California's growth control movement has become a vehicle of enormous latent power, uncertain of its agenda but hellbent on ending the insult of traffic and other growth-caused inconveniences.

"Our whole battle plan is to stop growth before it gets like Tokyo or Hong Kong," said Gerald A. Silver of Encino, founder of Alliance to Control Development in California. "Homeowners here don't want to be driven out or moved over. They don't want to make a place for 5 million more people."Born a decade ago of northern Californians' environmental concerns, the movement took root in the `80s in that real seat of political power, the traffic-congested suburbs of Southern California.

Today, it includes folks who wouldn't know a peregrine falcon from a pigeon but are ready to try anything to get traffic moving on the San Diego, Santa Ana, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Golden State and Ventura freeways, the clogged arteries that pump streams of vehicles through Southern California's heart.

"Traffic is what turned it (growth control) into something Joe Sixpack cares about," said consultant Dean Misczynski.

The increasing resentment and organization of the forces for growth limitation raises the specter of another Proposition 13, the grass-roots juggernaut that took a meat ax to the problem of ever-rising property taxes in 1978.

More and more, anti-growthers or slow-growthers, particularly those in Southern California, are taking a like approach. Recalls are mowing down or mauling pro-development politicians.

The movement's emerging leaders are not accustomed to suffering in silence. Interviews around the state indicate they've only begun to assert themselves.

"We have an incredible network already in place that we can trigger with a couple of phone calls," said Linda Martin, founder of Citizens for Limited Growth in San Diego.

"We have very little money but a lot of people power. It'll be a while before we can field candidates, but obviously that's the way we're going to go," Martin said.

Silver, a professor of business at Los Angeles City College, has a data base that includes more than 900 growth-control organizations.

"The common denominator is that people are unhappy with the reduction in the quality of their lives brought about by development," said Silver.

That unhappiness has produced 200-plus growth limiting measures in California since 1971. More than half have passed since 1986, the latest just two weeks ago in Los Angeles, heretofore the growth capital of the Western world.

All over the state, in Hayward, Mountain View, Culver City, Glendora and points in between, no-growth or slow-growth candidates are winning city council elections.

Riverside and San Diego counties will vote on anti-growth initiatives in November.

Getting a handle on runaway growth "is not as simple an issue" as cutting property taxes, Silver said. Besides, the movement's statewide agenda hasn't been forged yet, except in the most general terms.

Under California law, land-use zoning is a local matter, the big exception being the California Coastal Act of 1976, an environmentalist initiative which gave the state broad powers to shape development along the coast.

Neither the legislature nor Gov. George Deukmejian shows much inclination to come to grips with the anti-growth phenomenon.

The feeling around Sacramento seems to be that the movement hasn't crystallized sufficiently to be dealt with at the state level.

The Department of Housing and Community Development is monitoring the scene, nothing more.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown has ordered the Assembly Office of Research to produce an in-depth report on the impact of growth control measures.

Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti is pushing a bill to authorize a $150,000 Little Hoover Commission to study of the effects of growth control measures on housing availability and affordability.

But the no-growth and slow-growth forces have long since passed the point of seeking studies. They want action, now.