SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Every weekday before dawn, engineer Martin Wuest drives 82 miles to his job in Silicon Valley. He and his family fled San Jose for the life of "super-commuters" 10 years ago, driven out by rising housing prices as tens of thousands of people poured in.
Since then, California's population has grown more than 13 percent.
With a nip, a tuck -- and the occasional angry rip of a busted seam -- the nation's most populous state is finding out what it's like to choke on success.
"It's too crowded here now," says Jerry Knoester, founder of a support group for long-distance commuters. "The population in California has just skyrocked. It's crowded in the cities, it's crowded on the highways. There's no elbow room any more."
In 1950, there were 10.5 million people in California; in 2000, there were 33.9 million.
"There is no other developed region of the world the size of California that has grown as fast as California over the last few decades," says Hans Johnson, a demographer with the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
The same can't be said of the state's housing, highways and transportation, partly because of a mistaken belief that "if you build it they will come and so maybe you shouldn't build it," Johnson says.
Recent U.S. Census data show the number of households grew in California by 10.8 percent in the '90s, while the number of housing units was up only 9.8 percent.
While middle-class families can move out to the far suburbs, poor families have been squeezing into one-room apartments and even garages, said Doug Shoemaker, policy and program director of the National Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California.
"We have this enormous housing crisis," Shoemaker says.
There are still wide-open spaces in redwood country and in the state's desert southeast. Elsewhere, the squeeze is on.
In San Francisco, people have taken to parking on the sidewalks in such numbers that there's a move afoot to double fines.
Congestion in Yosemite National Park got so bad that a draft plan proposes eliminating some parking spaces and motel rooms and closing part of a popular road.
In Los Angeles, some schools have switched to year-round schedules to try to accommodate the district's 723,000 students; others have lengthened the time between classes to give students a chance to work their way through crowded corridors.
About two million people left California in the early 1990s as the state struggled with recession and drought. Still, the decade ended with a net gain of about 4 million people.
"People just seem much tenser," says Sima Misra, a mother of two from Berkeley. "Women have yelled at me on the road for not driving fast enough."
But even a crowded California has its appeal.
"I've seen the rest of the country and, frankly, I'm not impressed," said Ed Holmes, a member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. "This is paradise."
Knoester, founder of the support group Commuter Alliance, estimates there are about 7,000 people making the long drive in from Central California to the San Francisco Bay area, up to 100 miles away.
He and fellow super-commuter Wuest -- both of whom while away the drive time by talking on their CB radios -- say the benefits of a nice house in a pleasant town far outweigh spending three hours a day in the car.
San Jose resident Justin Prester shudders at the thought.
Prester began taking the train after traffic tacked an extra hour on to his commute to a job in desktop publishing. "You spend an hour and a half in the car and you start going bonkers," he says.
Prester considers himself lucky to pay $1,200 a month for a modest one-bedroom apartment -- $2,000 is not unusual -- and he may move out of the area when his wife finishes her degree. Still, they won't be going far.
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