by Thomas D. Elias October 11, 2023
The state Department of Finance in 2013 predicted California would have 52.7 million residents by 2060, but now figures the number will be 39.51 million, just about the same as today.
Two things you can count on when it comes to ballyhooed state forecasts on things like California’s housing and population: They’ll be incompetent and inconsistent. Usually, they will also be outdated even before they’re issued.
For years, this state has plagued its cities and counties with inaccurate, vastly varying predictions of housing need. In 2018, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) predicted California would need to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025.
Four years of unpredicted population loss followed. HCD never listed this as a reason, but by 2021, it was saying the need had dropped to 1.8 million living spaces. This year, despite more net out-migration from the Golden State, the projected housing need was back up again, this time to 2.5 million.
The state offered no explanation for its inconsistency, apparently expecting no one to remember the previous estimates, none of which developers came anywhere near fulfilling.
Now it’s the turn of the population forecasters in the state’s Department of Finance. Ten years ago, they predicted tremendous California growth, apparently not noticing that most cities were already pretty well built out, and that massive population growth would either have to land in huge new swaths of urban sprawl or spur tearing down and rebuilding in existing neighborhoods to make them far more dense.
There’s been no population growth, but policymakers in the Legislature have nevertheless chosen to pursue density, virtually all their new housing laws aiming to encourage more crowded living conditions and assuming that those in the new buildings will own few cars and use mass transit. Of course, mass transit usership has not risen notably even as new construction arose near light rail stops. So much for that forecast.
Where the Finance Department in 2013 predicted California would have 52.7 million residents by 2060, it now figures the number will be 39.51 million, just about the same as today.
But wait: This forecast turns out not worth the many sheets of paper on which it was printed. For lo and behold, there’s now large-scale buyers’ remorse among California emigres in places like Austin and Dallas, Texas; Tucson and Glendale, Ariz.; and several parts of Florida.
Californians moved to those places in droves immediately before and during the coronavirus pandemic.
Charmed at first by Austin, where many high-tech workers moved when the virus freed them from working in offices, they’re now finding it difficult to move easily from gig to gig as they could in places like Silicon Valley and the Irvine area of Orange County.
That’s because while there’s a fair amount of technology innovation in Austin, the California technology hubs remain dominant in their industry, providing far more options for switching jobs without risking long-term unemployment.
Some emigres also complain about the central Texas weather, featuring many more 100-degree summer days and far colder winters than they experienced in California.
But once you sell a California home and turn your equity into a larger Texas manse, it can be difficult to move back without a major drop in standard of living. So there’s less potential mobility for emigres who left their previous options behind.
And so one recent survey of Austin newcomers saw many yearning to return to California. It’s much the same in cities like Orlando, Fla., and Tucson, both of which attracted many Californians with lower-priced, more sumptuous housing than they could afford in coastal parts of California.
There’s suddenly a strong possibility many of the recent California emigres will move back, even if it means enduring a somewhat lower standard of living for a while.
But the reports indicating this likelihood came after release of the California Finance Department forecast. So the state forecast was probably outmoded before it was printed.
California growth likely will rebound, but probably not soon to levels seen from 1950 to 2010. That’s partly because this state has become denser than before and thus less attractive to many folks who seek green surroundings.
All of which should reassure property owners who would love to get rid of the many vacancy signs on new apartment buildings coming online every week in California, and demonstrates the error of assuming that today’s trends will continue indefinitely.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.