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Growth Forecasts

Series 13: 2050 Regional Growth Forecast

On October 15, 2013, the Series 13: 2050 Regional Growth Forecast was accepted by the SANDAG Board of Directors for planning purposes. This forecast serves as the foundation for San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan and other planning documents (e.g., water, general plans) across the region. This summary provides an overview of the regional demographic, economic, and housing trends expected over the next four decades for the San Diego region.

Overview of Forecasted Growth

SANDAG projects the region’s population will grow by nearly one million people by 2050. This forecast is consistent with previous expectations although future growth rates have been reduced due to increased domestic migration out of the region. The growth in population will drive job growth and housing demand within the region – adding nearly 500,000 jobs and more than 330,000 housing units by 2050.

Much of the region’s growth will be driven by natural increase, total births minus deaths. Longer life expectancies will contribute to the aging population seen in the outer years of the forecast, while the trends of increased deaths (as a result of the older population) and net out-migration will factor into the slower growth rates anticipated in the future. By 2050 it is expected that nearly 20 percent of the population will be ages 65 and over, compared with just 12 percent today.
In terms of the race and ethnic composition of the region, significant changes are on the horizon. The 2010 census revealed San Diego to now be a majority-minority region - meaning no single race or ethnic group comprises more than 50 percent of the total population. In 2010 the two dominant race and ethnic groups were non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics, accounting for 48 percent and 32 percent of the region’s total population, respectively. By 2050, however, it is expected that Hispanics will account for over 46 percent of the total population while the non-Hispanic White population will decline to approximately 30 percent. The Asian population is expected to increase to 15 percent; up from 11 percent in 2010. Non-Hispanic blacks, two or more races, and “other” groups each comprise less than 5 percent of the total population today and are expected to remain relatively unchanged out to 2050.

Changing Local Plans

This forecast represents a continuing trend in the San Diego region to provide more housing and job opportunities in the existing urbanized areas of the region. Since 1999, more than three quarters of the 19 jurisdictions have made or are in the process of making significant updates to their general plans. In 1999, SANDAG projected 21 percent of future housing growth would occur in the unincorporated areas of the county under the local general plans at the time. Today, SANDAG expects 17 percent of growth to occur in the unincorporated areas and much of that is focused in existing villages such as Lakeside, Valley Center, Ramona, and Alpine. As a result of these updates, SANDAG has identified sufficient housing opportunities in the existing general plans for the first time in nearly two decades.

The forecasted growth also reflects more sustainable general plans from the local jurisdictions. At the turn of the century, about 90 percent of vacant residential land in the cities was planned for single family use. The Series 13 Forecast shows 84 percent of housing growth by 2050 being multifamily. Local and regional conservation programs also continue to protect more of San Diego’s sensitive lands. Currently, over 50 percent of the region is preserved as open space, parks, or habitat, and SANDAG forecasts that an additional 20,000 acres will be preserved by 2050.

General Intensification of Existing Uses

As a result of changing local plans, SANDAG forecasts a general intensification of existing land uses within urban communities and along key transportation corridors. For example, National City’s general plan update results in opportunities for over 10,000 additional multifamily units near the Blue Line Trolley and planned trolley connecting San Ysidro and UTC via National City. San Marcos has drafted Specific Plans for the San Marcos Creek and University districts adding mixed use developments near Cal State-San Marcos and the SPRINTER Rail Corridor. Finally, over half of the growth in new housing will occur in the city of San Diego. Downtown will continue to thrive over the next few decades and the growth will start to spill over into areas of Barrio Logan, Golden Hill, and Uptown communities.

SANDAG Forecasting Process

The SANDAG forecast is completed in two steps. The first is the development of a regional forecast of population, housing and jobs. The regional forecast establishes the framework for the next step, the subregional forecast. The regional forecast is developed by SANDAG with input from expert demographers, economists, developers, local planning directors, and natural resource managers. These experts review economic and demographic assumptions about fertility, migration, inflation, and other indicators. In addition to the traditional expert panel review SANDAG conducts, SANDAG also has reviewed the forecast with key stakeholders across the region including transportation, land use, and economic development advocates.

SANDAG uses its Demographic and Economic Forecasting Model (DEFM) to develop the regional forecast. DEFM was first developed to support the Series 4 forecast in the late 1970s. DEFM uses a standard demographic (i.e., cohort-survival) economic modeling technique to estimate future growth. Forecasts developed using DEFM have had strong accuracy; since Series 4 (1977), on average DEFM regional forecasts have been within 4 percent of observed population growth.

The DEFM results feed the subregional allocation models to develop city and community level forecasts. The Series 13 subregional forecast employs a new tool called the Production, Exchange, Consumption, and Allocation System (PECAS). This new model offers several enhancements beyond the subregional forecasting models used in prior forecasts by introducing economic conditions and return on investment calculations into the projections of development, redevelopment, and infill. PECAS, in addition to new data sources, continues to rely upon the land use plans, policies, and zoning ordinances of the 18 cities, the County of San Diego, and other land use authorities.
For the development of the subregional forecast, SANDAG staff works extensively with each jurisdiction to collect and verify detailed land use inputs down to the parcel level. The data collected includes information on remaining housing capacity, zoning, existing and planned land use, as well as constraints to development (steep slopes, habitat lands, floodplains, etc). In addition to providing land use information, each jurisdiction is asked to provide guidance on the most likely development patterns for their jurisdiction by 2050.

Project Manager

Rachel Cortes, Regional Models Analyst
Phone: (619) 699-0726, Email:

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or