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4 Cities on U.S. List of Fastest Growing

Times Staff Writers

Four Southern California suburbs are among the 10 fastest-growing cities in the nation, according to a new Census Bureau study released today.

Irvine, Rancho Cucamonga, Chula Vista and Fontana all recorded population increases of more than 11% between July 2000 and July 2002, the study found. Experts said the growth reflects the strong demand for housing in the region, especially in outlying communities that still have ample land available for residential development.

By contrast, San Francisco and two Bay Area suburbs -- Sunnyvale and Daly City -- saw small declines in population during the same period. Experts attribute this at least in part to the dot-com bust of the last few years, which saw many Bay Area technology companies shut down.

“The dot-com boom of the 1990s attracted a lot of people,” said Bill Gayk, director of the Center for Demographic Research, Cal State Fullerton. “Now that the economy is in the depths of a recession, people who lose jobs look for new ones elsewhere.”

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Gayk said the fast-growing cities in Southern California possessed not only available land but also nearby jobs for the new residents. “It is more than land -- it is also location.... It’s the proximity to jobs and commerce,” he said.

In total, the four cities added 70,040 residents, according to the census study, which measured communities with populations of more than 100,000.

The new housing ranged from starter homes in working-class Fontana to more upscale dwellings in Irvine.

“I don’t like to brag, but when it comes to planned communities, this place can’t be beat,” said Ruth Malkin, 43, whose family moved to Irvine’s Woodbridge area from Fullerton a month ago.

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“The kids take their bikes everywhere ... within half a block there is a 24-hour heated lap pool ... within two blocks there are more pools ... the whole community is really well thought out.”

Irvine Mayor Larry Agran said his city has taken pains to foster new developments that fit into the Orange County city’s overall master plan, which he says balances growth while protecting residents’ quality of life.

Over the last few years, the city has adopted an open space preservation plan, guarding thousands of acres in the city from any development at all, he said. Half of the new homes bought in the city are bought by people who already live in Irvine, Agran said.

In Fontana, city officials said the growth is part of a larger effort by the city to revitalize itself. Fontana is currently juggling $60-million to $80-million worth of civic development projects, including new roads that officials hope will attract more housing as well as commercial and retail developments.

“We’re putting a tremendous amount of dollars in the dirt, literally rebuilding the city from top to bottom,” said Fontana City Manager Ken Hunt. “There’s no magic to it. We have available land, inexpensive and quality homes.”

Both Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga are in the Inland Empire, where experts said much of Southern California’s housing growth is occurring.

“Southern California has a whole bunch of people who live in coastal cities who want single family detached homes ... and the only place where people can afford to buy them is here,” said John Husing, a longtime Inland Empire economist. “That’s driving the coastal population inward.”

About 50 miles south of Rancho Cucamonga, once rural farm fields and horse farms of Murrieta and Temecula are also being transformed. Longtime real estate agent Nancy Hughes of Rancon Realty said 20 years ago all she sold was land. “Now, I could sell houses all day and night if I wanted to.

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“They’re ... coming out here because they can get much more home for the same price,” she said. “The same builders actually build the same homes, for far less. A home that would be $350,000 in Murrieta would cost $450,000 to $550,000 in Orange County.”

The census report is based on growth estimates made since the 2000 census was completed. It found that the fastest growing city of over 100,000 people is Gilbert, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb that grew from a population of 109,920 in 2000 to 135,005 in 2002. Gilbert is followed by North Las Vegas and Henderson in Nevada, both suburbs of Las Vegas. Next are Chandler and Peoria in Arizona, the four California cities and Joliet, Ill.

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California’s largest cities

*--* Population U.S. rank Place July 1, 2002 July 1, 2001 July 1, 2000 2 Los Angeles 3,798,981 3,751,815 3,705,510 7 San Diego 1,259,532 1,246,252 1,227,970 11 San Jose 900,443 906,183 898,149 13 San Francisco 764,049 775,978 776,855 33 Long Beach 472,412 466,530 462,432 36 Fresno 445,227 436,389 430,085 38 Sacramento 435,245 422,075 409,375 42 Oakland 402,777 404,633 400,787 51 Santa Ana 343,413 341,360 338,684 53 Anaheim 332,642 330,660 328,620 64 Riverside 274,226 266,642 257,258 67 Stockton 262,835 254,774 245,421 68 Bakersfield 260,969 251,690 244,516

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Times staff writers Joel Rubin and Daniel Yi contributed to this report.


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