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Largest Cities Reflect Shift to West, 1990 Census Finds : Population: Los Angeles beats out Chicago as No. 2 in U.S. California lists 18 of 29 places reaching 100,000.


Six of the nation's 10 largest cities are now west of the Mississippi River, and most of the 29 cities to reach a population of 100,000 in the last decade are California suburbs, according to final 1990 census data released Friday.

With the news that the country's westward shift has enlarged the suburbs and shuffled the roster of major cities, the Census Bureau also confirmed for the first time that Los Angeles--up half a million people since 1980, to nearly 3.5 million--is the nation's second-largest city.

Chicago, which had been No. 2, was among several cities in the East and Midwest to slip in population. Chicago dropped below 3 million people for the first time since the 1930 census, and in the past 40 years it has lost 837,000 people--23% of its populace.

New York, meanwhile, remained No. 1 and grew by a quarter-million people to 7.3 million, reversing a decline that began in the 1970s.

The trend toward population loss plagued many older cities in the East and Midwest in the 1980s, but not in California and the rest of the Sun Belt West.

Houston edged past Philadelphia to become the fourth-largest city. San Diego jumped to sixth place in this census, ahead of Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio. Baltimore, which had been in 10th place, slipped off the list.

Friday's figures are the last in a series of three initial reports on the 1990 census. Details on ethnic minorities, education and other facets of the population will come later. The populations of the states were announced earlier and they showed that California would gain seven seats in Congress, which would make it the first state to have more than 50 elected representatives.

The figures released this week normally would have been considered final, but this year's results await a ruling on lawsuits filed by a number of large cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The suits allege that the Census Bureau fails to count many individuals, especially the poor and members of minority groups who may be wary of participating in government surveys.

Critics have urged the Department of Commerce, which oversees the census, to make statistical adjustments to compensate for errors in the count. Yet some demographers doubt that such adjustments would make the census more accurate.

In Friday's numbers, the fastest-growing American city of 100,000 or more is Mesa, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix that swelled by 89% in the 1980s. In California, 42 smaller towns and cities saw faster growth in the decade, and 18 places here crossed the 100,000 threshold to rank as medium-sized American cities.

At the end of the decade, 195 American cities were home to more than 100,000 people, a list that now includes suburbs such as Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Santa Rosa that may not be familiar names outside California.

Most of the new cities do not resemble the traditional cities of the past. There is usually no Main Street, but almost invariably a freeway at the heart of the city. Sometimes there are no department stores or shopping malls, and often no ethnic minority neighborhoods.

Some of the cities are so new that they were not incorporated before the 1980 census.

Santa Clarita, one of the new 100,000-person cities, was a collection of unconnected subdivisions in the canyons north of Los Angeles in the last census. Moreno Valley, another example, was a mostly empty piece of desert east of Riverside.

These suburbs had the most spectacular population rise, but the census figures show that growth in California in the 1980s was a widespread phenomenon, altering the inland deserts and Sierra foothills along with the San Joaquin Valley and the older cities.

Every county in the state gained population in the 1980s. Riverside County, which grew by 76%, was the fastest-growing, followed by its Inland Empire neighbor, San Bernardino County, which grew by 58%.

The next 15 counties in growth ranking were north of the Tehachapi Mountains that commonly divide Southern California from the rest of the state. Amador County, in the Sierra Nevada east of Sacramento, was the fastest-growing Northern California county.

The state has eight counties with a population of more than 1 million, compared to five counties in the last census. Southern California has five: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside.

Also, nearly all of the 456 cities in California grew in some measure during the 1980s. Three dozen of them more than doubled in size, led by Temecula and Palmdale.

The new data also confirms that San Jose, once a farming outpost, has surpassed San Francisco to become the largest city in Northern California and the third most populous in the state, behind Los Angeles and San Diego.

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