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As SF and LA lose population, these California cities are booming. we map it all


Brian Harrington was looking for a bigger house in 2021. He and his wife were expecting a baby and could work from home.

They settled in the Riverside County community of Menifee, about 54 miles from their home in Anaheim.

Harrington, who works as a public relations consultant for Bitcoin startups, searched online for “homes in the lower 600s of Southern California” and was directed to the corridor of fast-growing communities along Interstate 15 and 215.

The couple ended up buying a home in Menifee’s Audie Murphy Ranch community. “I love the house, I love the neighborhood,” Harrington said, noting that the area “feels like Orange County.”

As far as downsides go, purchases are limited to “only supermarkets and large chain restaurants,” he said. “I still haven’t found my hole-in-the-wall dive bar that I love.”

California’s large coastal cities, led by San Francisco and Los Angeles, have seen declines in population in recent years. Some residents have moved to cheaper housing in other states. But over the same period, some California suburbs like Menifee have seen significant population increases.

From 2019 to 2022, 1.02 million more people moved from homes and businesses to California than to them, a Times analysis of U.S. Postal Service data shows.

The data shows that the five ZIP codes with the most net moves were suburbs or suburbs around Sacramento and Southern California, including cities like Irvine, Menifee and Walnut.

These fast growing places are usually suburbs with new homes coming online. Some, like Irvine, are expensive and close to workplaces. Others, like Menifee, are further removed from urban cores but offer bigger homes and more outdoor space for the money. As the practice of remote work increased during the pandemic, remote communities made more sense to some.

While Harrington stayed in California, many others left the state altogether. Change of address data from the Postal Service supports the theory that California’s population decline is largely the result of net migration out of state, experts say.

No data set is perfect, and Paul Ong, director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, added a note of caution: “There is a bias in reporting moves in many situations,” he said, referring to address change requests submitted . with the post office.

USPS data includes mostly permanent moves and some temporary moves for individuals, families, and businesses.

Of the more than 1,700 ZIP codes reviewed, 58% showed more moves than moves over the four-year span.

USPS processed about 36 million address changes in 2021 across the country. Applications can be submitted online or via a paper form at a post office. When scaled for population, California’s net move numbers are in the middle of the pack among states nationally.

One such Californian planning to leave the state is Kevin Britton, who has a steady job in Southern California and loves to ride his motorcycle to the sunny cities of Malibu and Santa Monica. But he said he’s fed up with crime and the high cost of housing in the area.

So the 34-year-old photographer and his wife are packing up their Sylmar home and moving to Las Vegas this spring.

“The pay scale doesn’t pay enough to justify the cost of living here,” he said, describing housing costs in California as “out of this world.”

Britton’s move reflects an ongoing demographic trend in the Golden State: Most residents who move are leaving big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In recent years, a new pattern in California suggests that “downtown cities have emptied” and “people have moved to the outer ring of the subway,” said Dowell Myers, a USC professor of politics, planning and demography. .

In fact, The Times analysis shows that of the five ZIP codes with the most net moves, three were in San Francisco and one was in Los Angeles.

The Northern California city of Paradise had the second-highest number of net moves after the devastating Camp Fire in late 2018.

In the other direction, Menifee and other small towns continue to grow.

Armando Villa, the Menifee city manager, said he is working to transform the area “from a rural community and a lot of vacant lots to a really thriving city.”

Menifee became a city in 2008, he said, making it the third most recently incorporated city in California.

Since then, the population has skyrocketed, jumping from 85,000 in 2016 to an estimated 116,000 now, Villa said.

The city has been intent on growing, he said. “We were not surprised.”

“There are a lot of new houses being built,” he said, even as rising interest rates are slowing home sales.

City data shows that more than 4,500 housing units were built between 2019 and 2022 in Menifee, and virtually all (97%) are single-family homes.

Many of the new residents come from Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, according to Villa. “The housing shortage is making people drive this way to buy an affordable home,” she said.

Not everyone agrees with the rapid growth. On the “Menifee 411” Facebook group, where some 22,000 members post about the community, a recent image of a proposed development drew the ire of locals.

“Just stop. You’re taking all the beauty out of this place. It’s called hills and open country,” the top comment read. Another: “We’re running out of water and the power grid can’t handle what we have now. Please, stop building.”

While causation is complicated across large groups of people, experts pointed to several factors influencing migration: housing prices and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The housing market was already really a problem” in 2019, when data shows more than 200,000 excess moves relative to pre-pandemic moves, Myers said.

“Renters can move easily, landlords can’t,” he said, noting that the migration numbers are skewed toward renters, who are typically younger and less wealthy than landlords.

The moving trend was exacerbated by the pandemic.

The pandemic “synchronized everyone’s behavior,” causing home prices to spike “suddenly, tremendously” on top of pre-existing problems with the housing market, Myers said.

Irvine is another city looking to build housing to attract potential homeowners from more expensive nearby cities.

Mayor Farrah Khan wasn’t surprised that an Irvine ZIP code shows the second-highest number of net moves in California. In the area near the city’s Greater Park, some 10,000 homes have been proposed, she said, and builders have completed “six to seven thousand so far.”

Noting that Irvine’s population nearly doubles during business hours, Khan said “we want to see more people living in Irvine (and) working in Irvine.”

The people who move come from all over, he said, including those coming “within Irvine, from Northern California, New York” and immigrants from China and Korea.

California has had net national emigration since 1990, according to Richard Green, director of USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate. “Most of the emigrants are low-income people,” he said.

For two decades, “there was enough foreign migration to far overwhelm domestic migration” and keep California growing, Green said. Mexico and China accounted for large numbers of immigrants.

However, recently, with increases in the cost of living and immigration restricted by Trump administration policies and the pandemic, net emigration has increased while immigration has decreased, contributing to population declines. of the state.

Britton, who grew up in the Miami metropolitan area, said he’s “no stranger to the high cost of living.”

As a photographer, Britton’s main subjects are quintessentially Californian: high-end cars and porn stars.

“I have so many clients here,” he said of Los Angeles, but “there’s no reason to stay when it’s cheaper to travel here” and live somewhere else.

He’s also had trouble with crime in Los Angeles: his truck was vandalized, his trailer stolen, and then set on fire. Drivers who show signs of road rage sometimes “follow us home and try to start something,” Britton said.

Looking for another place to go, Britton and his wife researched Texas, Colorado, Seattle, and Las Vegas. Their choice was easy: They saw a 3,200-square-foot home in Las Vegas that rents for half what the couple is paying for their 1,300-square-foot townhouse in Sylmar.

After the moves, Britton said she will miss seeing classic cars on the streets of Los Angeles and in the city’s restaurants.

“Everybody wants to live here, but it’s too expensive,” he said.

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