California’s Population Clock Ticks Relentlessly toward 50 Million

Published on June 18th, 2015

By Joe Guzzardi
June 18, 2015

The California I grew up in during the early 1950s had about eight million residents. Los Angeles County, where I was raised and where my family picnicked and took Sunday drives, had about 2.5 million people and was famous for its agriculture output. Decades ago, Los Angeles County was one of the nation’s most bountiful. To the north, the San Fernando Valley abounded with cattle ranches, wheat farms and fruit orchards. Further north, the San Joaquin Valley produced the state’s best peaches, cherries, and grapes.

California is constantly evolving, and change is inevitable. But today’s California with its more than 38 million people is unrecognizable to me. Eleven million people choke Los Angeles, the ranches have given way to strip malls, and the orchards to tract-housing.

According to the California Department of Finance, the state’s overcrowding and environmental loss is poised to get worse—much, much worse. DOF’s recently released population projections put California’s total at a mind-boggling 51.7 million in 2060, about a 38 percent increase from the current level.

Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Wendell Cox analyzed the DOF report to determine which California cities would be the most affected by the dramatic growth, and what the state might look like 45 years from now. Cox relied on what demographers call consolidated statistical areas (CSAs), economically connected, adjacent metropolitan areas.

While demographers’ lexicon may confuse the lay man, Cox’s findings are blindingly clear. The Los Angeles metropolitan complex, made up of Los Angeles-Riverside, including Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, will remain the state’s largest as its population increases from 17.9 million to 22.8 million. Riverside County will grow the fastest, adding 68 percent to its population.  Overall, the Los Angeles metropolis will grow 27.3 percent, below the state’s projected 38 percent. Los Angeles’ comparatively slower growth than the state’s average will be cold comfort to Southlanders who have to live with its crushing consequences.

The San Francisco Bay metropolitan complex which includes San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Vallejo and Stockton will grow even faster than Los Angeles at 45.6 percent. Six counties will add 500,000 or more people. Since its 85 miles and an hour and a half drive away without traffic, most Californians would not place Stockton in the San Francisco Bay area. But Stockton’s inclusion demonstrates how sprawling the metropolitan areas have become and how they encroach upon each other.
Pity the poor San Joaquin Valley, my home for more than 25 years, which will grow 90 percent to reach 1.3 million.

The demographic pattern is well defined. People are crowded out of one place, move on to another before more overcrowding sends them packing up again to occupy whatever dwindling space that’s available. But no matter how grave the DOF projections become, Governor Jerry Brown ignores them. In Sacramento, what’s sacred is growth, construction, and more immigration. Brown and his successors will worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

Life in 2060 will be hard in densely populated California. What the state will look like defies imagination. Those of us who lived in California’s Golden Era before rampant growth replaced quality of life as the state’s number one goal are the lucky ones.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]


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