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Southland’s Population Still on the Rise

Times Staff Writer

Reaching new milestones in population growth, Los Angeles County is now home to more than 10 million people, while the count in Orange County is more than 3 million, according to the latest state figures.

The growth -- which comes from an abundance of newborns as well as people moving in -- reflects a regional economy that continues to have a strong job base compared with the rest of the state and country, analysts say.

But, they warn, the growth could also lead California’s two most populous counties to experience severe quality-of-life problems down the road.

“It’s a good-news, bad-news type of a situation,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. “The bad news is, we’re not keeping up with demand for housing, transportation, education and, of course, public services.”

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From July 2002 to July 2003, the state’s latest fiscal year, Los Angeles added 158,000 new residents, a 1.6% increase from the year before, according to estimates released this week by the state Department of Finance.

About 93,168 people, or nearly 60% of the new Angelenos, were newborns -- a net figure obtained after subtracting the number of people who died from the number born. The other 64,832 people moved to Los Angeles from elsewhere.

Orange County, which grew by 1.4%, swelled by 41,700 more people in the latest fiscal year, according to the Department of Finance. Two out of three of the new residents -- or 28,232 -- were newborns, while the remaining 13,468 came from other places.

Contrast that with the San Francisco Bay Area, where in three counties the population stagnated. Despite the large number of newborns, many people also left the area.

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In Santa Clara County, the heart of the late-'90s tech boom and subsequent bust, 11,332 people moved away last year. San Mateo County saw an exodus of 4,053 and San Francisco lost 2,950.

The fact that so many people moved into Los Angeles and Orange counties “reflects a relatively healthy economy in the region ... compared to other places,” said Frank Wen, an economist for the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

As a whole, California grew by 1.7%, to about 36 million residents. More than half of them live in Southern California -- which would be the country’s fourth largest if it were a state, Kyser said.

Population growth is not a problem if it is accommodated, analysts say.

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For example, Riverside County -- which had the state’s highest growth rate -- swelled by 4.5%, to 1.8 million inhabitants last year, according to the Department of Finance. San Bernardino County grew by 2.9%, to 1.9 million.

There is no “housing gap” in the Inland Empire because there are enough new homes being built there, said George Huang, an economist for the Economic Development Corp.

Los Angeles, however, is poised for a severe housing shortage if current trends continue, analysts warn.

Currently, the county has one unit of housing for every three residents, according to SCAG. But last year, construction began for only about 21,000 new units -- or roughly one apartment, condo or house for every eight new residents.

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About 9,000 new units were built in Orange County, or one for every five new residents, according to SCAG.

Orange County Supervisor Tom Wilson said he believes the population “will be 3-million-something for a long time.”

“We’re just running out of space,” he said.

Because available land is becoming scarce in Los Angeles and Orange counties, analysts say higher-density development and rising home prices and rents can be expected.

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That, in turn, will lead to more crowding in existing units, or to more people moving to less costly areas, such as the Antelope Valley and the Inland Empire.

The state’s budget crisis, which is delaying many transportation improvements, also means already crowded roads and highways will grow even more congested in the future.

A silver lining to the growth could be the revitalization of the Southland’s urban core. To accommodate the increased demand for housing, many industrial buildings in downtown Los Angeles are being converted into apartments and lofts.

“There’s less and less land for development,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “What people have historically come to L.A. for is a home with a backyard.... But that’s not the reality anymore.” Higher-density housing, he added, is the “wave of the future.”

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Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.


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