A factoid: Between 2010 and 2020, San Joaquin County grew more than twice as fast as the state average, 14% compared to about 6%.

When I tweeted this, an East Bay activist named Alfred Twu came back with the following:

“It is likely that by 2030, San Joaquin County will have more people than San Francisco County.  Will be one of the main centers of NorCal!”

Twu is right. San Joaquin County’s population of 789,410 is closing in on San Francisco’s 815,201.

Especially given the trend: San Francisco hemorrhaged upwards of 60,000 residents between April 2020 and July 2021 (US Census), losing 6.7% of its population.

What’s driving San Joaquin County’s growth? What impact is it having on the county and Stockton?

County growth’s primary driver hasn’t changed for 30 years: the crazy cost of Bay Area housing. The median SF home costs almost $1.2 million; here, $368,000.

San Francisco rents are higher, too.

Some argue that SF’s policies drive people out, too. A new book, “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities” argues that “The real problem is an ideology that designates some people, by identity or experience, as victims entitled to destructive behaviors.”

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Whatever the case, Bay Area out-migration swells San Joaquin’s population. By some rankings, Lathrop is now the second-fastest growing city in California.

Lathrop also shows how San Francisco’s centrifugal (pushing people away) housing and centripidal (pulling people closer) jobs have morphed parts of San Joaquin County.

“Lathrop is not developing as the traditional urban form where the growing economy is built around an urban center and spreads out,” said Jeffrey Michael, director of public policy programs and professor of public policy at McGeorge School of Law.

Instead, Lathrop is a suburb “connected to an urban center that’s an hour drive away,” Michael said. “It definitely is a bit of a different setup.”

So many Tesla workers live in Lathrop that the company transports workers from there to its Fremont plant in buses.

Similar impact can be observed in south-county cities of Ripon, Tracy, Manteca, and Mountain House: more people, more bedroom, more money, more blue.

And that is old news. Newer is how San Francisco’s push/pull has helped forge the counties of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced into an unheralded region.

Michael calls it the Northern San Joaquin Valley (NSJV). Thousands commute between these economically intertwined counties. Others commute over the Altamont.

“Between 2012 to 2019, we found that NSJV commuters to the Bay Area increased by 59% with over 36,000 more commuters in 2019 than 2012,” says a 2021 study from University of the Pacific’s Center for Business and Policy Research.

This marks a region separate from those around Fresno and Bakersfield which Stockton is usually lumped in with.

We’re our own thing.

What’s going on is both regional and mega-regional integration. Recognizing it dispels the notion many local leaders cherished 30 years ago that some major Silicon Valley corporations would transplant here and revolutionize the economy (Spanos Park West, for instance, was originally designed as a tech park).

Far more likely is that San Joaquin County will continue to incrementally strengthen its economic ties with Stanislaus and Merced regionally and with the Bay Area.

Goodbye, exurb. “That creates as set of opportunities,” Michael said. “But it also results in higher costs of living.”

Stockton City Manager Harry Black (Courtesy photo)

San Joaquin County’s growth has other impacts, too. Examples:

  • Growth, tight finances, and a “silver tsunami” of city employees retiring with costly pensions, has caused Stockton’s city government to be understaffed.

“While the City’s population has grown 9% over the last 10 years, service levels have had only minimal increases and staffing levels are still below pre-Great Recession levels (FY 2008-09 authorized positions),” City Manager Harry Black wrote in his FY 2022-23 budget message.

Black mentioned the Fire Department in particular. “Through the years I think our Fire Department has not been focused on sufficiently,” he said. “They’re still getting the job done. But it’s stretching them very far.”

And money is only part of the problem. The other part is the tight labor market, Black said, requiring the city to both find the money and compete for workers. “So the focus should be less on what the (staffing) number is but whether we can we leverage our budget process in terms of competing in a scarce labor market,” Black said.

  • Political districts must be redrawn. The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors’, for instance. Manteca finally became the big dog in a supervisorial district; the next supervisor will almost certainly come from there, not Stockton as before.

In terms of national party affiliation, Tracy has evolved, thanks to Bay Area transplants, from red to purple and is trending blue.

  • The increased demand for housing plus the inadequate supply has caused housing prices to go up and up.

“People are doubling and tripling up in existing households It’s a sad commentary,” said Eric Parfrey, a Sierra Club housing activist.

  • Traffic is heavier. The number of cars taking I-580 over the Altamont spiked from 143,000 in 2013 to 176,000 in 2020, according to CalTrans—33,000 cars a day. All area highways show more traffic.
  • Stockton leap-frogged Riverside and Santa Ana to become the 11th– largest city in California. It may crack the Top 10 by decade’s end. While evolving as part of something bigger.

Michael Fitzgerald is Stocktonia’s investigative columnist. His column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: mfitzgeraldstockton@gmail.com.

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  1. Interesting and informative. As someone who’s been making that commute for 30+ years, I definitely feel it.
    Really appreciating you, Mike Fitzgerald.

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