Aug 14, 2023 - Development

San Diego projects an end to perpetual population growth

A new forecast expects San Diego to shrink in population between 2042 and 2060. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

San Diego officials are expecting an end to the region's perpetual growth.

Driving the news: San Diego's population is expected to peak in 2042, and then decline by about 100,000 people by 2060, according to the latest regional forecast by the San Diego Association of Governments.

  • Ray Major, SANDAG's chief economist, told the agency's board last month this is the first regional forecast expecting a population decline.
  • "Every other forecast has had huge increases, with the San Diego region growing to 4 million people by 2050 … Now we're looking at 3.4 million."

Why it matters: The forecast carries planning implications for major, taxpayer-funded resources like housing, transportation infrastructure, water and energy.

By the numbers: San Diego's growth machine has been slowing for decades.

  • The region grew by 1 million people from 1980 to 2000. But in the last 20 years, San Diego added half that.
  • Planners now forecast just 140,000 new San Diegans over the next two decades.
  • That's when the region's population is expected to peak. By 2060 the region is expected to have just 40,000 more people than it has today.

Between the lines: The region's death rate is increasing, its birth rate is decreasing, and migration is flat.

  • One in 10 San Diego residents were over 65 in 2000. By 2060, that'll be one in four residents.
  • That aging population will demand different government services and have different transportation and housing needs, said Cynthia Burke, SANDAG's senior director of data science.
  • "Our parks are going to need more pickleball courts and fewer play structures," she said during the July board meeting.

Zoom in: The forecast still expects the region to need to add more jobs and housing.

  • Forecast job growth owes to people working multiple jobs, and more people living in Mexico or Riverside County and commuting into the region.
  • Housing growth comes from pent up demand up until now.
  • Major estimated the region has a deficit of 100,000 housing units due to homebuilding not keeping pace with population growth, and the number of homes that are vacant or used as rental properties.

Flashback: Historically, SANDAG's population forecasts projected more population growth than the region actually saw.

  • "Typically our forecasts have been very aggressive, or optimistic, about the people who would be moving to this region," Major said.

The big picture: California started losing population three years ago after relying on growth as its economic superpower throughout its history. The state, and San Diego, are entering a new era.

What's next: SANDAG will now break its forecast into projections for different parts of the county by the end of the year. Local governments will eventually rely on those projections to update their plans for the region's long-term needs.


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