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Napa County's population drops for the third consecutive year

Napa aerial shot (copy)

Soscol Avenue and the Napa River between downtown Napa and the Oxbow District. Napa County lost population last year, according to state figures. 

Newly released state figures show Napa County is on a losing streak when it comes to population, possibly due in part to the 2017 wildfires that destroyed several hundred local homes.

The county from July 2018 to July 2019 saw the population fall by 511 people, from 140,573 people to 140,062, according to the state Department of Finance. The county had 40 more birth than deaths, but had 551 more people leave than come.

This marks the third consecutive year that the state Department of Finance reported a Napa County population loss. Since July 2016, the county has shrunk by 1,404 people, or one percent.

A county long known for slow growth is seemingly experiencing no growth.

“What it means is, if there are fewer people living here and we’re still looking for a healthy rate of economic growth, where are the workers?” county Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said on Thursday.

Among the possible outcomes he sees are building more affordable housing, having more jobs automate or having more workers commute from other areas.

One likely factor in the three-year population loss is the 2017 wildfires that destroyed about 650 Napa County homes. Morrison said 58 homes have been rebuilt and about 100 are under construction.

An increase in second homes could be another factor, he said. People from other areas live in these homes only part of the year and are not considered Napa County residents.

Of the homes lost in the October 2017 fires, 10 percent to 15 percent had a primary billing address for property tax outside of Napa County. In many cases, the address was in San Francisco.

Napa County has more housing on the way. More than 300 apartments are being built in the city of Napa near South Napa Marketplace, with some already completed.

Napa Pipe in the city of Napa is targeted for 945 homes. Watson Ranch in American Canyon is to have about 1,250 homes. Construction on these projects is scheduled to begin in coming years.

As those and other homes go on the market, Napa County’s state population estimates could stop declining.

“I don’t think it’s the end of the story,” Morrison said.

Over the past decade, Napa County added 3,477 people, according to the state Department of Finance. The county’s biggest growth years came with 1,432 added in 2011-12 and 1,149 added in 2013-14.

The county’s recent population losses can be viewed in the context of the state as a whole.

California from July 2018 to July 2019 saw its population increase 141,300 people to a total 39.9 million, the state Department of Finance estimated. This .35-percent growth rate follows a .57-percent growth rate for 2017-18 – the two lowest recorded growth rates since 1900.

The state in 2018-19 had 180,800 more births than deaths. But the state had 39,476 more people leave than come. The last time the state had negative net migration was 2005-2010 and 1993-96, a state Department of Finance press release said.

Riverside County added the most people at 22,740. Sutter County had the biggest percentage gain at 2.21 percent.

Butte County lost the most people at 10,388—4.6 percent of its population—after having thousands of homes burn in the 2018 Camp Fire. The dislocation of people led to significant population increases in nearby Colusa, Glenn, Plumas, Sutter, Tehama and Yuba counties, the press release said.

California’s most populous counties are Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Alameda, Sacramento, Contra Costa and Fresno. These 10 counties are home to 72 percent of the state’s residents.

Napa County ranks 34th among the state’s 58 counties in population and has the smallest population among the nine Bay Area counties.

Barry Eberling's memorable stories from 2019

Here's some of my 2019 stories from the Napa County world of transportation, wine and communities - nothing too heavy, but hopefully with useful information.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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