New census figures show moderate growth in the Sacramento region

The four-county Sacramento region added 22,000 residents between July 2012 and July 2013, a slightly faster rate of growth than during several prior years, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released today.

Like much of California, the Sacramento region experienced a slowdown in population growth during the recession. Couples put off having children. Fewer people came here because there were fewer jobs.

As a result, average year-to-year growth from 2009 to 2012 in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties was about 20,500, a far cry from the 50,000 to 60,000 new residents seen each year during the housing boom.

Last year’s numbers represent only a slight uptick, and they are a far cry from the boom years, but several experts said they may herald a return to annual, healthy population growth of 25,000 to 30,000 residents.

“I believe we are going to see a pickup – 30,000 people a year,” said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific. Such growth could happen within the next few years, he said. “That will be a sign of our recovering economy.”

Much of last year’s growth was due to natural increase – more births than deaths – but more people also came to Sacramento from other parts of the nation than left.

Businesses and some municipalities like population growth because it can stimulate economic growth. More people means more construction, more customers and more tax revenue. The trade-off is that growth can lead to sprawl, traffic gridlock and environmental problems, especially if it’s not handled well.

Gordon Garry, director of research at the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, said last year’s growth tracks well with the projections of regional planners.

“We’re not planning a recovery back to the 50,000 or so we saw each year in the mid-2000s,” he said. Instead, within a few years, he expects “a new normal – the low to mid-30s.”

Growth in residential construction continues to lag behind population growth, Garry said. Developers aren’t yet building houses fast because the region is only now clearing vacant inventory left from the foreclosure crisis.

“Compared to the last few years where it was completely anemic, it looks very vibrant,” said David Ragland, a Granite Bay builder and chairman of the North State Building Industry Association. “But it’s not vibrant.”

Ragland and several other experts said construction will increase if more people begin moving from the expensive Bay Area to more affordable Sacramento. Such “Bay Area transplants drove much of the population growth seen during the last decade, but haven’t yet arrived in droves during this recovery.

“Historically, we get a little bit bigger Bay Area influx,” said Greg Paquin, of the Gregory Group, a Folsom-based real estate consultancy company. As the gap between typical Bay Area and Sacramento home prices grows wider, “that is beginning to change.”

Placer County grew 1.6 percent from 2012 to 2013, a faster rate of growth than all other counties in the state except tiny Alpine County, which added a couple of dozen people to its population of roughly 1,000.

Roseville will add several hundred homes this year, a faster rate of growth than prior years, said Chris Robles, the city’s economic development director.

“We’re planning for growth and we are seeing that now,” Robles said.

After two consecutive years of population declines, El Dorado County also saw growth from 2012 to 2013. Most residents would see that as a plus, said Laurel Brent-Bumb, CEO of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce.

“If you don’t have more rooftops, you can’t attract more businesses,” she said.

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