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Nobody’s moving to SLO County — and these coastal cities actually saw population drop

San Luis Obispo County’s population growth was sluggish in 2018, nearly to the point of being nonexistent, according to a state report released Wednesday.

With 280,393 residents last year, the county’s population grew just a tenth of a percentage point, according to the California Department of Finance.

San Luis Obispo County’s rural, unincorporated areas saw the greatest amount of growth last year. There were 121,855 residents living in those areas, a 0.3 percent increase from 2017.

The North County recorded a small amount of growth. Atascadero, with 30,405 residents, grew 0.2 percent while Paso Robles, population 31,244, grew 0.1 percent.

San Luis Obispo, the county’s namesake city, also recorded 0.1 percent growth, with a population of 46,802.

The South County and Morro Bay decreased in population in 2018.

Grover Beach, population 13,533, decreased by 0.6 percent. Pismo Beach, population 8,239, decreased by 0.1 percent. Arroyo Grande lost four residents, leaving the population statistically the same at 17,876 residents.

Morro Bay, with a population of 10,439, decreased by 0.6 percent.

California population grows

Statewide, California added about 186,000 residents last year, giving it about 39.9 million residents. Its birthrate is the slowest in recorded state history. California had 18,000 fewer births than in 2017, according to the Finance Department.

The report also showed that wildfires drove an exodus from hard-hit California cities last year, shifting tens of thousands of residents from Paradise, Redding and Malibu to other communities.

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The Camp Fire in Butte County, which killed 85 people, did the most damage. It destroyed 11,371 housing units in Paradise and wiped out 90 percent of the city’s residences.

Many of those displaced Californians moved to nearby Chico, which gained 19,000 residents and become the state’s fastest-growing city. Chico’s population now stands at 112,000.

But Butte County wasn’t the only region of the state to see population shifts because of the fires. The state lost almost 20,000 housing units last year to fires.

Butte County hit by the Camp Fire lost 14,600 of them.

The Carr Fire in Shasta County 900 burned residences.

The Woolsey Fire did the most damage in Southern California. Ventura County lost 700 homes and the city of Malibu saw 500 burn.

Lake County, which has suffered extreme wildfires repeatedly since 2015, lost another 300 homes.

California has faced successive deadly fire seasons over the past four years, leading Gov. Gavin Newsom boost the state’s firefighting budget and commission a task force on how to pay for the damage.

“We’re all in this together .... We all have a burden and a responsibility,” he said at a news conference last month.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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