Watsonville's population ballooned in the past decade, U.S. census data released Tuesday afternoon showed.
The city grew from 44,265 residents in 2000 to 51,199 last year, a 15.7 percent increase.
The nearly 7,000-person bump in population was by far the largest in Santa Cruz County, but not quite enough to become the largest city in county, a change some local leaders had predicted for months. Santa Cruz, the county seat, retained that status with a population of 59,946 (up about 5,500 in the 10 years).
The two other cities in the county saw modest changes: Scotts Valley's population increased by about 200, while Capitola's dropped by 115, the data showed. Countywide, the region's population grew by 6,780.
One-third of Watsonville is younger than 18 years old, making the city the most youthful in the county. By comparison, about 24 percent of the county's population is in that age range, and in Santa Cruz, less than 14 percent are under 18.
Another significant change was the makeup of Watsonville residents: The city today is 81 percent Latino, up from 75 percent in 2000. Just below 18 percent of residents are white and about 3 percent are Asian, the data showed.
"We are a minority-majority community," Watsonville Mayor Daniel Dodge said. "… We are the future of California."
At the state level, California appears to be moving toward the middle—at least when it comes to the place they call home.
According to the census figures, the state’s population rose 10 percent from April 2000 to April 2010.
The Golden State grew from 33.8 million residents to 37.2 million resident during that decade, the census reported. Most of that growth appears to have come in the counties that span the middle of the state.
Riverside County had the biggest jump, increasing 41 percent from 2000-10. The city of Beaumont in that county leaped 224 percent, from 11,384 to 36,887 people.
Next was Placer County with a 40 percent jump. The city of Lincoln skyrocketed 282 percent, from 11,205 to 42,819 people.
Other counties that grew more than 20 percent included Imperial, Kern, Madera, Merced and Tulare.
Los Angeles County’s population edged up 3 percent. San Francisco County’s population also rose 3 percent, while San Diego County jumped 10 percent.
The only counties that saw population decreases were three small regions in the Sierra Nevada. They were Alpine County (down 3 percent), Plumas County (down 4 percent) and Sierra County (down 9 percent).
But overall, population growth for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area slowed to 5.4 percent, which puts the region at risk of losing a congressional seat. A new statewide redistricting commission is using 2010 census figures to consider redrawing political boundaries.
Associate Regional Editor David Mills contributed to this story.