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Ceres gains 316 more residents
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Ceres' population was 45,854 as of Jan. 1, 2012, according to estimates released May 1 by the California Department of Finance. That was a 0.7 percent increase, tying with that of Riverbank and incorporated Stanislaus County.

The city grew from 45,538 to 45,854 residents in 2011.

Ceres now ranks as the 184th largest city in California, sandwiched between Azusa and San Luis Obispo in numbers.

Ceres remains the third largest city in Stanislaus County in population. Modesto rates as the largest and 18th largest in California at 203,085. Turlock is now 69,370. Riverbank is home to 22,924, Oakdale has 20,947 residents, Patterson has 20,634 residents, Newman has 10,567, Waterford has 8,533 residents and Hughson has 6,799 residents.

Locally, Hughson experienced the greatest percentage of growth, 1.7 percent, because of new housing.

Patterson experienced the smallest growth spurt at 0.6 percent.

Manteca was the fastest growing city in the Northern San Joaquin Valley that includes the counties of Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin. Lathrop was the second fastest growing city in the three-county region tied with Hughson in Stanislaus County for a 1.7 percent gain. Lathrop added 409 residents to tally 18,908 at the start of 2012. Hughson has 6,977 residents.

Manteca for the past three years has topped the entire Northern San Joaquin Valley with new housing starts. The city's 300 plus annual housing starts has been more that every other jurisdiction in the county combined.

Hughson is one of the few cities in Stanislaus County where residential building has taken place. Fontana Ranch subdivision is under construction near Samaritan Village in east Hughson while Florsheim Home's Valley Glen subdivision is being constructed in west Hughson.

"In calendar year 2011 I believe we had 34 new houses built," said Tom Clark, director of Community Development for the city of Hughson. "For these times, it's not bad.

The city also has approved tentative subdivision maps for about 100 homes in two housing projects on Euclid Avenue. Another 50 or so homes await construction as part of the Feather Glen subdivision off of Seventh Street.

With Ceres only issuing one building permit in 2010 and one in 2011, Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra said the increase in Ceres' numbers "is definitely not coming from new development." He suspects the jump in population numbers is more about the birth rate or families taking in displaced relatives.

"Unfortunately we'd like to have a growth rate larger than 0.6 percent," said Vierra, who as a civil engineer is tuned into the development community.

Even with developers planning the massive 960-acre West Landing annexation and master plan on Ceres' west side, Vierra said it could take decades to build the estimated 2,325 single-family homes.

Vierra said it could be years before Ceres sees a return the the 2005 level of building permit activity of 150 to 160 per year.

"I don't see that happening for a long time," said Vierra. "I think we're talking three to four years out for any real significant pick-up."

Developers currently can't build homes and sell at a return of 8 to 10 percent for their investment with the replete availability of cheaper foreclosed or short-saled homes.

"The sooner we can get through the foreclosures then the faster we get the housing industry back in business and all the ancillary businesses such as the Home Depots and the Lowe's."

Until the economy and job picture improves, many will be skittish about buying new homes given "concerns about job security," said Vierra.

The Bay Area has seen some pick-up in engineering services.

"Things will have to heat up for people to look back at the Valley as an affordable alternative."

Building has been so slow in Ceres that the council looked at taking back building inspection services from the county with which it contracts. Despite a lack of business, the city still has to pay a percentage of the building inspector salary, he said. Ultimately the council decided against going back to in-house inspection services.

California's population increased to 37,678,563 for a 0.7 annual growth rate.

Los Angeles remained the state's largest city at 3,825,297 residents followed by San Diego at 1,321,315, and San Jose at 971,372.

The smallest city in California is that of Vernon in Los Angeles County with a population of 120.

The Finance Department estimates populations of the cities in the state since many revenue formulas as based on per capita.