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, 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, giving it an eerie, mostly-abandoned appearance and leading some to call it a modern ghost town.
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. 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.
In the 1970s, most of the buildings constructed along the shoreline, including the city's marina were abandoned 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. 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. 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.