Local Blogs

By Steve Levy

Population Growth

Uploaded: Dec 15, 2013

The state Department of Finance released population estimates for 2013 on December 12, 2013. Here are some of the key results relating to Bay Area growth.

Since 2010 the region has added 220,000 people including nearly 92,000 between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. Santa Clara County where Palo Alto is located added nearly 70,000 residents—the largest growth in the region. In each year the Bay Area led the state in percentage growth. During these three years Santa Clara County was the second fastest growing county in California and Alameda, San Francisco and San Mateo counties all ranked in the top ten.

The increasing population growth is directly tied to the region's above average job growth, outpacing the state and nation during this period. The largest change in population from year to year was in foreign immigration, which increased from 17,000 in 2011 to 44,000 in 2013. Moreover, the Bay Area was the only region in California where more people moved here from other parts of the country than vice versa.

It is likely that population growth could increase in the near term as these results came with 1) very low new births, 2) the U.S. recovery not at full strength, 3) regional job growth levels that are being exceeded this year and 4) no immigration reform, which should add to regional population when enacted.

Readers on Town Square have different opinions about the causes and desirability of job and population growth. But these numbers confirm the reality of growth and the need to plan to handle the increasing number of jobs and people. After all if we do nothing in the vain hope that this will discourage future growth, the only victims are ourselves. Yes, parking, traffic and infrastructure are challenges but that is even more of a reason to make the investments to meet the challenges.

One thing readers or council members should not do is repeat the denials of growth that even very intelligent members of the PA council recently aired and which the Weekly and other local press reported without bothering to check out what was actually happening.

In order to bolster local political arguments that Palo Alto was asked to plan for too much housing, council members and readers argued that the regional growth projections being used by ABAG, the regional planning association were too high. Two arguments were used—1) the decade of 2000-2010 had low population growth and 2) state Department of Finance projections anticipated less regional growth than the ABAG projections that I participated in.

Both arguments were and are foolish. Yes, population growth in the past decade was low—no kidding, there was the crash and a deep national and local recession. But the whole point of doing projections is to look at the future and decide how it might be different from recent trends. The recent regional population growth shows the wisdom of not assuming that the 2000s decade was typical, especially since when the projections were done, the Bay Area economy was recovering and population growth was already accelerating.

As far as the Department of Finance (DOF) projections, they were lower than the ABAG projections. BUT 1) the DOF projections did not take account of regional job growth and 2) DOF had already decided to update their projections in 2014 to more align with projected regional job growth as their published methodology requires.

Palo Altans can debate what local actions are appropriate amidst this very strong regional growth picture. But denying its reality is not a good place to start and undermines our credibility when we deal with regional and state agencies.