Irvine grew faster than all but seven other large U.S. cities between July 2011 and July 2012, with its population vaulting to nearly 230,000 last year, new census data show.
The pace of growth was nearly five times as fast as the Southern California average. The increase continues a pattern for Irvine, where population climbed an average of 4.8% annually between 2000 and 2010. It rose 3.4% the next year and 4.2% last year, according to census data released Thursday.
City officials see the numbers as proof that its meticulous planning has worked.
"Irvine aspires to be the safest, smartest, greenest city in America," said Larry Agran, a City Council member and former mayor. "It creates an amazing platform that attracts people here."
Families clamor to get into the Orange County city, engineered since the 1960s as a planned community of "villages" close to shopping and schools. Over time, Irvine has drawn a swarm of technology and medical companies, becoming "the center of white-collar, blue-collar and retail jobs in Orange County," according to a UC Irvine report last year. It boasts the lowest violent crime rate of any U.S. city with more than 100,000 people, FBI statistics show.
Real estate agents say Irvine's schools are the biggest draw. When Tahir Yasin moved his family from the Houston area to work for Disney, he and his wife spent months searching for a rental house in Irvine, despite the lengthy commute to his workplace in Glendale several days a week.
"It was crazy.... People are lined up three, four, five to rent a place," Yasin said. "If it was me living alone, I'd live in Glendale. But I'm commuting for my kids."
Bidding wars erupt on its cul-de-sacs. Agents for Redfin, a national real estate brokerage, competed with an average of seven other buyers on Irvine homes, according to data the company gathered in the last 90 days.
New construction has continued to increase: More than 1,400 new homes were sold last year in Irvine Co. developments and 774 were sold the year before, according to the company. The company finished another community with 1,677 apartment units in September.
The community is constantly evolving, people living and working there say. "A year from now you'll come back — and it'll look completely different," said Nel Lam, community manager at the Murano apartments, part of the Cypress Village complex.
The city predicts continued growth, with its population nearing 300,000 by 2035. Seven new schools are planned to open by the end of 2020. More than 30,000 housing units are projected to be added by the time that Irvine is "built out" — the point when all its vacant land is spoken for.
"In the long term, we've thought through how the full gamut of infrastructure improvements can be installed," said Michael Le Blanc, senior vice president of the Irvine Co. As a result, Le Blanc said, the boom has caused only slight growing pains.