Growth Management Study

September 2001 - June 2009


Note: This project was active at CLOSUP from 2001 to 2006. The information below is for archival purposes.

As part of a larger project on regional governance, CLOSUP conducted a web-based survey in 2002 and 2003 of cities' growth management policies and practices across the state of California. All California cities were asked to participate in the survey, which examined not only the types of growth management tools in use, but also the history of the policies and their implementation, local political support or resistance to development, mechanisms for modification of the policies, potential interactions between policies, and other related issues. The survey and larger study were designed to provide a clearer view of how cities are dealing with the complex problems created by population growth.


Data were collected through early 2003 via mail and web-based questionnaires. Approximately 61% of California's 475 cities completed the survey. Preliminary results of this study are available in the CLOSUP Policy Report Growth Management Policy in California Communities.

The report examines which kinds of cities adopt urban growth boundaries (UGBs), how these boundaries fit into local growth management strategies or regimes, and how UGBs impact housing prices, population growth, and density. This study generated a number of key insights. First, an analysis of the characteristics of UGB-adopting communities reveals that California cities with growth boundaries tend to be rural or suburban and located in the areas of the state rich in agricultural land – primarily the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Area. Additionally, and contrary to the claims of many growth boundary critics, cities with growth boundaries are not significantly different from other cities in terms of their economic and demographic characteristics. In fact, UGB-adopting communities are, on average, slightly poorer and at least as racially diverse as their counterparts without growth boundaries.

Second, the surveys reveal that most cities with growth boundaries have also adopted policies aimed at mitigating many of the possible negative consequences of UGBs, such as higher housing prices and overcrowding. The majority of communities with growth boundaries require or provide financial incentives for affordable housing, open space preservation, infill and mixed-use development, and the satisfaction of traffi c standards. On the other hand, very few of these communities have enacted policies that may exacerbate housing affordability and overcrowding problems. Thus, it appears that California communities are using UGBs as one component of a broader growth management regime.

Finally, the analysis demonstrates that growth boundaries do affect development patterns and housing prices in the communities that adopt them. During the ten years between 1990 and 2000, cities with UGBs grew at a slower rate than other California communities, in terms of both their total population and land area. Additionally, over this same period, housing prices in UGB-adopting communities grew at a much faster rate – as much as 14 percent higher – than they did in communities without growth boundaries.