For many decades, inland areas of California have experienced faster population growth rates than coastal areas. Indeed, from 1950 to 2010 the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) experienced the most rapid rate of population growth in California. But now, for the first time since the 1860s, the Bay Area—long the slowest-growing urban region—is experiencing faster growth rates than any other region of the state.
Clearly, the Bay Area’s strong economy has led to this growth. With robust job gains and relatively high wages, demand to live in the Bay Area is very high. To some extent, local authorities and builders have responded to this demand with new housing construction, much of it multi-unit housing in densely populated areas. Population growth has been especially strong in Santa Clara and Alameda Counties, but San Francisco and San Mateo Counties are also outpacing the more suburban parts of the Bay Area, such as Sonoma and Solano Counties.
In contrast, inland areas are still recovering from the recession and housing bust that hit them hard at the end of the last decade. Declines in employment and very high rates of foreclosure were centered on these inland regions, including the Inland Empire, the San Joaquin Valley, and Sacramento.
Some might say this is not an important shift in regional growth patterns. After all, at 1.0 percent annual growth, Bay Area populations are not exactly exploding. But growth rates in the Bay Area are twice as high this decade as they were in the previous one, and no one expected the Bay Area to be the fastest-growing region of the state—according to long-term projections, inland areas will have faster growth rates than coastal areas. If recent patterns persist, this conventional wisdom will be turned on its head, and the implications for California’s future—from transportation infrastructure to water demand—could be enormous. As the economic recovery spreads throughout the state, it is reasonable to expect that inland growth will pick up, but to what extent and for how long is highly uncertain.