Editorial: Make room for 2 million more

A population bomb of some 2 million more residents will explode in the Bay Area during the next 30 years, drawn here by as many as 1.5 million new jobs. If this forecast turns out to be anything like reality, our region will finally be forced to either get serious about building vast amounts of high-density housing or adapt to a workforce that commutes hundreds of miles round-trip from the Central Valley.

These are among the dramatic shifts predicted in the authoritative new “Projections 2007” report from the Association of Bay Area Governments, the official regional planning council for San Francisco Bay cities and counties since 1961.

Other significant trends are that San Jose will continue to expand its population lead over San Francisco, with a total of 1.4 million residents by 2035. Meanwhile San Francisco will peak at 957,000, having grown only 2 percent between 2000 and 2005 while it was losing nearly 100,000 jobs.

Santa Clara County, encompassing San Jose and the bulk of Silicon Valley, is expected to add 493,000 new jobs for a total of 1.4 million by 2035. ABAG says San Francisco will add 280,000 jobs for a total of 833,000 in 30 years.

These projections led to a typically bombastic exchange of boasts last week as South Bay officials claimed the new figures showed the center of Bay Area economic power was moving their way, and San Francisco leaders countered The City would continue reigning as Northern California’s only world-class commercial and research center.

In San Mateo County, an 18 percent population growth of 39,700 new residents is projected. This is lower than the Bay Area’s overall 25 percent population expansion forecast. However, San Mateo County will also gain a hefty 185,000 of the Bay Area’s projected 1.5 million new jobs, thanks to renewed Peninsula growth in the Internet and biotech industries.

Another meaningful trend found by ABAG is the aging of the regional population, especially in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties. The median age of Bay Area residents will rise from 36.5 to 42.5 by 2035. And the local over-60 age group will triple in three decades becoming the second largest behind only 20-to-29-year-olds.

ABAG’s suggested remedies for the increasing pressures of a major regional population and job explosion are no different than what every Bay Area think-tank has been recommending for years — many more housing units at genuinely affordable prices, improved highway access and public transit, plus the resource-saving combination of higher-density housing adjacent to public transit and jobs.

But if the forecast is correct and the Bay Area will need to absorb two million new residents and 1.5 million new jobs over the next 30 years in order to maintain world-class competitiveness, then we all will have to get truly serious about making the necessary adaptations.

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