Salton City, California

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Salton City
Location in Imperial County and the state of California
Location in Imperial County and the state of California
Salton City is located in the United States
Salton City
Salton City
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 33°17′55″N 115°57′22″W / 33.29861°N 115.95611°W / 33.29861; -115.95611Coordinates: 33°17′55″N 115°57′22″W / 33.29861°N 115.95611°W / 33.29861; -115.95611[1]
Country United States
State California
 • Total21.431 sq mi (55.506 km2)
 • Land21.431 sq mi (55.506 km2)
 • Water0 sq mi (0 km2)  0%
Elevation-125 ft (-38 m)
 • Total3,763
 • Density180/sq mi (68/km2)
Time zoneUTC-8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area code442/760
FIPS code06-64294
GNIS feature IDs1853413, 2409242

Salton City is a census-designated place (CDP) in Imperial County, California. The population was 3,763 at the 2010 census, up from 978 in 2000. It is the largest Imperial County development on the Salton coast. It is part of the El Centro, California Metropolitan Statistical Area. Although planned and developed as a large resort community with an extensive road, water, sewer and power grid capable of supporting 40,000 residents on 12,000 residential lots,[3] demand for property in Salton City fell drastically short of the planners' expectations. As of the 2010 census, 81% of the surveyed lots in Salton City remain undeveloped, and 38% of the habitable residences in Salton City are unoccupied,[4] giving it an eerie, mostly-abandoned appearance and leading some to call it a modern ghost town.[5][6][7]

The town was developed in the 1960s and established in 1958 primarily by M. Penn Phillips and the Holly Corporation, the Texas-based oil refiner and land developer.[8][9][10] It was intended to be a resort community on the Salton Sea, a saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, yet by 1965 limited development was achieved due to its isolation and lack of local employment opportunities and the downfall of the town began.[11]

In the 1970s, most of the buildings constructed along the shoreline, including the city's marina[8] were abandoned[12] due to rising sea elevation. In the 1980s, the Imperial Irrigation District took proactive water conservation measures to reduce the flow of unused canal water into the Salton Sea.[13] Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as salinity and suspected pollution levels in the Salton Sea increased, the attraction of the Salton Sea as a recreational destination diminished.[14] Most of the original tourist related structures fell during this time, including the Truckhaven Cafe, the Salton Bay Yacht Club hotel and restaurant, and the Holly House motel and restaurant (later renamed Desser House and then the Sundowner).

In the 2000s, development in Salton City began to rise as a result of the escalating California housing market. Cheap land and housing costs, improvements to Highway 86, and a casino opened by Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians attracted new residents.[15][16]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 21.1 square miles (55 km2), all land. This area makes Salton City the largest city or town in terms of land area in the Imperial Valley.

Salton City is located on relatively flat ground. Several washes flow from the mountains to the west creating small gorges where any flowing run-off will drain into the Salton Sea. The vegetation of the CDP consists of mostly sparse desert shrub; however, in developed areas a variety of palm trees as well as other deciduous trees survive. Salton City is positioned between the eastern slope of the Peninsular Ranges and the western coast of the Salton Sea.

Earthquakes are an extremely common occurrence around the Salton Sea, and in Salton City, due to dozens of fractured fault lines that run through Imperial County. Salton City is also mere miles from major, destructive fault lines, such as the Imperial Fault, The San Andreas Fault Line, and the San Jacinto Fault Zone. The Superstition Faults also pose a major risk to the area, as well as The Brawley Seismic Zone, which produces frequent, yet mostly, non-damaging, earthquake swarms. At certain times, this area can experience dozens of felt earthquakes in a time period lasting from one day to over one week. Most of the earthquakes are minor to moderate and pose no hazard due to strict seismic codes, however, this area is notorious for Earthquake Swarms, and other major seismic events, with more to come in the future. The scenario of "The Big One" begins at Bombay Beach where the southern terminus of the San Andreas transitions into the Brawley Seismic Zone, about ten miles across the Salton Sea from Salton City. Most residents are fully accustomed to minor and moderate earthquakes, but are prepared for a large one.

To the north of the CDP are Salton Sea Beach and Desert Shores. Salton City is approximately 50 miles from the Imperial County seat of El Centro and 110 and 115 miles respectively from the coastal San Diego County cities of Oceanside and San Diego.


This area has a large amount of sunshine throughout the year, due to the amount of descending high pressure aloft. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Salton City has a hot desert climate, abbreviated BWh on climate maps.[17] However, Salton City experiences its own microclimate due to the proximity of the warm lake waters. Humidity is significantly higher along the shore during the warmer months, from May through September. Its climate can mimic a Subtropical Climate at times, with exceptionally high dewpoints for an arid desert, but this typically happens for only a part of the day, or a few days in a row at the most. Once winds prevail from the northwest, the climate is similar to other areas in Imperial County, which are not along the sea. Salton City itself is extraordinarily dry, and has not measured 1" of rain since September 2016. Any rain is rare, and even moderate rain can cause road closures, roads washed out, and other damage. This area is not equipped to handle any rainfall.

Climate data for Salton City, CA
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 96
Average high °F (°C) 67.8
Average low °F (°C) 39.4
Record low °F (°C) 22
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.43


Four unfinished and abandoned houses in Salton City, CA on the west shore of Salton Sea.

Despite a long period of population decline, the population of Salton City has been rapidly increasing in recent years. This is due to migrants from inside the US, and immigrants from Mexico.

Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 20174,784[18]27.1%
U.S. Decennial Census[19]


Part of the road system laid out in Salton City that was never used.

The 2010 United States Census[20] reported that Salton City had a population of 3,743. The population density was 175.6 people per square mile (67.8/km²). The racial makeup of Salton City was 2,260 (60.1%) White, 80 (2.1%) African American, 61 (1.6%) Native American, 61 (1.6%) Asian, 5 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 1,159 (30.8%) from other races, and 137 (3.6%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2,368 persons (62.9%).

The Census reported that 3,763 people (100% of the population) lived in households, 0 (0%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 0 (0%) were institutionalized.

There were 1,204 households, out of which 513 (42.6%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 653 (54.2%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 134 (11.1%) had a female householder with no husband present, 91 (7.6%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 67 (5.6%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 12 (1.0%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 269 households (22.3%) were made up of individuals and 133 (11.0%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.13. There were 878 families (72.9% of all households); the average family size was 3.73.

The population was spread out with 1,247 people (33.1%) under the age of 18, 350 people (9.3%) aged 18 to 24, 890 people (23.7%) aged 25 to 44, 813 people (21.6%) aged 45 to 64, and 463 people (12.3%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31.3 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 103.1 males.

There were 2,026 housing units at an average density of 94.5 per square mile (36.5/km²), of which 1,204 were occupied, of which 833 (69.2%) were owner-occupied, and 371 (30.8%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 18.0%; the rental vacancy rate was 20.3%. 2,425 people (64.4% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 1,338 people (35.6%) lived in rental housing units.

As of August 2017 the official population of Salton City rose to 4,782. [1]


According to the 2000 United States Census,[21] 978 people, 416 households, and 267 families resided in the CDP. The population density was 45.2 people per square mile (17.5/km²). There were 730 housing units at an average density of 33.8 per square mile (13.0/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 73.6% White, 0.8% African American, 1.9% Native American, 0.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 17.4% from other races, and 5.5% from two or more races. 32.5% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 416 households out of which 21.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.4% were married couples living together, 8.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.8% were non-families. 30.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 19.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.4 and the average family size was 2.9.

In the CDP, the population was spread out with 20.9% under the age of 18, 5.7% from 18 to 24, 18.9% from 25 to 44, 24.1% from 45 to 64, and 30.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 49 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.5 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $21,563, and the median income for a family was $20,208. Males had a median income of $26,458 versus $4,886 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $14,106. About 26.3% of families and 29.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 71.8% of those under age 18 and 10.0% of those age 65 or over.

In 2004–2007, Salton City experienced a housing boom. Several hundred new houses were built.



Salton City and the neighboring communities of Desert Shores and Salton Sea Beach are governed by the Salton Community Services District (SCSD) which is a special district per California Government Code. The legislative body of the SCSD is a five-member Board of Directors who are elected by the registered voters in the district every two years.

The SCSD is authorized to provide seven services: 1. Collect, treat, or dispose of sewage. 2. Collect, transfer, and dispose of solid waste. 3. Provide fire protection. 4. Acquire, construct recreational facilities. 5. Organize, promote community recreation. 6. Acquire, construct, and improve street lighting and landscaping. 7. Provide emergency medical services.

Aside from acting as the architectural committee for architectural compliance with the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&R) of the 80 plus tracts within the district the SCSD has no land use authority under existing law. That responsibility falls on the County of Imperial Board of Supervisors. The SCSD also has no jurisdiction over the new unincorporated community of Sea View Beach (formerly the Salton Sea Test Base B-1) which borders the southern most neighborhoods of Salton City.

State and federal[edit]

In the state legislature, Salton City is in the 40th Senate District, represented by Democrat Ben Hueso,[22] and the 56th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Eduardo Garcia.[23]

Federally, Salton City is in California's 51st congressional district, represented by Democrat Juan Vargas.[24]

In media[edit]

Salton City was featured in an episode of the television series Life After People.

Salton City was mentioned in the Los Angeles episode of the Travel Channel series Off Limits.

Salton City was featured on the TV series Wheeler Dealers when the team converted a Series 2 Land Rover into a 'bug-out' vehicle

Salton City is a track on the Hot Snakes' 2000 album Automatic Midnight.

Salton City was featured in a 2011 episode of Forgotten Planet. (Season 1, Episode 4, "TALA/Salton City")

Salton City was featured in an episode of the Viceland Channel series Abandoned.

Salton City was recently featured in an episode of the television series SWAT.

References in books[edit]

The 1996 book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer mentions Salton City as a place where Chris McCandless stopped in his travels.

J. A. Jance's novel Trial by Fire is partly set in Salton City.

In Sue Grafton's 1982 novel, A is for Alibi, The main character, Kinsey Millhone, travels to "Salton Sea" (presumably Salton City) for an interview with Greg Fife who is living in a trailer by the sea.

Salton City was a location for a gambling loan in Norm Macdonald's pseudo biographical "Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Salton City". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  2. ^ "2010 Census U.S. Gazetteer Files – Places – California". United States Census Bureau.
  3. ^ Lorey, David E. "Global Environmental Challenges of the Twenty-first Century: Resources, Consumption, and Sustainable Solutions". Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. p.104-5
  4. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search: CA - Salton City CDP". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  5. ^ Lubell, Sam. New York Times. Mar 19, 2004. "Exploring Modern Ruins in Southern California".
  6. ^ Taete, Jamie Lee. Vice Magazine. Sep 26, 2013. "I Went to California's Post-Apocalyptic Beach Town".
  7. ^ Kessel, Tim. Rider Magazine. Sep 04, 2015. "The Salton Sea: The Strange Beauty of the Post-Apocalypse
  8. ^ a b The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 9, 2005, "Salton Sea Timeline", Archived 2012-03-13 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Laflin, P., 1995, "The Salton Sea: California's overlooked treasure.", The Periscope, Coachella Valley Historical Society, Indio, California, 61 pp, (Reprinted in 1999), ,
  10. ^ "Salton City | Greetings from the Salton Sea". Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  11. ^ Greenfield, Steven. "A Lake by Mistake" in Invention & Technology magazine Volume 21 Number 3 Winter 2006. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-09-06. Retrieved 2010-05-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Redlands Institute, "Salton Sea atlas", ESRI, 2002, ISBN 1-58948-043-0, p.32
  13. ^ Imperial Irrigation District, "Salton Sea", "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-01. Retrieved 2010-05-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ National Geographic (magazine), Joel K. Bourne, Jr., "Salton Sea", Feb. 2005,
  15. ^ Imperial Valley Press (2005), Salorio, Michael A., "West Shores community has high hopes for growth"
  16. ^ Los Angeles Times (July 1, 2007), Streitfeld, David., "Salton City: A land of dreams and dead fish",
  17. ^ Climate Summary for Salton City, California
  18. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  19. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  20. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search: CA - Salton City CDP". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  21. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  22. ^ "Senators". State of California. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  23. ^ "Members Assembly". State of California. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  24. ^ "California's 51st Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  • William deBuys, Joan Myers, "Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California", UNM Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8263-2428-2

External links[edit]