Sunday, April 24, 2011

LA Times article on slowing growth rates in large Cal. cities

Big cities' population boom slows to a trickle, census data show Some of California's largest cities, including Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego, saw their populations plateau or even decline from 2000 to 2010, ending a decades-long trend of expansion.,0,5154235.story

Growth has altered the skyline of downtown Long Beach over the last decade. New high-rise condo towers dot Ocean Boulevard. Older buildings have been converted into lofts, and a new shopping center and entertainment complex rose on the site of the long-shuttered Pike amusement park.

But when the U.S. Census Bureau released population data earlier this year, some in
Long Beach were shocked to learn that between 2000 and 2010, the state's seventh-largest city added only 735 residents — a growth rate of 0.2% and far below the national average of 9.7%.

Long Beach is one of several large cities in Southern California to see growth plateau — or in some cases decline — in the last decade as communities built out and populations aged. It's a new experience for many of these cities, which are used to heavy growth outpacing the rest of the nation.

Population growth began to slow between 1990 and 2000, but the brakes really went on in the last decade.

Experts said older cities such as
Santa Ana and Long Beach have been particularly affected as residents move out of urban areas and into newer suburbs in the Inland Empire and High Desert. Those cities have been "built out," with little raw land available for new development. That leaves denser housing projects, such as high-rises, as one of the few ways to add residents.

The growth rate in
California from 1980 to 1990 was about 25.7%, more than double the national average. In Long Beach it was 18.8%, in Los Angeles it was 17.4% and in Santa Ana it was 44%.

But in the next decade, population growth in many of the state's largest cities fell below the national average of 13.2%. Those numbers continued to decline between 2000 and 2010, with growth in
California's two largest cities — L.A. and San Diego — falling to 2.6% and 6.9%. Other slow-growing cities in Southern California include Glendale, Huntington Beach, Oceanside and Torrance.

The overall growth rate for
California in the last decade was about 10%, only slightly above the national average, a strange position for a state whose identity was largely built upon a seemingly ever-booming, ever-bountiful stage.

Officials in some slow-growing cities dispute the census numbers and are debating whether to officially challenge the data.

The census shows that the population in
Santa Ana declined 4% between 2000 and 2010. As a result, Santa Ana lost its ranking as Orange County's largest city to neighboring Anaheim, which recorded a population of 336,265, up 2.5% over the last decade.

Santa Ana is a densely populated city in the center of Orange County with a large and — until recently — growing Latino immigrant community. That population declined 1.2% between 2000 and 2010.

But Mayor Miguel Pulido believes the city is still growing and thinks that many
Santa Ana residents who are immigrants refused to participate in the census for fear of deportation or other reasons.

"We didn't shrink, and these numbers indicate that we shrank," Pulido said. "In June we're going to file a protest with the Census Bureau."

Long Beach officials are analyzing the data to see if they are accurate. City officials in San Jose, who expected the count to show a population of over 1 million but were disappointed when it fell short by more than 50,000, said they were starting to meet with lobbyists to discuss the data because funding is at stake.

"That could be a huge impact for the funds that are due to the city of
San Jose and to special public agencies," Deputy City Manager Deanna Santana said, noting that grants and other funding are often doled out based on population counts. "The worry is to make sure San Jose gets its fair share based on its population," she said.

Los Angeles, growth slowed to 2.6% over the last decade, compared with 6% between 1990 and 2000 and 17.4% between 1980 and 1990. City officials are reviewing the data but currently don't plan to issue a challenge.

Many analysts and demographers studying the data say it was inevitable that
California's strong growth would stutter. They say the state, which once was a popular destination for new immigrants, industries and those seeking work, has returned to an average level of growth.

"At some point there is an oddity about a region as large as
California," said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, an emeritus professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. "There are some limits."

"When you expand a city, you can either build out or build up," Mitchell said. "As you build out, you begin to raise all the problems of congestion and roads, you have to create ways for people to get around. If you build up, there is resistance, and there has been here in
California, to increasing density."

The larger increases in population growth are now coming from places like the
Inland Empire and other areas on the urban fringe, where housing is cheaper.

Fontana was one city that saw a roughly 50% boost in population over the last decade. Riverside County grew by 41.7%, to roughly 2.2 million people, and Kern County grew by 26.9%.

Long Beach Councilman Robert Garcia said his city's numbers merely reflected the trend of Californians moving farther inland, away from coastal cities, and he advised against any assessment of
Long Beach's future based on the count.

Earlier this month, after attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the city's new $490-million courthouse near Magnolia Avenue and 3rd Street, he walked through downtown and beamed at every sign of change. A new alehouse, a new barbecue restaurant, refurbished green space and two bike-only lanes that are set to open on Broadway and 3rd between Alamitos and Golden avenues.

Behind him on
Pine Avenue were signs announcing a new streetscape-improvement project, promising wider sidewalks, redesigned streets, new trees and better lighting.

"If I was walking through downtown and I saw decay, empty buildings, half-built condos, parks that were unfinished, then I'd be worried," he said. "But the reality is that crime is at a 30-year low, development is happening, we're still building workforce housing, and I think we've got a bright future."

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