Wednesday, March 9, 2011

If fewer people come to California, who's going to ride the High-Speed Train?

Population growth in California has been projected to swell from 38 million to 50 million in 2030.  It's part of the promotional rhetoric of the HSR promoters.  It turns out to not be the case.

The CHSRA must be very disappointed since they have justified the building of their high-speed trains on the ever larger number of Californians who will have no choice but take a fast luxury train from LA To SF.  It actually sounds silly when you put it that way.

The NYT article puts a positive spin on this situation, with references to stability, easier planning for government officials (say what?), and making better economic decisions. All these presumed benefits are eyebrow raisers. 

This article suggests not only that population growth is slowing in California, but that what's really important are the demographic shifts in that population growth.  Why is that? Because of the nature of high-speed rail, which we've been trying to describe for a long time.  It's a train for the well-to-do and that's a very limited population cohort.  Its ticket costs will be the highest of all train tickets and will probably exceed air tickets, as they do in many parts of the world right now.

That means, from the standpoint of justifying the development of a rail system that the income levels of the population are as important as their numbers.  So if the population increases are based on those with lower education levels and low income, you can count on them not riding the luxury trains the rail authority is so determined to build. 

It's also becoming clear that a lot of the jobs that have been lost in California, manufacturing jobs especially, have gone overseas permanently.  So, when people brag about the per capita productivity increases in both manufacturing and service industries, the downside is that they don't need to hire so many expensive people any longer.  What does that say for California's population growth and ostensible need for a high-speed train?

What this data suggest is, if anything, there will be an even greater need for population-density-centered regional public mass transit, which isn't being promoted, developed or built. At the same time, the need for inter-city high-speed rail seems less important than ever.  You have to ask why the Obama Administration doesn't recognize that and is instead putting its bets on an inter-city high-end rail system for which there is no demand.

So, when you read or hear that California will experience enormous population growth and therefore will need a high-speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles, you will know that this is nonsense and nothing more than the desperate promotional marketing of the rail developers who stand to benefit personally from this project.


March 8, 2011

For California, a Slower-Growing Population

LOS ANGELES — Perhaps the legendary beaches here are losing their pull. California, once the very symbol of sun-drenched American growth, had a population increase of only 10 percent in the last decade, the slowest rise in the state’s history. And for the first time since California became a state in 1850, it will not gain a Congressional seat.

The population of the most-populous state continued to shift eastward, with inland Southern California counties showing the most explosive growth, according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.

In Riverside County, the population grew by 42 percent, and in San Bernardino, a sprawling county just to the north, it is up 19 percent. The counties make up what is known as the Inland Empire, an area that has gone from orange groves to exurbia with a population in excess of four million — more than the city of Los Angeles.

The recent growth in the state has been largely fueled by Hispanics, who continued to increase in numbers, though at a slower rate than in the 1990s. The number of whites continued to decline. They now make up just 40 percent of the state, compared with 47 percent in 2000.

In Riverside County, for instance, Hispanics accounted for two-thirds of the population’s increase, and in San Bernardino nearly 50 percent of the county is now Hispanic. Throughout the central inland part of the state, Hispanics now make up more than 40 percent of the population. Many were most likely attracted by the promise of more affordable housing — the area is among the hardest hit in the foreclosure crisis.

California officials had overestimated the state’s population by roughly 1.2 million, primarily because they expected more people to move in and fewer to move out, said John Malson, the state’s acting chief demographer. But Mr. Malson saw little reason for gloom.

“For a state of our size to be increasing by 10 percent is a good thing,” he said.

The shift to the Inland Empire has happened steadily over decades, as farmland and open fields have been replaced with expansive malls and housing tracts. Despite the housing collapse of recent years, there was no sign of a declining population.

“The trends have been in motion for some time,” said Eric Avila, a professor of Chicano studies and urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. “San Francisco and Los Angeles are not the only places that are urban centers anymore. Among the Latino population there are many more places that have become a destination for immigrants and migrants from other parts of the state.”

The ethnic and racial shifts were even more significant among children. The number of white children in California dropped by 21 percent in the last decade, with a similar decline in the number of black children. Over all, the state’s population increase for children was half a percent, a factor in the more modest growth statewide.

Kenneth M. Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, said this was the biggest drop in census data so far for a white-child population in any state.

“It underscores how dramatic the change in the racial and ethnic makeup will be,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s not well appreciated how fast this change is coming in young people. “

Over all, California is becoming more stable, and the slower but steady growth will make it easier for state officials to plan and grapple with potentially crippling budgets, said Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California.

“I think immigrants may have gotten diverted to other states because of our housing prices,” Mr. Myers said. “And Texas has a better economy, so where would you move? The fact that there are no runaway massive changes here isn’t a bad thing.”