First published in the Sept. 17 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
South Pasadena’s population grew by more than 5% from 2010-2020, a rate nearly one percentage point higher than Los Angeles County as a whole.
According to the U.S. Census results from data collected last year, the city’s population rose from a reported 25,619 residents in 2010 to 26,943 in 2020, representing a gain of 5.17%. The city’s population density posted a fairly similar gain, rising 5.06% from having 7,523 people per square mile in 2010 to 7,904 people per square mile as of last year.
The U.S. Census Bureau has not made its full results widely available yet, but has released the raw data to certain firms and outlets. The Associated Press has compiled this data and released it to media outlets through its Big Local News platform. Data was collected in April 2020, meaning it does not reflect that more than 660,000 Americans have died due to complications from the coronavirus.
Broken down by demographic, South Pasadena saw growth in its Hispanic population by 17.14% (4,767 to 5,584) and Asian population by 15.57% (7,904 to 9,135). The city’s white and Black population decreased by 13.3% (11,179 to 9,692) and 13.32% (736 to 638), respectively. Meanwhile, South Pasadena’s residents identifying as two or more races rose significantly — from 920 to 1,685, a growth of 83.15%.
Census data tends to hold a high-profile usage nationally for the redrawing of congressional districts, but on a regional and local level, population trends affect policy decisions with regard to land use planning and public services, such as schools and public transportation.
“City staff utilizes the Census data and America Communities Survey on a regular basis to analyze and project trends,” said Margaret Lin, the city’s interim director of planning and community development, in an email. “In addition, many regional organizations utilize the same data for their analysis and assumptions for future growth.”
In California, those projections are especially significant as governments wrestle with the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA, that dictates the amount of housing a city should, in theory, be able to allow through its zoning policies. In South Pasadena, the actual housing stock budged very little from 2010-2020 — the Census reports that housing units grew from 11,118 to 11,146, just 0.25%.
Given growing political pressure from Sacramento to build, Lin said she felt the city government in recent years has taken a “pro-active” approach to housing construction, most recently by enacting an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance that requires multi-family developments to offer at least 20% of their stock at affordable rates.
“In addition, the City Council adopted a new Accessory Dwelling Units ordinance to provide objective standards to help streamline the process and comply with state ADU laws,” Lin said. “Furthermore, the Planning and Community Development Department has seen a steady increase in the number of ADU applications and anticipates that this increase will continue over the next decade.”
Lin contended that density housing is not limited to massive apartment or condo complexes and emphasized that local planning involves threading a needle of allowing development within the desired character of a city. The city may have additional opportunities to address new housing thanks to recent legislation dictating the terms of Caltrans offloading the homes in South Pasadena the agency acquired while it planned to tunnel the 710 Freeway to the 210.
“Increased density does not always take on the appearance of a large multi-family residential development,” Lin said. “Developments such as ADUs or in-fill projects can increase density but maintain the character of a city. While the housing crisis presents a challenge for cities to be able to accommodate additional housing units; it is also an opportunity to develop more creative ways of providing housing for our community.”
Another area of growth for South Pasadena has been in its youth. Since 2010, residents age 18 and younger have grown from 5,998 to 6,236, a gain of 3.97%. This number tracks generally with the South Pasadena Unified School District’s enrollment this past decade, which started at 4,581 in 2010 and was at 4,718 in 2020. Enrollment has hovered in the 4,700 range since 2012 and reached a height of 4,860 in 2019, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Geoff Yantz explained that this does not translate into a linear growth across grade levels.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve lost about 120 elementary students, but our high school and middle schools are adding students,” Yantz said in a recent phone interview. “There are all kinds of variables that go into it, and some are more influential than others.”
Yantz said declining birthrates nationwide and an increasingly expensive housing market are likely the two principal causes for this trend.
“If you start digging into that, we’re at the lowest in 40 years,” he said of national birthrates. “That has more of an effect, as does real estate values. Those are the biggest influencers for enrollment. It’s harder for younger families to move into South Pas. As values go up, you’ll see less families move in, or smaller families — families with fewer children.”
Still, the superintendent remained curious whether that could change by the time the next census is collected in 2030. SPUSD in recent years has invested a significant amount of money in revamping existing facilities or constructing new ones, and the city itself is focused on bolstering its small town “mom and pop” atmosphere and livability moving forward. Yantz also brought up that the RHNA is asking the city to accommodate a potentially large amount of housing for its updated housing element.
“Long-term, this could pose some challenges,” he said. “If enrollment continues to increase — if you see another decade of 300 or 400 more kids — we would be challenged by that. And that depends, are they all high school, middle school, elementary school, or are they all a few kids in each grade level?”
Various state laws govern class sizes, which can translate into building space issues as well as the need to add staffing. State funding for small, high-performing districts like SPUSD is less on a per-pupil basis than larger districts like Los Angeles Unified, which magnifies the impact of hiring another teacher or two — locally passed parcel taxes or large educational fundraising campaigns are often utilized to help those small districts bridge funding gaps to achieve smaller class sizes.
Additionally, Sacramento has recently passed legislation mandating universal transitional kindergarten as a public school offering. The state aims to have all its 4-year-olds enrolled in TK classes by the 2025-26 school year.
“We have yet to receive a great deal of clarity from the state on what that all means,” Yantz said. “We have general ideas and information, but there are a number of districts that are not going to be abwle to accommodate it. Operational costs have a greater significance for districts like South Pasadena than it does other districts.”