Fevered growth cools in Roseville, Elk GroveBy Phillip Reese, Loretta Kalb and Jennifer K. Morita -- Bee Staff Writers
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, May 2, 2006
When the topic is the Sacramento region's growth, Elk Grove and Roseville inevitably come up.
The area's two biggest suburbs have accounted for one-third of its population growth during the past five years.
But rising home prices and other factors have slowed the juggernaut. Roseville had its slowest rate of growth in 30 years during 2005, according to population estimates released Monday by the state Department of Finance. Elk Grove grew 8 percent - substantial, but way below the almost 30 percent growth logged during 2003.
The two cities are the best local examples of a regional and statewide growth slowdown. Thirteen of the 18 cities in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties saw slower or no growth during 2005.
While cautioning against confusing one year's worth of data with a trend, experts and city leaders blame high housing prices for much of the slowdown. They also talk about "build-out" - what happens when a city hits growth limits.
Overall, the four-county region grew 1.6 percent from Jan. 1, 2005, to Jan. 1, 2006, state figures show. It was the fourth consecutive year-to-year easing of the growth rate.
The bottom line: People were coming here in droves when the area was seen as a bargain. Now that home prices have shot up dramatically, that influx of people has slowed, though not stopped.
"It's still a pretty healthy growth," said Gordon Garry, director of research and analysis for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
He said "housing affordability is an issue."
Roseville has seen its growth rate slip faster than just about any other city in the region. It grew by 1.4 percent in 2005, a rate of slow growth not seen in the city since the mid-1970s.
Roseville City Manager Craig Robinson said the slowdown is just part of the "natural ebb and flow in the development process."
He explained that except for some infill projects, most of the approved housing developments in Roseville are close to "buildout."
One big exception that hasn't hit the numbers yet: the West Roseville Specific Plan, a 3,000-acre annexation in which developers are now pulling model home building permits.
"As we move farther to the west and see other development, it may take a year or two before we see (growth) rise again," Robinson said.
He added that this lull gives the city, which now has 105,000 residents, a chance to catch up on capital improvement projects such as major roadways and parks.
"While our population growth may be at a bit of a plateau temporarily, our office market and our job market are very strong," Robinson said.
Robinson said the city's revenues from property and sales taxes remain high, and he expects those numbers to climb in the coming years. "We're very robust," he said.
Roseville residents are noticing the slowdown.
Karen Olson and her family of four moved to Roseville from the Bay Area three years ago, when the city's growth was at its peak.
"There was an incredible amount of growth," she said. "When we bought our house, we had to put in our bid and pray."
Since then, however, she's seen that homes in her west Roseville neighborhood aren't selling as quickly. She blames the softening market on the rising cost of living and uncertain economic times.
Traffic is also a factor. As more people have moved to Roseville, more cars have clogged the local roads and interstate. Some roads, said longtime Roseville resident Jason Hill, "are just a nightmare. The traffic has definitely worsened."
After two years of double-digit growth, Elk Grove came back down to earth a little during 2005. Its growth was nowhere near the levels seen when the city annexed the Laguna West area in 2003.
Still, at 8 percent growth last year, Elk Grove, which now has 131,000 residents, outpaced most other places.
Joe Chinn, finance director for the city of Elk Grove, cited an ebbing economy and real estate market as chief contributors to the easier pace of growth.
"I don't think it's a large slowdown. I'd say it's slight," Chinn said. "I think a lot of it is reflected in the market forces."
This year, the modest slowdown should continue, Chinn said.
As much as any place in the region, Elk Grove has been a victim of its success - high demand for homes in the area have pushed housing prices way up.
More than a decade ago, some residents chose to live in Elk Grove in part because new homes tended to be less expensive than in Roseville or Folsom. But more recently, as home prices soared, it became difficult for first-time buyers to purchase any homes in the median price range - the point at which half the homes cost more and half cost less.
In Elk Grove, the median price of a new home in the first quarter of this year was $506,740, up 5.6 percent from a year earlier, said Greg Paquin, president of the Folsom-based Gregory Group.
While last year's growth was less frantic than in recent years, it's the cumulative effect of newcomers that some Elk Grove residents notice.
"This kind of growth is unacceptable," said Michael J. Aye, an attorney who works in Sacramento and has lived in Elk Grove since the late 1980s. "It represents an urbanization process that many of us 15 to 20 years ago came to get away from, and now it has followed us here.
"I tell the story about moving here. I could see my sister's barn from my bedroom windows. And now my sister has sold out to developers."
The big exception to the regionwide slowdown was the town of Lincoln in Placer County. It grew at a phenomenal rate of 23 percent during 2005, faster than any other city in the state.
The city of 33,500 saw more people move into four newer housing developments, said Mayor Ray Sprague.
"If you look at who has potential to grow in all four directions, it's Lincoln," Sprague said.
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