COURSEY: Debate about growth an economic indicator

Once upon a time, we worried about growth.

Seriously — that's not just a fairy tale. There was a time not so long ago that "growth" polled as the top concern of many Sonoma County residents. Higher than "crime," higher than "traffic," higher than "the economy."

Today, of course, growth is the farthest thing from our minds. Population growth in California has slowed to less than 1 percent, and in Sonoma County to less than half a percent in the past year. Lake and Mendocino counties are slowly losing population. Housing construction, an industry that once was so hot it dominated debate in Sonoma County politics, has slowed to a trickle.

In 1994, when the population of Santa Rosa was about 125,000, the general plan estimated that population would grow to 174,500 by 2010.

This week, the state Department of Finance reported Santa Rosa's population at just short of 169,000.

Instead of worrying about growth, we worry about stagnation and recession, and even the dreaded "double-dip" recession.

It can make you nostalgic for those days of worrying about growth. It can make you wonder why growth was such a big deal.

But it was. And, in the boom-and-bust cycle that we've experienced historically (and depend on for the future), it probably will be a big deal again.

In the mid- and late-1980s, residential construction in Santa Rosa and most other Sonoma County cities was, literally, out of control. Homes, condominiums and apartments were sprouting like mustard in the vineyards, except the landscape was being carpeted with shingled rooftops instead of yellow blossoms.

Santa Rosa issued permits for 2,300 homes in both 1984 and 1985. Countywide, more than 6,000 permits were issued in 1985, mostly for multi-family units.

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