But where Karen got tripped up was on the population increase question. And here she adamantly stood her ground. Despite all the rumblings that Californians are leaving the sinking ship as quickly as their Toyotas will take them, the doyenne of Karen Warner Associates doggedly stuck to her guns and proclaimed the state's population is going up, SCAG's RHNA numbers are unassailably correct, and that we need to plan for an influx of new residents. And how could she not? SCAG's numbers are the cutter responsible for the stale cookies she serves up. Not just to us, but every other city perplexed enough to hire her. To deny a population increase means she'd have to do all that work all over again. As if she doesn't have enough on her plate already.
Now in June of 2001, on their peerless Compass site ("Charting the course for a sustainable southland"), SCAG's "Growth Visioning" forecasts had this to say about our soon to be arriving millions of new residents:
Population Growth in the SCAG Region: Southern California has grown into the nation's second largest metropolitan area. More than 17 million people call the Southland home and still more are coming. Over the next 25 years another 6 million people will be added to our large and diversifying region ... Immigrants are attracted here because of jobs and the hope of a better life ...
And it was these kinds of projections that led to SCAG saddling us and our many sister cities in the region with RHNA numbers that many felt were, for lack of a better word, crazy. But SCAG maintained that because millions of new residents were on the way, all of these cities should plan for the creation of vast new amounts of housing. Here in Sierra Madre the number was originally over 270. And nobody had the foggiest idea of where to put them all. That is, unless you took the wrecking ball to our downtown area and turned it into something resembling the traffic choked mondo condo parts of Pasadena. Which some disreputable people did try to do, much to their later financial despair.
And the influence of SCAG's crystal ball also showed up in the Sierra Madre 2008-2014 Housing Element Update. Here's how that good old shuck and jive reads on this document:
Why Does Sierra Madre Have To Plan For More Housing? California's population has continued to grow by approximately 500,000 each year, translating to an annual need for about 220,000 new units ... The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is the regional agency responsible for defining the fair share allocation among its 6 counties ... Based on economic and demographic forecasts, the State has determined that SCAG must accommodate 699,398 housing units between 2006 and 2014 to meet housing demand.
But it turns out there is trouble in paradise. You know that Compass report I cited above? It no longer exists on SCAG's website. The link supplied goes to a site owned by the company Laurie Barlow heads, where this document is preserved for reference. And if you try to link to the attached "Growth Visioning" report that has had so much influence in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area? That domain name vanished on 12/21/09. You see, the problem is California's population is now actually declining. Apparently the bold predictions SCAG made about population increases and a need for massive new development are no longer happening. Which probably explains all those unsold zombie condos out there. You know, the ones the banks own and the taxpayers are covering.
I guess being a fully funded government agency made up of incompetent planners and half baked prognosticators means never having to say you're sorry. And besides, they now have SB375 to peddle. (Something Joe Mosca is hard at work on these days as part of SCAG's CEHD/RHNA Committee.) Since vast hordes of new residents are not on the way, the now operative message is we need to build large quantities of new housing here to stop - get this - Global Warming. You got it, big condo complexes are going to save humanity from extinction. Which is no less of a crackpot theory than anything else Sacramento and SCAG have put out there. I'm sure that within the Kool Aid confines of their offices it all makes perfect sense.
Here are a couple of recent articles that have shown up on the web detailing California's population and jobs decline, and by inference just how far off the mark SCAG was. The first comes from CNNMoney.com. They put together a list of the Top 10 States they describe as being the Biggest Losers. And California is #1.
California Net Loss: 98,798 residents. For years more people have fled the Golden State than have arrived. In the year ended July 1, California was the country's biggest loser, with nearly 100,000 more residents leaving the state.
The other place reporting these new estimates from the U.S. Bureau of the Census is a site that I find fascinating (so I'm a geek), New Geography.com. In an article entitled The Decade of the South: The New State Population Estimates, they point out that California is indeed at the very rock bottom in the population loss category. And then they offer this piece of sad information:
What comes next after the chaotic decade of the 2000s? As is suggested above, much of the variation in domestic migration is explained by differences (in) housing prices and trends. Indeed, the price of housing may be a surrogate for the cost of living, which varies principally between areas based upon housing cost differences. This is likely to continue. In coastal California, house prices remained above historic norms, even at the largest "bubble burst" losses, and there are recent indications that unhealthy price escalation has resumed. Much of the West and most of the country is far more affordable. This would suggest that coastal California's domestic migration losses will continue and rise in the future.
You can only wonder how SCAG got it all so terribly wrong. The damage caused by their rank incompetence continues even now. And it has cost the City of Sierra Madre a fortune.