According to The Great Valley Center, a private, non-profit organization, during the past ten years the Yuba-Sutter area has shown an increase in the workforce. Many new jobs have been created: in the service sector, 16 percent; government, 28 percent; retail trade, 18 percent; agriculture, 18 percent; travel, manufacture and construction, 20 percent. However, despite the increase in the workforce, in the last decade household income in the Central Valley has averaged 20 percent lower than the state average. The disparity between the average income in the Central Valley and that of the state as a whole continues to increase. Furthermore, the Valley houses 32 percent of the state’s inmates in 19 state prisons. Most of the jobs in the manufacturing sector are created by food and timber and wood-related manufactures. This makes the manufacturing sector heavily reliant on the agriculture industry, but the agriculture trade has shown the largest decline during the last ten years. Both of these industries are very susceptible to disasters such as major floods or fires. Recently several newspaper articles appeared in the Modesto Bee, providing possible scenarios of future problems that may or may not develop in the Central Valley depending on what steps residents take to insure a positive future. In one scenario, the place is Corcoran, a town south of Fresno; the year is 2025, and an old timer named Arthur is explaining to his grandson Ned how things were in 2003 and the developments that occurred. Arthur explains that taking in the waste from the Bay area and Los Angeles seemed like a good idea at the time. The pay was good, and it provided employment. The so-called experts said the Valley needed to diversify the economy and that relying on agriculture alone would make the Central Valley vulnerable. The old man complains that dumps and prisons were not all that diverse. He points out that waste is waste and had no value but that the prison and toxic wastes industries began to boom at the end of the 20th century, and the Valley had plenty of space to build on that would serve to increase tax revenues, jobs and business for factories in the process. His grandson Ned counters, “We wanted the state tax dollars to build schools and housing and hospitals for our sick folks. It all made sense. And once we saw what a good business that was, it seemed to make sense to leap on the bid that Intel put out for storing its toxic wastes.” In 2025, Arthur explains, some of those dumps start leaking. Many of the residents notice peculiar pockets of cancer. People start joking that the Valley might glow in the dark, but it was the glow of money they were seeing. The grandfather advises his grandson to take his college degree and pursue a career elsewhere. He explains that despite how scientific, profitable and clean prisons and toxic wastes are made out to be, garbage is a dirty business despite how green the money. If he stays, Ned would only be a high-class garbage man for human waste. The year 2025 is a long way down the road, but the tenant farmers faced a similar situation in 1935 in the orchards of the Central Valley. Novelist John Steinbeck said, “There is a failure that topples all our success, a crime here that goes beyond denunciation, a sorrow that weeping cannot symbolize.” Steinbeck referred to the Joad family, a group of Oklahoma tenant farmers that came to California with the thousands of disenfranchised who arrived in pursuit of a dream but instead encountered poverty and squalor, living out of jalopy or shack. Steinbeck’s unkind characterization of the Central Valley, the tenant farmers and the wealthy corporations that exploited the poor and disenfranchised rural areas of the Valley seemingly exist to this day. U.S.A. Today reported on July 15, 1993, that the Central Valley is projected to have a population of 15.6 million by the year 2040. Planning consultant Rudy Plazek points out that current development will result in the creation of mega-cities on former agricultural lands. One will stretch 125 miles from Marysville to Merced. “We are contemplating an endless sea of separate housing tracts interspersed with shopping centers and business parks to house and employ those 15.6 million,” said Plazek.
In 1990, Jack D. Forbes of U.C. Davis foresaw that future development is a threat to the rural areas of California and suggested that legislation be passed to protect the Central Valley by comparing the similarity between the Central Valley of Northern California with the once rural neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Forbes said, “These towns were usually separated from each other by tree-studded small farms and by miles of tree-lined two-lane boulevards.”
Early indicators reveal a troubling future for the Central Valley. According the Modesto Bee, we can expect widening gaps in education and income; increasing numbers of Hispanics and others in illegal drug trade; increasing interethnic friction, unemployment and more poverty; increasing demands for social services; increasing dropout rate; more gated communities and social separation; worsening economy; shortage of water; poor air, more asthma and health problems; an increase in drug abuse and crime; more prisons and prisoners call the valley home; bankruptcies, re-locations, shut downs; farmers not investing in new equipment; more single families and decrease in retirees; higher infant mortality and an increase in gun ownership or signs of fortress-like building.