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November 19, 2015

PSRC: Seattle could top San Francisco's population by 2040

Journal Staff Reporter

The population of Seattle could top San Francisco's by 2040.

The Puget Sound Regional Council predicts another 1 million people will live in the central Puget Sound region by 2040. PSRC Executive Director Josh Brown said at a NAIOP meeting yesterday that at least 160,000 of those new people will live in Seattle.

Data from the city of San Francisco and University of California San Francisco show San Francisco's population is slightly less than 850,000. Seattle estimates its population now is 662,400.


Central Puget Sound — loosely defined by PSRC as King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties — has about 3.9 million people today, and will grow to more than 4 million next year. By 2040, PSRC predicts the area will be home to more than 5 million.

The Growth Management Act requires much of that growth be in the largest population centers — with every city in the region taking a share — to avoid sprawl and preserve agricultural areas and forests.

Brown said the San Francisco Bay Area, where he worked as a real estate broker after graduating from University of California Berkley, has an “aspirational” strategy for handling growth but it lacks the GMA's teeth. Brown, who also served two terms as a Kitsap County commissioner, said the Bay Area's population today is about the same as when he lived there. Growth spurred by the continued success of Silicon Valley has spread out, creating a sprawling region.

PSRC is a long-range planning agency that works with cities and counties on economic development and transit. PSRC created the Vision 2040 plan to deal with growth.

All this population growth means more demand for housing.

“We will never be able to sustain the economic growth with reasonable housing costs in our region if we're not building housing,” Brown said.

But developers respond to market forces, Brown said, so construction won't always match up with population or income distribution. Cities around the region are wrestling with these issues, and the results can be seen in local policies like Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which seeks to create 50,000 new units — 20,000 of them affordable — over the next 10 years.

The booming economy and population growth also increase traffic congestion. Brown said a recent PSRC survey showed 47 percent of respondents said transportation and traffic were the biggest issues for them. No other issue got more than 10 percent.

Around the region, Brown said there are more than 500 transportation projects underway and expected to be completed in the next three years, representing a $6.4 billion investment.

Voters approved another $6.8 billion for transportation over the next 16 years. Several other votes — most notably the Sound Transit 3 package in 2016 — could mean another $20 billion for transportation.

The region would be better off if many of these projects had been built decades ago, Brown said, but better late than never.

“We know a million more folks are coming here,” Brown said. “We can kick the can down the road to future generations, or we can be bold, step up and move forward with the next stage of investments that we know we're going to need for the region.”

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