San Francisco might well be among the world's most popular visitor attractions, and one of the greatest centers of technological entrepreneurship and cultural innovation. But itis certainly no Elk Grove — at least in terms of attracting new population.
The Sacramento suburb grew by 11.6 percent last year, making it America's fastest-growing city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In contrast, San Francisco was tied for No. 40 on the Census Bureau's list of fastest-shrinking cities, reportedly losing half of one percent of its populace last year.
This alleged shrinkage is open to debate. The California Department of Finance calculates its own estimates and says San Francisco actually added 22,000 people since 2000, rather than losing 37,000 as the Census Bureau claims. But even so, The City is adding people at a much slower pace than smaller cities in the Central Valley.
The trend shown by the U.S. Census update is that bigger, older and more expensive cities are losing population to formerly rural communities with plenty of relatively inexpensive land for building affordable new housing tracts and large business facilities. Elk Grove, population 112,000, was incorporated only six years ago and is a perfect prototype of this transition.
The Census Bureau analysis relies primarily on the number of new building permits issued and new housing units constructed since 2000. So, naturally, this formula is not going to show a great deal of growth for older, more built-out metropolitan centers such as San Francisco, which has the highest real estate prices in the U.S. and is notorious for community resistance to new construction projects.
The state's more sophisticated demographic formula — which tracks driver’s licenses, school enrollments, births, deaths and Medicare sign-ups — shows San Francisco gaining .07 percent population last year and San Mateo County gaining .06 percent.
These small increases reflect a long-term trend of The City and Peninsula steadily adding incremental population as additional housing becomes available. There is no glut of residential vacancies here, at any price level.
A fine line must be walked when trying to determine the optimum amount of population growth for the Bay Area. Nobody seriously wants to see our wonderfully scenic open spaces like the Presidio or San Bruno Mountain filled in with high-density housing.
On the other hand, two business think-tank studies discussed in The Examiner earlier this year maintain that the Bay Area can only continue generating sufficient good jobs by attracting top technological and professional talent from throughout the world, a task made considerably more difficult by the high price and scarcity of good housing.
It won't be easy, but a regional solution must be found for increasing the supply of competitively priced housing without damaging the distinctive features that attract talent here in the first place.