California population growth flattens out

As California began nose-diving into a recession last year, its population growth flattened out, with some of the most significant slowing occurring in once-burgeoning inland areas such as Riverside County.

Statewide in 2008, California grew 1.1% to 38.3 million residents, about the same growth rate as the previous year, according to annual figures released by the state Department of Finance on Thursday.

Riverside County, one of the fastest-growing areas in the state for several years, has been hit hard by high unemployment and foreclosure rates. It grew by 1.4%, compared with 2.4% the year before and an average of about 4% annually since 2000, state records show. The county’s population is now 2.1 million, according to the state estimates, which cull data from a variety of sources.

“It’s been a fun ride,” said Karen Parris, a school district spokeswoman in Murrieta, which typifies Riverside County’s building boom that went bust over the last two years.


The city, stretching along the 215 Freeway corridor south of Corona, grew 125% from early 2000 to early 2008. Last year, it marked 100,000 residents, but added less than 1,000 residents, an increase of only 1%, according to the state estimates.

Parris’ district, Murrieta Valley Unified, raced to build schools as enrollment nearly doubled in recent years. It still plans to open a third high school but is putting a new elementary school on hold because projected housing developments evaporated in the economic crisis. Though district planners “sort of saw” the population slowdown coming, it still “happened pretty abruptly,” Parris said.

San Bernardino County, which was growing by about 2% annually, added only 16,000 residents, less than 1%, in 2008, according to the figures. Its population is now a little more than 2 million.

Largely developed Los Angeles County, with by far the biggest population in the state, grew by less than 1% -- about 92,000 residents -- to 10.4 million people. Ventura and Orange counties grew at about the state rate of 1%, to 836,000 and 3.1 million, respectively.

The fastest-growing cities in Los Angeles County last year included Palmdale, which was up 3.5% to 151,348, and Pasadena, which grew 2% to 150,185.

Also, exceeding the state average were the Orange County cities of Costa Mesa at 2.6%, and Irvine and Newport Beach at 2.4%.

Despite pockets of strong population increases, a number of factors are tempering statewide growth, according to demographers.

After years of rapid increases, illegal immigration to the state has slowed.

Also, it has been harder for many families -- particularly those in which both parents must work -- to relocate to other states, some experts say.

“I think people are just moving less” both in and out of the state, said Mary Heim, chief of the state Department of Finance’s demographic research unit.

“And then there’s the whole economy.”