California lost almost 70,000 acres to sprawl between 1996 and 1998, fueled by the state’s yearly influx of 700,000 people, according to a biennial report released yesterday by the state Department of Conservation. About two-thirds of the land lost to development was formerly farmland. One citrus farmer, John Gless, said that rising water bills, restrictions on pesticide use near homes and schools, and other problems have caused most of his farming neighbors to give up. Gless said, “We have not sold any land, but would welcome the offer if it comes. We cannot pay our farming bills, and if you can’t farm at a profit, you can’t farm.” DOC Assistant Director Eric Vink said, “When we report up to [the year] 2000, we think that the rate of urbanization will have climbed even higher.”

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