While population numbers around the state and region fluctuated up and down, one county showed zero growth or decline, which, depending on who you ask, could be a good thing or a bad thing. It could also be nothing at all.
The California Department of Finance reported that the state population grew by 141,000 residents over the last year, due to a population leakage of about 200,000. The official estimate put the population at 39.96 million people, making the 0.035 percent growth rate the lowest since 1900.
Every single county showed a net increase or decrease in population except Trinity County, as recorded from July 1, 2018, to July 1, 2019. Trinity saw 117 births and 171 deaths, making for a population decrease of 54 people. However, the data also showed that 54 people moved into Trinity County, making for a net change of zero. Trinity’s total population comes to 13,385.
Californians for Population Stabilization Executive Director Ric Oberlink responded, “It’s good news that California’s growth rate is slowing. Decades of unsustainable population growth have resulted in crumbling infrastructure, massive traffic jams, increased air pollution, and the destruction of large swathes of California’s precious ecosystems. The fact is, California is already overpopulated; it is why we’re seeing Californians leave the state in record numbers.”
Neighboring counties were all down except Tehama and Del Norte, which showed an increase of 725 and 101 residents, respectively. Humboldt was down 856, Lake was down 131, Mendocino was down 285, Shasta was down 210, and Siskiyou County was down 68 residents from 2018 to 2019.
County CAO Dr. Richard Kuhns said that while the numbers may be a bit skewed by the fact that the local hospital doesn’t record child births, the general consensus is that local population growth would be positive. He said it’s an economic issue that the area offers limited employment and less locally affordable housing.
“Until we develop more affordable housing, it will be difficult to attract new businesses,” he said, noting that several county department heads live out of the area for lack of housing.
As for the number of empty storefronts in downtown Weaverville, Kuhns said it’s hoped that locals will open new businesses and stay in the area.
“It comes back to economic development,” he said, noting that the county is working to update its general plan to offer a forecast of local development and reduce the red tape for people wanting to open a local business. “It’s a county priority.”
Kuhn said that a large number of locally-stationed Highway Patrol officers also live out of the area due to lack of housing. CHP Information officer Thomas Frank said that wasn’t entirely the case, as some choose their location strategically.
He said that of 20 uniformed staff, eight live in the Redding area, as some hope to transfer to the I-5 corridor later.
“Not me,” he said. “I like it up here. The community is wonderful and is really appreciative of what we do. And after being in the city so long, this is a nice change.”
Trinity County Chamber of Commerce President Kelli Gant said she has heard arguments both for and against population growth, but said without it, businesses will continue to struggle in the winter months.
“We need people here to keep buying in the off season,” she said. “But like all small towns next to an urban area, we see a lot of revenue leakage to Redding.”
Gant said Trinity County also has a problem attracting skilled and non-skilled laborers. “My opinion is that we really have no amenities people are attracted to,” she said.
Gant said that while many Baby Boomers remain in the area to be closer to amenities, medical facilities and pharmacies, there is little here that would attract couples in their 20s and 30s who are not avid outdoors enthusiasts.
Gant said a main reason for the lack of local housing are the number of vacation and summer only homes in the area. She said in the Trinity Center area, few homes remain occupied in the winter months, and that a recent attempt to bring a resident deputy to the area failed for lack of housing.
Gant said the county chamber needs to continue investigating local population issues. Last month, Gant kicked off a new topic at county chamber meetings, how to create real economic development that does not include cannabis or tourism.
The Chamber will sponsor an economic development round table, on Monday Feb. 10 at 5:30 p.m. The topics will be housing inventory and need, immigration and emigration, available business and warehouse space, and ways to make Trinity County more business-friendly. Planning Director Kim Hunter will take part in the meeting