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Slow Growth Projections For Central Valley

( from April 2012 – Update: Neither the city or county have yet to address their general plan updates as of July 1)

Both the City of Visalia and Tulare County are updating their general plans this year using 5 year old demographic estimates that may now need a re-write.

A new demographic forecast for the San Joaquin Valley’s eight county-wide Metropolitan Planning Organizations was published March 27 as part of the San Joaquin Valley Regional Blueprint process. Fresno COG coordinated the study that includes Tulare County Association of Governments(TCAG) who, like others, will utilize the forecast to model their long term community plans going forward.

Unlike state Department of Finance demographic studies done in 2007 the 2012 report suggests that the Valley’s population growth that has crawled along in recent recession years will continue at a slow pace over coming decades impacting plans that cities and counties have to add subdivision land,make infrastructure capital improvements, build schools and plan their budgets.

Not only local governments but private sector players alike home builders,developers and retailers will be paying close attention to the trends that are likely to impact their bottom lines.

What is the bottom line? Past studies may have strongly overstated how fast we can expect to grow in the Valley.One factor is an expected exodus of the white population out of the region(see other story).

The new projections are upending the assumptions currently in use.

Case in point is Tulare County who had a population of around 449,000 as of 2010. Projections done by Tulare County Association of Governments using 2007 DOF numbers have predicted future growth of 2.5% resulting in a population of 599,000 by 2020 and 743,000 by 2030. Note that the 2010 number for Tulare County was too high as well,before Census numbers were known. Later numbers have compounded the overestimate.

But now comes the new Blueprint estimate for 2030 that suggests closer to 1 percent annual growth and a 2030 population in Tulare County of only 570,000. That’s less than TCAG had estimated for 2020 in the previous study and 173,000 people too high for 2030, a huge difference.

The old

The outdated projections have been used for recently adopted plans like the 2010 Housing Element of the Visalia General Plan. All the county’s cities rely on the TCAG numbers as well. The County’s new General Plan to be adopted by the supervisors next month uses the old numbers.

Also, the same dated formula has been used for the City of Visalia’s new General Plan Update that has just being adopted that says Visalia can expect to grow to 165,000 by 2020, a 2.9% increase over 2010 numbers (125,000) and an anticipated 211,000 residents by 2030.

But if the Blueprint is right, Tulare County’s’ population growth is likely to be much closer to 1%. At that rate Visalia would add about 13,000 new residents by 2020 and  some 27,000 by 2030. The population in Visalia by 2030 would not be 211,000 as modeled, but more like 152,000!

What’s the difference? First, it is up to every general plan study to consider all the information before setting a policy. More importantly perhaps, Visalia may not need an extra 34,700 homes to accommodate that 211,000 population they expected. That’s hundreds of new subdivisions we may not fill,a glut that could further reduce existing home values as it did with the overbuilding in 2006.

Looked at it another way, the current number of homes in Visalia is now around 44,000. But there is a 6.5% vacancy rate meaning there  are 3000 empty homes. Once more people come in – we can accommodate perhaps 9000 more residents figuring 3 persons per house.

In addition the General Plan Update (GPU) says there are about 7000 homes in the “existing pipeline”, already zoned and approved to be built without paving over any new farm land.

So added together Visalia sports an inventory of 10,000 residential units that could accommodate 30,000 more people in town than it has today.

That would allow the city to grow to 154,000 residents – about the population the new 8 county Blueprint might expect for Visalia using their estimate of 1% growth.

Builders Know The Score

How fast are builders pulling permits for new homes in 2012? The slowest in 2 decades – on pace to build around 150 new homes this year in Visalia compared to 269 in 2011,329 in 2010,397 in 2009, 496 in 2008,869 in 2007,1317 in 2006 and 1450 in the year 2005.

Do you kind of notice a trend here?

But because of inflated estimates the GPU plan calls for adding new subdivisions right away,several million square feet of new retail space and immediately adding new acreage for development so we don’t fall behind, we are told.

The preferred plan put forward by the GPU committee calls for around 1800 new acres of ag land along 198 to be developed mostly as new residential land under the plan as soon as the gavel drops and it is adopted, now set for December of 2012.

The issue of phasing of development might be the key. If the proponents of development believe there is demand – why not let the single family building permits be our metric? Let the market be our guide.

If the pace of home building picks up in Visalia it should be a signal that we are starting to fill our substantial inventory of subdivision land.

But even if the pace doubled from 2012 to 300 new home permits a year – that translates to 3000 units built in ten years – with no danger of running out of acres.

Visalia is gonna’ grow in the next 20 years But will it add 80,000 new residents or more like 30,000? The school district wants to know too. Do they plan for nearly 30 new schools as they are preparing to do? What will happen to growth after this extended recession is over ? Time will tell.

The upshot: set a trigger of opening new lands based on several years of building permits trending higher but not before. The new Blueprint report screams ‘slow down’.

The Blueprint study suggests Valley housing wont be strong in coming years saying “significant factors will likely continue to push the rate of home ownership downwards, and hence, increase the rentership rate. The factors include wages and incomes, housing finance, and demographics.”

“The decrease in home owner equity means that fewer households will be able to fund the down payment to purchase another house using their current equity.”

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