Four Southland cities are among the fastest-growing in the nation

Times Staff Writer

Seven California communities made this year’s ranking of the 25 fastest-growing big cities in the country, according to statistics released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Lancaster ranked 10th in the country, with a population of nearly 141,000 -- up 5% over the previous year.

“We’re really the last area in L.A. County that has space to grow,” said Steve Malicott, president and chief executive of the Antelope Valley Chambers of Commerce. “We have room and a lot of it.”

Other cities on the list included Bakersfield, Visalia, Irvine, Fontana, Elk Grove and Palmdale.

The statistics are based on residential construction in cities with populations of 100,000 or more from July 1, 2005, to July 1, 2006, said Greg Harper, a Census Bureau demographer.


Lancaster city officials said affordable homes and a business-friendly environment have fueled the rapid growth.

“When you look at us overall, we pretty much have it going on,” said Mayor Henry Hearns, who also is a pastor at a church east of Palmdale. “The word has gotten out. People who want to move out to California think that this is a good place to raise a family.”

Lancaster has numerous sports fields. And it is well placed for recreation, with the beach, mountains, ski resorts and desert all within a two-hour drive.

City officials are holding town hall meetings and inviting residents to give their input on the area’s future.

Among the goals are to continue reducing crime and to attract more high-paying jobs, so that tens of thousands of residents will not have to commute from the Antelope Valley to jobs elsewhere in Los Angeles County.

“If we can keep those people here and off the highways, their quality of life will be better,” Malicott said.

Though several of the fastest-growing cities were in Southern California, a few were in the Central Valley and one was in the northern part of the state.

Elk Grove, a community near Sacramento that ranked first last year, was 24th.

“The lower the better,” Mayor James Cooper joked.

The city has a population of more than 129,000, up more than 3% over the previous year. Cooper said it has been difficult keeping up with new residents moving into the city. In a unique effort, the streets, parks and schools of one new community are being built before the homes.

“Developers didn’t like it, but the public did,” Cooper said.

He said the area is very popular with families. More than 15,000 children participate in youth sports, he said. In fact, he said, residents have complained that there are too few city parks with sports fields.

The rapid growth in Bakersfield, with a population of more than 308,000, also has created challenges, City Manager Alan Tandy said. About 3,600 homes were constructed last year, he said, straining the city’s roads and schools.

Tandy said the city received a large federal grant earmarked for transportation projects two years ago and was developing a loop freeway system around the city to alleviate congestion. The schools and the city had to charge the residents additional fees to help cover costs.

Nevertheless, Tandy said, the city welcomes newcomers and has opened a sports arena and an outdoor amphitheater, as well as approving new restaurants, to make the area more livable.

“There has been a lingering reputation that we have had since the 1950s,” he said. “It’s no longer accurate.... We have actually become a very desirable community.”



Fastest-growing U.S. cities

Seven California cities ranked among the fastest-growing in the U.S., according to the latest census numbers.

Population estimates for cities with more than 100,000 people.

*--* Population Percent increase Rank City 7/1/06 since 7/1/05 1 North Las Vegas, Nev. 197,567 11.9% 2 McKinney, Texas 107,530 11.1 3 Port St. Lucie, Fla. 143,868 9.9 4 Cape Coral, Fla. 151,389 8.1 5 Gilbert, Ariz. 191,517 7.8 6 Grand Prairie, Texas 153,812 6.6 7 Peoria, Ariz. 142,024 5.8 8 Cary, N.C. 112,414 5.1 9 Denton, Texas 109,561 5.1 10 Lancaster 140,804 5.0 11 Fort Worth 653,320 4.8 12 Joliet, Ill. 142,702 4.8 13 Miami 404,048 4.5 14 Bakersfield 308,392 4.3 15 Raleigh, N.C. 356,321 3.9 16 Chandler, Ariz. 240,595 3.8 17 Baton Rouge, La. 229,553 3.8 18 Henderson, Nev. 240,614 3.7 19 Visalia, Calif. 113,487 3.7 20 Irvine 193,956 3.5 21 Fontana 170,099 3.4 22 Orlando, Fla. 220,186 3.3 23 Laredo, Texas 215,484 3.1 24 Elk Grove, Calif. 129,184 3.1 25 Palmdale 138,790 3.1


Source: U.S. Census Bureau