CA anti-sprawl laws fail, TX low-zoning works

Welcome to Texax, Dept. of TransportMay 28, 2013 

By Wayne Lusvardi

Californians are fleeing the center of their big cities while suburbs are suffering from slow growth. If it were not for international in-migration, California’s older big cities would be suffering from population decline the same as Detroit. Texas has become the “New California” by figuring out the formula to sustain the population of its older city centers while its suburbs are booming at the same time.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its Census of California metropolitan areas from 2010 to 2012. Every older large city in California is experiencing flight of its long-time residents, who are being replaced by international migrants. If it were not for international migration, the older core of California’s big cities would be in a sudden, massive population decline.  Property values and the property tax base would likely also fall.

Sources of Los Angeles Metropolitan Area In-Migration 2010 to 2012

Type Metropolitan Area Domestic In-Migration International In-Migration
City core (-122,534) +118,961
Suburbs +62,221 +69,744

The older core of Los Angeles lost 122,534 of its older residents from 2010 to 2012. In their place a wave of 118,961 net international migrants moved in.  In San Jose, 7,029 older residents moved out but were replaced by 30,315 international migrants. In Sacramento’s old city core, 2,086 residents moved out and 11,150 international migrants moved in. In Riverside-San Bernardino, 4,421 residents moved out, but 6,649 international migrants took their place.

California suburbs have experienced roughly balanced migration. But unlike Texas suburbs, Golden State suburbs are suffering from slow population growth.

The new Metropolitan Area Census shows 135,545 new migrants to California suburbs, reflecting only a 0.3 percent increase per year from 2010 to 2012.  Of this, 69,744, or 51 percent, were international migrants. California is not experiencing a “return to the city” or a “suburban growth boom.”

This is the opposite of what is happening in the metropolitan areas of Texas, where older cities are experiencing more balanced in-migration and its suburbs are booming from high levels of domestic in-migration.

Texas has more balanced migration in older cities

California needs a large influx of international migration to sustain population levels in its older cities, especially the older core of the City of Los Angeles and in the suburbs of San Jose.  Conversely, older cities in Texas reflect more balanced sources of in-migration.

Sources of Texas Metropolitan Area In-Migration 2010-2012

Type Metro Area Domestic In-migration International In-migration
City core +96,021 +75,701
Suburb +185,689 +37,213

Unlike California, Texas metropolitan areas had greater domestic in-migration than international migration. 

Texas suburbs booming from domestic in-migration

From 2010 to 2012, Texas suburbs experienced a boom mostly from much higher levels of domestic in-migration than international migration. Eight of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. are located in Texas.

One exception to the Texas trend of domestic in-migration in its suburbs were the suburbs of San Antonio. They are attracting wealthy “business-savvy” Mexicans, comparable to Cubans who after Castro seized power in 1959 sought refuge in Miami. Conversely, California is attracting more Asian international migrants, especially to high-tech areas in San Francisco and San Jose.

Markets, not anti-sprawl laws, work best

California’s political economy is based on high tax rates; rent control and growth controls; inflated housing values, but relatively low property tax rates because of Proposition 13; mandatory inclusionary housing and more jobs for teachers, tax assessors, subsidized solar power technicians, urban planners and environmentalists.  Its immigration policies are mostly the symbolic “Dream Act,” anti-deportation laws and “sanctuary cities.”

Texas’ economy is based on low or no business and income taxes, no rent control, few growth controls, higher property tax rates based on lower housing values, inclusionary old inner cities by markets, and tax incentives for private sector jobs. Only El Paso and Houston have sanctuary city policies.  An anti-sanctuary city bill died in the Texas legislature in 2011.

California has passed anti-sprawl legislation to try to halt the out-migration from its older big cities.  The results would have been miserable if international in-migration had not stemmed the outflow of population.

Texas has accomplished balanced in-migration into its older city centers where California has failed. The Texas incentive model is performing better than the California disincentive model as far as sustaining the center of its older big cities while Texas suburbs are booming at the same time.  Texas is accomplishing what 75 years of public housing and lending policies could not in California: an older city core that is attracting a “return to the city” by domestic and international migration and concurrent suburban growth.

Appendix 1:

MIGRATION: California vs. Texas Major Metropolitan Areas Migration

Net Domestic Migration Net International Migration Net Migration (Percent Per Year)
Metro Area Core County(s) Suburban Counties Core County(s) Suburban Counties Core County Suburban County


Los Angeles Co.  13,052,921 (-110,934) 8,439 88,868 23,635 -22,066 (-0.2%) 32,074 (+0.2%)
Sacramento Co. 2,196,482 (-2,086) 6,472 11,150 3,172 9,064 (+1%) 9,644 (+0.3%)
Riverside-San Bernardino Co(s) 4,350,096 (-4,221) 33,207 6,649 6,184 2,428 (+0.6%) 39,391 (+0.5%)
San Jose Co. 1,894,388 (-7,029) 476 30,315 104 23,286 (+1%) 580
San Francisco-Oakland Co(s) 4,455,560 1,736 17,103 12,294 36,753 14,030 (+6%) 53,856 (+1%)
Total California 21,949,447 (-122,534) 65,221 118,961 69,744 26,742 (+0.2%) 135,545 (+0.3%)


Austin TX1,834,303 36,045 30,339 9,536 2,161 45,581 (+2.5%) 32,500 (+1.5%)
Dallas Fort Worth 6,700,991 9,745 88,765 20,652 22,153 30,397 (+1%) 110,918 (+1%)
Houston TX 6,177,035 20,101 50,554 42,096 12,295 62,197 (N/A) 62,849 (N/A)
San Antonio TX 2,234,003 30,130 16,031 7,417 604 37,547 (+1.5%) 16,635 (+1%)
Total Texas 16,946,332 96,021 185,689 75,701 37,213 171,722 (+1.6%) 222,902 (+1.1%)


Total Major Metro Areas (-163,363) 285,728 798,480 588,593 635,117 874,321

Data extracted from Wendell Cox, “Texas Cities Lead Population Growth.”

Appendix 2, Definitions:

Net Domestic Migration: The difference between domestic in-migration to an area and domestic out-migration from the same area during a specified time period. Domestic in- and out-migration consist of moves where both the origin and the destination are within the United States (excluding Puerto Rico). The net domestic migration rate expresses net domestic migration during a specified time period as a proportion of an area’s population at the midpoint of the time period. Rates are expressed per 1,000 population.

Net International Migration: Any change of residence across the borders of the United States (50 states and District of Columbia). The estimates of net international migration are made up of four sub-components:

  1. Net international migration of the international born;
  2. Net migration between the United States and Puerto Rico;
  3. Net migration of natives to and from the United States; and
  4. Net movement of the Armed Forces population between the United States and overseas. The international migration rate expresses net international migration during a specified time period as a proportion of an area’s population at the midpoint of the time period. Rates are expressed per 1,000 population.


Write a comment
  1. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 28 May, 2013, 15:13

    Though the data is horrible (through no fault of Wayne’s), the conclusions are accurate.

    Take Appendix I. The LA metro area includes only two counties – LA and Orange. And LA County (core) represents over 75% of the total. As such, cities such as Santa Clarita, Calabasas and Palmdale would be lumped in with “core”. So it’s hard to draw many conclusions between core-suburban from that example. And I have no idea what to make of Riv-SB metro.

    Would love to see data at a more granular level.

    Reply this comment
  2. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 28 May, 2013, 15:22

    The “Core City” data does not reflect the regional metropolitan area. It reflects the growth boundary of an older city as it was in 1940. Orange County would not have been included in the Los Angeles city core in 1940. Neither would Santa Clarita.

    Obviously, this does not consider data at the neighborhood level. But the overall trend appears accurate.

    Thank you for your feedback and astute comment.

    Reply this comment
    • Ron
      Ron 30 November, 2015, 12:02

      Maybe the “Core city” used were the City Limits which would include annexations?

      Reply this comment
  3. Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do!
    Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do! 28 May, 2013, 15:26

    Ever been to Texas? Yikes– Glad I live here where at least we have the Coastal Act!

    Reply this comment
  4. Tax Target
    Tax Target 28 May, 2013, 15:28

    Will it make a difference to see more data? In my judgment Kalifornsky is in deep Bandini. There is no discernible reason to believe that the present course is reversible. Kalifornsky is in a veritable death-spiral because of its profligate spending and legislature addicted to the idea of taxing the “wealthy”, whoever they are….

    Well those folks, the “wealthy”, have figured out it is
    time to leave Dodge. Good luck getting the tax revenues out of those immigrants!

    Reply this comment
  5. Red in a Blue state
    Red in a Blue state 28 May, 2013, 19:36

    CBS News headlined a report with “Consumer confidence up, housing prices up, hiring is up. It looks like the economy is turning round” and when the story ran, IT WAS ALL ABOUT TEXAS! Apparently, the bonanza wrought by small govt principles in TX can be extrapolated to glory days for the Obama Nation.

    Reply this comment
  6. Queeg
    Queeg 28 May, 2013, 20:15

    What crap!

    Benny is printing money and creating a bubble far in excess of the dot com nightmare or S&L crisis…..

    Reply this comment
  7. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 29 May, 2013, 08:06

    Wayne….thx…..but my comment wasn’t THAT astute…….

    But I read Cox’ work over at Kotkin’s NewGeography a few days ago. (It, as well as the ‘Dog, are two of my Top-10 go-to sites.) He tries to accurately measure suburban-core behavior while grappling with Census Bureau definitions and limitations (i.e. county-level data). And not to hone too fine a point, but in the example I highlighted, Orange COUNTY would have NOT been included in core COUNTY, of course, but Santa Clarita certainly would, as would all cities within LA County.

    Reply this comment
  8. us citizen
    us citizen 29 May, 2013, 08:56

    Have you seen inner Los Angeles lately?

    Reply this comment
  9. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 29 May, 2013, 09:13

    Ted: Glad you can afford to live here. I can’t. Thanks to the Coastal Act you love, housing is way too expensive. Taxes also are way too high. But I stay here because of my friends; and my job is to write about California. Like almost everybody I know in the California “middle class” — really the high end of the lower class — I barely scrape by and dream of leaving.

    — John Seiler

    Reply this comment
  10. Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do!
    Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do! 29 May, 2013, 10:51

    Sorry to hear that John.

    i don’t think thatthe coastal act is your problem. In any case, we only have one coast to steward while we are alive and the act gives us some pretty good tools. (God Bless you Peter D…).

    Reply this comment
    • CalWatchdog
      CalWatchdog Author 29 May, 2013, 13:40

      Ted: Reduce supply and cost must rise. It’s Econ. 101.

      Your “pretty good tools” are socialist suppression of property rights, benefiting only a few rich people and environmentalists (usually the same people) along the coast, of whom one was the late Peter Douglas. The rest of us suffer in Kleenex-box sized apartments, albeit with great weather, or leave.

      — John Seiler

      Reply this comment
  11. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 29 May, 2013, 13:10

    Ted – Coastal is not the ENTIRE problem, but surely part of it. Add in development impact fees, highly regulated local and regional planning, and rampant slumminess that make decent cities and neighborhood few and far between.

    Consider…..I have a friend who lives in Fullerton, a mile west of downtown at the foot of the Fullerton hills. It’s a wonderful neighborhood. But proceed south on Euclid a half mile, beyond the train tracks, and the neighborhood turns cheesy. Cross the 91 and it becomes horrid.

    Take a look at a map of Orange County. Look at the center of the county, roughly bound, in counter-clockwise fashion, by the 405, 55, 91, and 605. Apart from a few outposts like Orange, do you see anywhere in that circle you would contemplate actually living? Everything within that circle is a toilet…..and that’s basically half of Orange County! (I’m talking to YOU Anaheim, and Santa Ana, and Westminister, and Stanton, and Garden Grove….)

    And don’t even get me started on how much of LA County is a complete s-hole.

    Reply this comment
  12. Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do!
    Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do! 29 May, 2013, 13:40

    The Coastal Act has what to do with why John “barely scrapes by”????

    Yeah– right— I am still waiting for any evidence….zzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

    Reply this comment
  13. Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do!
    Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do! 29 May, 2013, 13:46

    John— If you live in a Kleenex ™ sized apartment and are suffering as you say, you might look inward about the choices you’ve made with your life.
    Plenty of folks are making it John. Not too sure what your point is and how that relates to the coastal act.

    Is THIS your argument?– If we didn’t have the act, we would not have to Commission or the process and we could build whatever not-to-code or unsustainible crap we wanted, therefore there would be more cheesey development, therefore supply would be up and therefore cheaper housing?

    I hope that’s only my straw man and not the way you truly think.

    Reply this comment
  14. Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do!
    Steele, Ted, When only the very best will do! 29 May, 2013, 14:02

    John– on the other hand re the choices you’ve made— I should add this— the world does need writers and often they are underpaid–and I should not have, but I assume you’re able to work and have the same chances along the way as most folks–Those assumptions were not too clever on my part…..I know people struggle–but the cost of living is high here for a variety of reasons–miost of which have niothing to do with Peter D’s creativity.

    Reply this comment

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