Growth management has been a nearly untouchable topic in the state capital since the 1980s. Only a handful of lawmakers and administration officials have been willing to discuss growth management, and then only indirectly.

But in late October, the Assembly Select Committee on Growth Management convened the first of what could be many hearings during the coming months and in various locations regarding California's growth challenges.

Managing California's growth "is the most important issue we face," said Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), the committee's chairman. The former Contra Costa County supervisor said that the discussion within the Capitol building about growth needs to change, and he contended the state government is not set up in a way to deal with growth comprehensively.

The discussion during the inaugural three-hour hearing would have sounded familiar to most planners. Elizabeth Deakin, executive director of the University of California Transportation Center, told the committee that the state's population could grow to 90 million by 2100. If that were to occur under present land use policies, she explained, the Bay Area and Sacramento regions would merge, and there would be unbroken stretches of urban development from that region down the Central Valley and the coast to the Mexico border. Deakin said there should be more choices for where people live and how they travel, and greater emphasis on farmland preservation.

Rusty Selix, executive director of the California Association of Councils of Government, and Trish Kelly from the California Center for Regional Partnerships talked about regional blueprints that a number of COGs have adopted and how those blueprint processes have addressed statewide growth issues.

These presentations drew a counter from Assemblyman Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks), a member of the committee. He said farmland preservation is overrated because technology and economic efficiency permit farmers to grow more on less land. And Niello defended greenfield development as a good way to create new job centers close to housing. He said policymakers should not "mindlessly pursue that we've got to develop the urban core."

Lobbyists from the California Building Industry Association, the League of California Cities and the Sierra Club then proceeded to agree on almost nothing during the hearing's final hour.