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Stop Sprawl
1998 Sierra Club Sprawl Report: 30 Most Sprawl-Threatened Cities

Sprawl-Threatened Cities
Dishonorable Mention: San Diego

Sprawl Meets the Wild

San Diego is the eighth largest city in America. Like its big sister to the north - Los Angeles - San Diego has known its share of sprawl. Its surrounding areas have been on a steady growth spurt for several decades. Between 1980 and 1990, the region welcomed about 640,000 new residents and another 213,000 between 1990 and 1996 - roughly a 50 percent increase, overall.

San Diego's dramatic recent growth promises to continue. According to some projections of present growth trends, the next twenty years could see one million more people added to the population of San Diego.

Along with the population explosion, San Diego has one of the fastest growing traffic problems in the country. Highways throughout the region have never been more jammed. The number of hours San Diego residents wasted in traffic jumped by 117 percent between 1982 and 1994: one of the highest increases in the country.

But San Diego's sprawling growth means much more than jammed roads and more people. One of the most damaging effects is to the area's world-class biodiversity. San Diego's habitat is diverse and exotic, rising from the seashore to mesas and canyons and, in a very short distance, to towering mountains. This makes San Diego a biological "hot spot" - among the top 10 regions on earth in its biodiversity, rich with more species per unit area than almost anywhere else in the world. Man-made sprawl is a primary reason San Diego County shares with the Big Island of Hawaii the dubious distinction of having the highest number of endangered species nationwide.

San Diego's sprawl is destroying habitat at an alarming rate. Between 1982 and 1992, San Diego County saw 70,000 acres of land developed, and each acre encroached on precious habitat. Because of the seriousness of the loss of undisturbed open space, a new model habitat conservation plan known as the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) is now in place to try to preserve 172,000 acres of habitat in the next 30 years.

Even even though San Diego is acknowledging the costs of sprawl, development proposals seem to show no sign of tapering off. A new highway proposal, the 125 tollway, would build an 11-mile, 10-lane tollway and would link the eastern suburbs of Alpine, Lakeside, Santee, Lemon Grove, La Mesa and Spring Valley to a future subdivision - the Otay Ranch planned for 150,000 new residents. Fourteen environmental groups and 55 businesses have opposed the proposed tollway as an expensive boondoggle that won't promote smart growth efforts in the region.

Read the Report | Clickable Sprawl Map | Sprawl-Threatened Cities

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