The Val­ley is sur­pass­ing Bay Area, LA in key mea­sures

Merced Sun-Star - - Community - BY RYAN LIL­LIS rlil­[email protected] Lil­lis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lil­lis

It may be time to stop think­ing of the Cen­tral Val­ley as the down­trod­den sib­ling to Cal­i­for­nia’s coastal powers.

By some mea­sures, the Cen­tral Val­ley out­per­formed the Bay Area and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in 2018, ac­cord­ing to state pop­u­la­tion and eco­nomic fig­ures.

Pop­u­la­tion growth in the Val­ley out­paced gains in both the Bay Area and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Job growth here was on par with gains in the Bay and was stronger than the Los An­ge­les/San Diego megare­gion. And while the Bay Area and L.A. con­tinue to lose res­i­dents to other parts of the state and na­tion, the Val­ley made gains in 2018.

Here’s a col­lec­tion of key trends un­fold­ing in the Val­ley and what they could mean for the year ahead.

THE VAL­LEY IS GROW­ING

The 17 coun­ties be­tween Shasta and Kern added roughly 70,000 new res­i­dents be­tween July 2017 and July 2018, ac­cord­ing to a Sacramento Bee anal­y­sis of pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mates re­cently re­leased by the state’s Depart­ment of Fi­nance.

Some coun­ties in the Val­ley saw sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion in­creases, in­clud­ing Kings, Placer, Merced and San Joaquin.

Of the 20 fastest-grow­ing coun­ties in the state last year, 12 were in the Cen­tral Val­ley.

One the­ory that could ex­plain the Val­ley’s ro­bust growth, said state de­mog­ra­pher Ethan Shary­gin: “Fam­i­lies are start­ing there and grow­ing.” Many Val­ley coun­ties had strong birth rates, sug­gest­ing res­i­dents plant­ing roots in the re­gion are do­ing so to have chil­dren in a place far more af­ford­able than the coastal coun­ties.

There’s more. Cal­i­for­nia’s pop­u­la­tion growth in re­cent years has been driven pri­mar­ily by births and im­mi­gra­tion from other coun­tries. But the Val­ley is also see­ing an in­flux of new res­i­dents from other parts of the United States — most no­tably from the ex­pen­sive coastal re­gions of Cal­i­for­nia. The Val­ley added roughly 8,400 res­i­dents last year through net do­mes­tic mi­gra­tion, state fig­ures show.

At the same time, the Bay Area and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia are los­ing tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents to other parts of the state and coun­try. The Bay lost an es­ti­mated 42,000 more res­i­dents than it gained from other parts of the coun­try last year; South­ern Cal­i­for­nia lost 125,000 res­i­dents.

Bay Area refugees con­tinue to mi­grate in­land in search of more af­ford­able hous­ing. Will that trend con­tinue? And at some point, will parts of the Val­ley — es­pe­cially the north­ern part of the re­gion near Sacramento, Stock­ton and Modesto — be­come too ex­pen­sive and too con­gested to make the mi­gra­tion worth it?

Shary­gin said that will be a trend worth watch­ing.

“(Some of the growth num­bers) are sur­pris­ing in light of the fact that the costs of liv­ing in the Cen­tral Val­ley are go­ing up as well,” he said.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS

While the Cen­tral Val­ley may never catch up with the eco­nomic jug­ger­nauts on the coast, 2018 proved to a be very good year in the re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to the state’s Em­ploy­ment Devel­op­ment Depart­ment, the un­em­ploy­ment rate dropped in nearly ev­ery Cen­tral Val­ley county in 2018 (the rate in Co­lusa County re­mained steady at 12.1 per­cent). Some of the de­creases were sig­nif­i­cant and the rates are near his­toric lows.

In Sacramento County, the un­em­ploy­ment rate stood at 3.5 per­cent in Novem­ber, the most re­cent month for which fig­ures are avail­able. Placer County’s un­em­ploy­ment rate was just 3 per­cent, the 11th-low­est rate in the state and on par with coastal powers like Con­tra Costa, Alameda and San Diego coun­ties.

The Val­ley also added lots of jobs last year. The num­ber of em­ployed peo­ple in the la­bor force rose 2.6 per­cent in the 17-county re­gion. By com­par­i­son, the Bay Area re­gion saw a 2.9 per­cent in over­all jobs, while the Los An­ge­les-San Diego-In­land Em­pire area had a job-growth rate of 1.4 per­cent.

ARE RENTS STA­BI­LIZ­ING?

Rent con­trol was a ma­jor statewide is­sue in Cal­i­for­nia in 2018. A propo­si­tion on the Novem­ber bal­lot seek­ing to ex­pand the rights of cities to ex­pand rent con­trol re­stric­tions was de­feated. Mean­while, a cam­paign con­tin­ues to push for a 2020 bal­lot mea­sure in Sacramento seek­ing broad ten­ant pro­tec­tions, in­clud­ing rent con­trol.

Rents in Cen­tral Val­ley coun­ties have been sky­rock­et­ing in re­cent years. Ac­cord­ing to data kept by real es­tate list­ing firm Zil­low, rents went up at least 17 per­cent in San Joaquin, Stanis­laus and Merced coun­ties be­tween 2015 and 2018.

How­ever, the rent es­ca­la­tions may be head­ing to­ward a plateau.

Over the past year, the av­er­age rents in Sacramento County in­creased by less than 1 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Zil­low’s data. San Joaquin County saw an es­ti­mated 1.3 per­cent in­crease in rents, while rents in Stanis­laus County went up less than 3 per­cent.

Some coun­ties con­tin­ued to see big gains: Fresno’s year-over-year av­er­age rent in­creased by 3.6 per­cent. The av­er­age rent in Madera County is nearly 8 per­cent higher to­day than it was a year ago.

Andy Levine — a chap­ter di­rec­tor with Faith in the Val­ley, a faith-based or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cused on so­cial jus­tice is­sues in the Val­ley — ex­pects many Val­ley com­mu­ni­ties to talk this year about pro­tect­ing ten­ants from evic­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the Stock­ton and Modesto ar­eas.

“In those two cities, if we don’t get a pol­icy dis­cus­sion go­ing fast, we’re go­ing to be too late very soon,” he said.

Stock­ton is seen as a po­ten­tial test­ing ground for ag­gres­sive renter pro­tec­tion, given that its mayor, Michael Tubbs, is seen as one of the most progressive elected of­fi­cials in the re­gion.

Even if rent in­creases ta­per off, Levine said the need will still ex­ist to pro­tect ten­ants, es­pe­cially those earn­ing low in­comes. “Any kind of no­tion that it’s go­ing away or lev­el­ing off, I think we’re hear­ing the op­po­site from folks,” he said. “There’s an in­creas­ing anx­i­ety about rents and ten­ant pro­tec­tions.”

CRAIG KOHLRUSS ck­[email protected]­nobee.com

A look south on Ful­ton Street near Tuolumne Street in down­town Fresno is ob­served in this aerial drone im­age pho­tographed in Oc­to­ber 2017.

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