Two Tulare County towns among fastest growing in California

Dinuba and Woodlake among the top 20 in the state for percentage growth as fewer births, higher deaths and decreased immigration lead to negative growth in California

TULARE COUNTY – Two local cities were among the fastest growing in the state this past year despite the pandemic that hung like a dark cloud over everything.

Dinuba had the 12th fastest percentage of growth during 2020, the highest in the Valley, according to an annual demographics report issued by the California Department of Finance on May 7. Dinuba’s population grew by 758 people or just short of 3% (2.94%) to 26,517. The city is now ranked 265th of California’s nearly 500 incorporated cities. Dinuba also built more housing, in terms of percentage increase, adding 242 units in the last year, nearly all of them single family homes.

A deal with industry giant Best Buy may be helping both grow the city and save city hall. Best Buy shares tax revenue on sales from this local warehouse. A Bloomberg news article notes “While some California cities are making budget cuts to offset plummeting revenue, Dinuba’s yearly sales tax revenue in the first nine months of 2020 totaled $20.4 million—55% higher than all of 2019.” The electronics retailer continues to add jobs in this Tulare County city even during COVID.

Coming in just behind Dinuba is Woodlake, ranked as the 13th fastest growing city in the state. Woodlake’s 2.93% growth brought 229 people bringing the population to more than 8,000. The city also followed suit with Dinuba increasing its housing by 3.4%. Woodlake added 72 new units of single family housing but still has a vacancy rate of 5.9%. Tulare County’s smallest city has transformed its downtown with redevelopment projects of city owned land during the last decade bolstered by a stronger tax base of retail and cannabis. The city is now using that money to increase the capacity of its infrastructure by upgrading sewer and water lines as well as roads.

Visalia, Tulare County’s largest city, still made the state’s list of fastest growing cities, coming in at 89. Visalia added 798 residents for a total population of 139,254. The city added 674 more units of housing but that was only a 1.3% increase. Nealy all of those were single family homes with about 40 new duplexes/4plexes and a handful of mobile homes.

Tulare grew at twice the rate of Visalia and nearly outpaced Visalia in new housing units. Tulare was 31st on the state’s fastest growing cities list and added 651 new homes, with a balance between single family and multifamily units of 352 to 299.

Some 171 cities gained population and 305 lost population, while six had no change. In Tulare County, three cities saw their populations dip with Farmersville losing 57 people, Lindsay 41 and Exeter 26. These are also the cities who added the least amount of housing in the last year. Exeter led the three with 11 units, while Lindsay only added eight and Farmersville just one. Lindsay also has a vacancy rate of 6%, the second highest in the county behind Porterville’s 6.1%. As the county’s third largest city, Porterville only added 80 new residents and is now the 153rd largest city. The city added 128 units of housing, mostly single family homes and duplexes.

Unincorporated communities saw nearly 600 people move into the cities, continuing a trend of urbanization in California. Less than a third of Tulare County’s population (143,677) lives outside of the eight incorporated cities.

Of the ten largest cities in California, Bakersfield had the largest percentage gain in population (0.8 percent, or 3,100) with Oakland (0.7 percent, or 3,200) in second. Other Valley towns on the list of top 50 fastest growing cities by percent in the state include Lemoore, Hanford, Kerman, Clovis, Fresno and Bakersfield.

In terms of numerical growth, the Valley’s largest cities continued to get larger. Fresno ranked third in the state, followed by Clovis (5) and Bakersfield (6), each adding more than 3,000 people, and closely followed by Merced, which ranked eighth adding 2,700 people.

State prison numbers, generally lower, affected some population counts in the Central Valley. These prisons are generally located in remote areas; as a result, increases or decreases in this population can account for significant changes in their respective locations. For example, state prison declines led to population decreases in Taft, Wasco and Delano in Kern County and Susanville in Lassen County. A closure of the Federal Prison in Taft led to the city losing the highest percentage population loss in the state (18.0 percent).

Lower prison numbers may have affected Kings County which saw its population shrink to 152,543 from 153,189 in January 2020. In July 2018 the state estimated Kings County’s population at 152,647, which is higher than today.

Avenal’s prison population, for example, has been shrinking in recent years. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports show a prisoner population of around 3,100 in May 2021 compared to 3,775 in May 2019.

In other words, Kings County towns are on the grow, but its prisons are shrinking. By contrast, Tulare County reported 0.50% growth last year, double that of the state, increasing the population from 479,403 to 481,733.

First decline on record

California’s population dipped by 182,083 residents last year, bringing the state’s total to 39,466,855 people as of Jan. 1, 2021 according to the new population estimates and housing data.

California’s negative growth rate of -0.46 percent represents the first 12-month decline since state population estimates have been recorded.

The Department of Finance state three principal factors contributed to the population decrease over the last year:

Continuing declines in natural increase—births minus non-COVID-19 deaths (loss of 24,000)

Continuing declines in foreign immigration—accelerated in recent years by federal policy (loss of 100,000)

Deaths in 2020 separately associated with the COVID-19 pandemic (loss of 51,000)

In recent years, the slowdown in births—a nationwide trend affecting California more than other states—has contributed to the state’s population growth slowing and plateauing. The addition of 2020’s COVID-19-related deaths, combined with immigration restrictions in the past year, tipped population change to an annual loss.

One highly publicized factor is the notion that a wave of residents is fleeing the state for financial or political reasons. California wildfires and the high cost of housing are often mentioned. One recent study found more educated newcomers are coming into the state while less educated are leaving in higher numbers “… people moving into California tend to be more educated and wealthier than the people leaving, according to the analysis: From 2015 to 2019, California gained 74,500 working-age adults with a bachelor’s degree or more—and lost 465,500 working-age adults with less than a bachelor’s degree,” the New York Times reported.

These population estimates are produced annually by the Department of Finance for use by local areas to calculate their annual appropriations limit. The State Controller’s Office uses Finance’s estimates to update their population figures for distribution of state subventions to cities and counties, and to comply with various state codes. Additionally, estimates are used for research and planning purposes by federal, state, and local agencies, the academic community, and the private sector.

COVID’s shadow

The COVID-19 pandemic increased California deaths in 2020 by 51,000—19 percent above the average death rate for the three preceding years. “Excess deaths”—rates above the past three-year average—were observed in 51 of the state’s 58 counties. Of these counties, 19 reported death rates up to 10 percent above average, 20 reported deaths between 10 and 20 percent above average, and 12 reported deaths 20 percent or more above average.

Net international migration to California was negative in 2020, reflecting the suspension of visa issuance that began in March and continued through December, which was also extended to certain types of foreign worker visas in June. Global restrictions during the pandemic also resulted in 53,000 fewer international students in California.

As pandemic-related deaths decline and with changes in federal policy, California is expected to return to a slightly positive annual growth when calendar year 2021 population estimates are released a year from now.

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