Are high housing prices and low housing inventories driving away new Napa County residents?
Those are two factors economists and others are considering based on new Napa County population numbers released by the U.S. Census on Thursday.
A total of 312 newcomers declared themselves Napa County residents from July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2016. The county’s population grew from 141,854 to 142,166 souls — a measly .21 percent increase. Individual city populations were not reported.
To compare, Sonoma County’s population rose by .3 percent and Solano County’s rose by 1.3 percent. Lake County’s population declined by .5 percent.
“It seems as if the population growth rate in both Napa and Sonoma counties have fallen below the rate for the state as a whole,” said Peter Allen, instructor of economics at Napa Valley College.
Typically, the state population grows at around 0.9 percent per year, Allen noted. Napa and Sonoma counties roughly kept pace with the state until 2015 and 2016, he said.
“There’s not an easy way of becoming a new resident of Napa,” Sonoma State University Professor of Economics Robert Eyler said.
“Housing prices have risen such a way that it may be a turn-off to potential new residents,” he said. “Are people choosing to live in a ring around Napa County and not in Napa County?”
What is not known is how many of those 312 people are in the job market, versus retired or not working, he said.
“The hope is that your area is attracting people to work there,” said Eyler.
The slight increase in the number of new residents is such a small number “it doesn’t change how the county does business,” said Kristi Jourdan, public information officer for Napa County.
“We continue to provide services as we would for everyone and are always looking at ways to make sure services are accessible throughout the valley,” she said.
The county uses census data in planning and in health and human services. The data is also used every 10 years in the redistricting process, which is expected in 2020, for the Board of Supervisors, Napa Valley College and the county’s Board of Education, said Jourdan.
Barbara Nemko, superintendent of the Napa County Office of Education, noted that Napa County schools have seen a decrease in student population.
“Obviously we’d like to see an increase,” she said. However, “so many people with young children can’t afford to live in Napa County.”
Any population increase, however small, “means that we’ll get some more kids in school,” said Nemko. “That would be wonderful partly because lots of the funding comes on a per pupil basis.”
Each student enrolled in a Napa County school generates between $8,000 to more than $22,000 in local funding per year for the school that student attends.
“Every time we lose a kid we lose that amount of funding. And when you lose a kid you still have all the same costs, salaries, etc.,” said Nemko.
The increased student population growth in American Canyon “helped us offset the issue for many years,” she said. “Now it’s slowed down.”
In October, the Napa Valley Unified School district ordered 9 percent school budget cuts.
When told about the slight increase in population, Danis Kreimeier, director of the Napa City-County Library, said she welcomed the new Napans, no matter how many or few.
“Come on in and check out our stuff,” she said with a laugh.
“I hope those 312 people find us and get a library card, find out what your new county has to offer.”
Actually, the library is a common first stop for new residents wanting to know about schools, neighborhoods, services and other logistics, said Kreimeier.
“We can connect you with all those different serves you might not know about it,” she said. “Start here.”