fund-raisers. The flyer does not include a coupon asking for a check. I know of no other organization that serves any worthwhile purpose without asking for public financial support.

"There are no initiation fees, dues, assessments, or other contributions. Those who wish to forward our cause can best do so by contributing to chambers of commerce or other promotional organizations outside our state."

Anyone who wishes to join CALDEPOP can do so by writing a post card or letter to David C. Camp, grand exalted Caldepoppa, at P.O. Box 964, Ross, Calif. 94957.

I have to admit that I didn't even know where Ross was. I looked it up in the California Almanac and found that it is in Marin County, across the bay from San Francisco. In 1985 it had a population of 2,730. In 1983 it had a population of 2,810. So at least in his own community, Camp seems to be achieving his goal. In two years Ross has gone down in population by a total of 80 souls.

I don't know why Camp is so worried about Southern California becoming a wasteland. Living in Marin County, he is about as far away from Southern California as he can get, both intellectually and geographically. I'd say he's rather snug up there in Ross.

When we flew home recently from San Jose to Burbank, I was awed, as always on such flights, by the vastness of our land. If I had my bearings right, we flew down above the coastal mountains along the edge of the San Joaquin Valley. It remains a magnificent patchwork of checkered farms, grazing lands and what does look from the air like wasteland. I knew there were towns down there but they were so tiny in relation to the land around them that I couldn't see them. Not even Fresno.

It is the nature of human beings to congregate in cities. Everyone wants to go where the action is. Years ago I visited Big Thunder, Minn., a once-thriving farm center that had been deserted by its young people. It looked desiccated and hollow, like a dead insect.

Our land remains vast and largely unoccupied. From 30,000 feet, on a transcontinental flight, it looks like a great, wrinkled relief map with mountains and rivers and forests and deserts and swamps and hardly any population centers at all.

Our problem is that everyone wants to live in Los Angeles. Especially everyone loose. I believe it was the architect Frank Lloyd Wright who said that the continent tilts to the southwest, and everything loose slides into Southern California.

What we have to do is to get more people to move to Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto. There's lots of room up there, and they can get the blacked-out Ram and Raider games on Sundays.

Ross could use a few more people, too.

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