Changing Demographics Could Mean a Smart Growth Future for the Central Valley

 

Over the past few weeks, issues concerning the Central Valley’s future growth and development plans have gained widespread attention throughout the state – even causing Governor Brown to intervene in the Valley’s deliberation processes. With the Central Valley region growing at a faster rate than any other region in California, the policy outcomes of the region's “growth wars” will provide the context in which the Valley’s cities and counties will be able to accommodate its growing population. 

Regardless of how the region decides to grow, the Valley must address the challenges of its rapidly growing population by adopting development policies that meet the needs of future market demands while aiming to preserve its most valuable economic resource: farmland. And based on the results of a recent study, one thing is for certain: Past planning and development practices should no longer be an option for its future. 

Instead, Valley leaders should look to Arthur C. Nelson’s recent study "A Home for Everyone: San Joaquin Valley Housing Preferences and Opportunities to 2050" for answers. The report comes to a very simple conclusion: Economic and demographic changes in the Valley mean that the predominant large-lot single-family pattern should change, with smaller lots and more multi-family development in the future. Here are some highlights: 

Demographic Trends

o Over the next four years, the household population will grow by 72%, requiring approximately 700,000 new households by 2050. 

o The Hispanic population will become the Valley’s new majority population. 

Economic Trends

o National homeownership rates are projected to further decline.

o Incomes are projected to remain stagnated over a 10-year time period.

o Energy costs and gas prices will continue to increase.

Consumer Preferences

o Almost half (48%) of the total housing demand will be for single-family homes on smaller lots of less than 6,000 square feet.

o Residents prefer walkable neighborhoods and homes that are closer to jobs and transit.

To accommodate the growing household population and meet market demands by 2050, a study from The Concord Group (2012) projected that 45% of all new residential units built before 2050 should be attached units -- apartments, townhomes and condominiums. Currently, the region’s supply includes only 5% of these types of residential units. 

The Valley’s current mismatch between the housing market’s supply and demand should signal a red flag to leaders and deter them from enabling growth through large-lot, single family homes that not only fail to meet market demands, but risk the loss of its already over-compromised farmlands. The American Farmland Trust found in a recent study that business as usual development in the Valley would result in a loss of almost 600,000 acres of irreplaceable farmland and a $100-190 billion loss in economic value. 

Fortunately, Nelson’s valley housing report provides leaders with a smarter development alternative- one that responds to future market demands and preserves valuable farmland. The report recommends that all new attached residential development and nonresidential development could be directed to infill and redevelopment of areas that are already developed. To implement this type of change and prevent the resurgence of past development patterns, the report advises leaders to change their current zoning and development regulations to policies that facilitate mixed use developments and direct new growth to infill and redevelopment areas.