Growing pains: Folsom’s population has risen at more than triple the rate of Sacramento’s since ‘South of 50’ broke ground  

Folsom's Sutter Street at sunset. Photograph by Scott Thomas Anderson

By Jessica Shona-Stewart

Since Folsom voted to annex 3,500 acres of land in 2004, the city has grown dramatically – and many long-time residents are unhappy about it, saying it creates traffic problems and environmental concerns.

After a unanimous vote by city leaders 20 years ago, Measure W was passed to annex the land  between Highway 50, White Rock Rd., Prairie City Rd. and the El Dorado County line. This area had been open cattle range for generations. Now it’s a span of suburban sprawl.

Mike Kozlowski, Folsom’s mayor, said that while the text of Measure W has not changed, the pace at which it was implemented hastened significantly. The city of Folsom is growing fast.

The city issued permits for about 5,500 housing units from 2018 through 2023, the latest census data show. Folsom is home to about 3.6% of the four-county Sacramento metro area’s residents but it was responsible for about 8.7% of the building permits issued during that period.

The city’s population grew by 7,900, or 10%, from 2018 through 2023, according to state population estimates. By comparison, the Sacramento metro area’s population grew by about 3% during that period.

“The only thing that’s changed is the pace at which some of the construction happened, which had accelerated in the time around before and after COVID,” Kozlowski said. “There were general economic factors that drove that, like relatively low-interest rates.”

One primary concern regarding Measure W when it was originally passed was the ability to maintain water resources for a growing population.

Kozlowski said the city possesses enough water rights for the American River and that there is no need for concern. However, conservation efforts will be necessary if there are future droughts.

“(Folsom) and the El Dorado Irrigation district have the only two straws in Folsom Lake. So, unless it goes completely dry, we’ll always have the water we need,” Kozlowski argued.  

Another growing issue in the city is traffic congestion, predominantly seen on the other side of Highway 50 on East Bidwell Street.

Long-term Folsom resident Chanel Arfa said traffic affects her greatly amid the housing boom.

“The traffic from trying to get from one place to another has increased horribly, especially during specific times of the day,” Arfa noted.

Road congestion has also greatly affected commute times, with going “down the street” becoming a time-consuming task.

The average, one-way commute time in Folsom was about 26 minutes from 2018 through 2022, up by about a minute from a decade earlier, census data show. The census data is based on a population survey and the increase in commute times was within the margin of error.

One resident stated how the traffic had changed her usual gym routine from being consistent to non-existent.

“I got tired of going down East Bidwell and dealing with traffic after a 45-minute commute to and from work,” long-term Folsom resident Karen Marchi-Wagner said.

Councilwoman and previous mayor Sarah Aquino acknowledged that traffic has been an ongoing challenge, but continuous efforts have been made to preserve Folsom and its culture.

“When people ask me what I like about Folsom, I always tell them we have big city amenities but have a small-town feel,” Aquino said.

Aquino emphasized that maintaining this “feel” will be a continuous challenge as the city grows.

“All we can do is make sure that it looks and feels like it’s always been a part of Folsom, but it doesn’t mean we have to continue to expand,” Aquino observed.

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