Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Sunday, May. 6, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

When Jerry Brown occupied the governor’s Capitol suite nearly four decades ago, he frequently talked about an “era of limits.”

Whatever Brown meant – he often spoke cryptically – the phrase was widely interpreted as meaning California’s powerful, post-World War II spurt of population and economic growth was over and public policies should adjust accordingly.

The postwar baby boom had ended a decade earlier, population growth had flattened and school buildings were being shuttered and sold as enrollment dropped. The industrial economy that had drawn so many to California was clearly in decline.

It was, however, merely a lull before another storm. As a postindustrial economy of technology, services and trade took root, California drew new waves of immigrants, mostly from other countries, and fecund young immigrants ignited a new baby boom.

Its population exploded again in the 1980s, with growth averaging well over 2 percent a year, increasing the total from 24 million in 1980 to 30 million in 1990.

The new population boom generated new demands for public facilities and services, but California’s political process had deteriorated and its infrastructure withered. Highways became congested and ill-maintained while schools and colleges became overcrowded. Water shortages became endemic.

The collapse of the defense/aerospace industry in the early 1990s and the ensuing recession generated a huge, million-person-plus out-migration from California, although foreign immigration and baby production remained high.

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