Don’t forget to mail in your ballot on or before September 14th in order to have your vote counted!
Don’t forget to mail in your ballot on or before September 14th in order to have your vote counted!
North Bay Leadership Council is proud to announce the honorees for this year’s Leaders of the North Bay and the teen chosen to give the Keynote address at the awards luncheon. The Leaders of the North Bay Awards luncheon is a signature event for NBLC. This year it is being held at the Embassy Suites in San Rafael on December 10th. The Leaders event was designed to recognize leadership in the North Bay, while the Teen Speech contest is a way for us to help grow leadership in our youth. NBLC seeks to foster leadership at a time when it is sorely needed.
Here are the 2021 Honorees:
A leader with integrity, the North Bay is a better place because of Steve Page. Steve Page was President and General Manager of Sonoma Raceway for almost three decades. With Steve at the helm, Sonoma Raceway’s campground housed evacuees from several of the wildfires. The Raceway has raised nearly $7 million for charity. Food drives, blood drives, charity rides, training grounds for disaster response — the track has been made available to help better the community. Steve gives back to the community in numerous ways, always making time for worthy causes. He serves on or has served on: Speedway Children’s Charities, Redwood Empire Food Bank, Social Advocates for Youth, Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation, 10,000 Degrees and the Sonoma Valley Hospital Foundation. NBLC is especially proud to honor Steve’s dedication to our organization where he has served the greatest number of years as chair of the Board.
Steve has lived his life by successfully following these two rules: “Have fun and help people.” Steve Page is known for his inclusive leadership style, sharp wit and big heart. Whether it be taking the raceway through all kinds of innovations and improvements, helping local charities, leading community efforts or embracing change, Steve is the “go to” guy in the North Bay.
Keith Woods, CEO of North Coast Builders Exchange, exemplifies extraordinary leadership skills and a fierce dedication to community-building in the North Bay. Keith has been a catalyst for making the community better through his work helping rebuild after the devastating fires in the region; partnering with the CTE Foundation, SCOE, and SRJC to launch the North Bay Construction Corps; implementing CHOICES, a high school dropout prevention program; and serving as “Sonoma County’s MC,” where he has volunteered hundreds of hours helping nonprofits raise money. Keith makes the “building” in community building an everyday effort.
The Climate Center stands out for its leadership in climate adaption and mitigation. They have a track record of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: they played a key role in the tremendous growth of Community Choice Agencies (CCAs) in the state over the past 6 years, with 24 CCAs now providing on average 88% greenhouse gas-free electricity to over 11 million residents in more than 200 cities/counties. The Climate Center has a powerful theory of change (strategy). It describes the optimum way to deliver rapid greenhouse gas reductions at scale. And they have a bold, comprehensive Climate-Safe California campaign that details how California can respond with urgency to the climate crisis. More important than ever, the Climate Center continues to double down on its investments for a climate-safe future by broadening and deepening it local, regional and statewide policy efforts.
Steve Dutton is a stand-out leader in the local agriculture industry. He has proven his ability to innovate in providing housing for his employees without public financial support; creating training programs to provide ESL workers with information needed to work safely on local farms; and leading the charge for more visa allotments for farming. He and his family were named the 2017 Sustainable Farmers by the Sonoma County Harvest Fair for their leadership on sustainable farming practices which demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit to bring more resiliency to farming. Steve is respected for his problem-solving and creative thinking with an emphasis on looking out for his community and the people in it.
The Canal neighborhood of San Rafael had very limited Wi Fi which was very detrimental when the pandemic hit as it was difficult for students and workers to use the internet to learn and/or work. As part of a collaborative approach with the City of San Rafael, San Rafael City Schools, The Canal Alliance, Marin Community Foundation and the Marin County Free Library, the County of Marin lead a project to address digital equity in the Canal neighborhood. With the financial support of local donors, the team built a free outdoor wireless network and community COVID-19 website for e-learning services and for residents accessing critical information and services. With the leadership of the core group, design, communication, installation and digital literacy was combined to provide not only access, but also Chromebooks and digital literacy training. The empowered Latino community leapt at this opportunity with the daily use of the network climbing, with 43% of users accessing the network for school, 33% for general internet use, and 21% for work-related activities. This project represents how much collaborators can achieve when they work in concert to meet the needs of the community’s residents through the empowerment of access.
College of Marin (COM) Superintendent/President David Wain Coon is the epitome of a collaborative leader who skillfully cuts through red tape and finds innovative solutions that improve the campus climate. The result is a host of best practices which seek to eliminate barriers to COM’s services and offerings. Highlights include completion of Measure C modernization projects and passage of Measure B for funding of campus renewal; earning the prestigious 2020 Dr. John W. Rice Diversity and Equity Award—celebrating the community college that has made the greatest strides toward faculty and staff diversity or student equity; LGBTQ Caucus Leadership for CCLC; and creating COM’s first Equity Summit, held in 2021. During his 10+ years as COM’s president, Dr. Coon has worked extensively to engage with the local community and businesses including supporting numerous nonprofits like North Bay Leadership Council, 10,000 Degrees, Marin Promise Partnership, SchoolsRule-Marin, League of Women Voters, American Association of University Women, Novato and San Rafael Chambers of Commerce, Marin Brain Injury Network, and others.
We hope you will be able to join us on December 10th to celebrate the leadership of these six amazing honorees. Sponsorships are available which not only help underwrite the luncheon but provide the funding for 7 college scholarships that we give out to the teens who submitted entries into the speech competition. For sponsorship information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
There was a statement in Pete Golis’ otherwise insightful and well-written column last Sunday that I can’t let go unchallenged. He cited Ketchum, Idaho as a community having a serious problem providing housing for their lower-wage tourism industry workers.
After noting correctly that Sonoma County isn’t Ketchum, he went on to say “But it’s not too soon for business and community leaders to begin to worry.”
Begin to worry? I can assure Pete and all Press Democrat readers that the shortage of housing in the North Bay and the impact it has on the ability of business, agriculture, government, education and nonprofit organizations to attract and keep employees has been the No. 1 topic of concern for most leaders for a decade, if not longer.
In fact, during my 20-plus years as CEO at the North Coast Builders Exchange, I have participated in countless forums, workshops, study sessions, government meetings and lobbying efforts with one topic — where will our workers live and what are we going to do about it?
The general consensus among business and community leaders is that the housing shortage is no longer just a problem — it is a full-fledged crisis. The fires over the past five years and the deadly pandemic in the past 18 months have only exacerbated a problem that has been getting worse, even in non-disaster years.
Fortunately, organizations and associations that represent business, agriculture, construction, high-tech and tourism in particular have been tackling the issue head-on for a long time. For example:
Several years ago the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber took the lead in creating an Employers Housing Council, comprised of the heads of large employers in business and government. That group is providing startup funding for developers of affordable housing projects to ease their burden.
A relatively new group, Generation Housing, is laser-focused on educating the general public on the desperate need for housing in our area, in case there are still any doubters. The group also effectively marshals support at public meetings for affordable housing projects to help elected officials develop the political will to vote for these badly needed projects, even in the face of all-too-frequent small but vocal opposition.
The North Bay Leadership Council, Sonoma County Alliance, Sonoma County Farm Bureau, North Bay Association of Realtors, Engineering Contractors Association and the Builders Exchange are examples of groups that are shining a bright light on the housing crisis and that regularly support efforts to spur both affordable and market-rate housing.
Economists have estimated that the North Bay needs to build 30,000 new housing units (that’s not just homes, but multifamily units as well) in the next 5-10 years, and that number could even be called conservative. Business and community leaders have known the magnitude of the housing shortage for decades and understand the effect it has on our community’s ability to have a stable workforce that can afford to live here.
I just want to assure people that even though there is still much to be done, local leaders have been deeply involved in seeking housing solutions for years and years, and we’re not just “beginning to worry.”
Keith Woods is chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange.
The “C” in the North Bay Business Journal’s “C-Suite” series of in-depth interviews with local leaders could have been named after Cynthia Murray, North Bay Leadership Council president and CEO.
Beyond a collective 15 years as a 5th District supervisor for Marin County and on the Novato City Council, this straight shooter from Petaluma has led the council, which formed 15 years ago.
But that’s only half her story.
Cynthia Murray, 71, is nothing less than a force for business. With the sharp intensity of Annie Oakley and the nurturing spirit of a mother, the first thing you notice about Murray is the twinkle in her eyes. That means an idea is being harvested.
Murray can command a room like she can command a solution to an issue. She’s learned to hold her own with the big boys of business by tapping into practical street smarts gained from being born in Brooklyn and growing up in New Jersey and an unrivaled on-the-job education.
Murray relocated to the North Bay in 1978 starting in Marin County.
When Murray talks about who has meant the most to her in her past, she thinks of her mother, who died two weeks after she was elected to the Novato City Council, of which she served two terms starting in 1991.
“I couldn’t celebrate. I was devastated,” she said, while glancing up at the artwork her mother sculpted shelved in the hutch of the dining room. Her mother was the person who instilled a maternal instinct in her.
“She would keep the family together,” she said.
Now as a mother herself, Murray sees the best in a future generation — beginning with her daughter Katie, who works with Murray at the leadership council.
When asked what it’s like to work with her daughter, Murray, without hesitation, answered: “It’s great. I like it. She knows me and what I like.”
Her ideas come into fruition when Katie not only knows what her mother wants from her, she takes the initiative to follow through with the desired outcome.
“She’d say: ‘I already did it,’” Murray said.
The North Bay Leadership Council’s fearless leader has made many impressions outside the family.
San Rafael Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanne Webster said the first “thing” that comes to mind when she thinks of Cynthia Murray is “a big heart.”
Webster, who has known Murray for at least 10 years and sees her as a powerhouse with an unparalleled authenticity, has come to respect Murray’s steadfast commitment and support of her efforts through the years.
“She leads with her heart, and that’s what I love about her. If she had to, she would march alone in a parade,” Webster said. “I admire her. She’s a true leader.”
When Murray spoke at a chamber’s Women of Industry event in 2019, she shared her philosophy in a quote by Winston Churchill that resonates with her: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
The following is the Business Journal’s conversation with Murray, edited for clarity.
I was a history major in college, always interested in public service and running for elected office. (I) went into sales, as there was no glass ceiling in pay for women versus men, had kids and stayed home a few years and then ran for City Council of Novato.
(The) North Bay Council was formed in 1990 to be the voice of employers who were being stymied in their attempts to grow and prosper. They thought that pooling their voices would help get the support of the elected officials and communities they served.
Yes, I like being of service. That is why I chose to be a public servant. I also like problem solving and being able to help people make their lives better.
I see myself as a leader who deploys my leadership skills when needed. I often feel that there are leadership vacuums, and (I) step in when I don’t see anyone else leading.
I just celebrated my 15th year as CEO of NBLC. I am proud of how the organization has grown in stature and effectiveness to be the voice of employers and (helps to) lead on public policy issues of concern for employers and their employees. (In) one example, I was the co-chair of the campaign in 2008 to pass the first sales tax measure to initiate the SMART rail service.
One thing I love about my work at NBLC is that I am able to cumulatively apply all of my past experience as a public official and my business experience in sales and marketing of tech products. The other is that as a “leadership” council, my leadership skills are useful in leading the members to reach consensus and working with elected officials and community members to move public policy issues forward to positive conclusions.
My advice to young people is twofold: Do self-exploration to figure out who you are and what you want so you pursue your passion, and don’t be afraid of failure. It is a great learning tool.
I have had many mentors throughout my life for different careers and life situations. Like most people, my parents were my first mentors and each gave me a strong foundation to believe in myself and fight for what’s right. One of my first bosses was great at helping me learn people skills and how to meet a customer’s needs. As an elected official, Gary Giacomini was a great mentor. And at NBLC, Steve Page was a terrific mentor for me.
Leaders need to be collaborative and build good teams that they trust to think for themselves. They have to be good listeners and facilitators.
In this time of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), a leader needs to be able to make decisions based on what is known now and be able to hold opposing thoughts at the same time. Leaders need to have a vision for the future and how to get there, (so) they communicate well to their teams (in order for) people (to) share the goals and fight for that future.
The pandemic and economic shock exacerbated some of the challenges we were already facing in the North Bay.
From the employer point-of-view, top concerns are the housing crisis, which continues to make it difficult to hire and retain employees. Coupled with that are education, training and workforce issues such as being unable to fill job openings due to skills mismatch; not competing with other areas with less expensive housing; (the) cost of and lack of childcare, which is keeping women out of the workforce; and the increasing retirements of workers in the North Bay (with a) workforce (that) skews older.
Also on the radar is the economy’s recovery and how to build (it) back better, along with adapting to climate change and mitigating the fire risks and drought. (Another consideration is) transportation, in particular, and (with that) helping commuters — especially those who need to commute long distances due to the lack of workforce housing.
There are indicators of what the future holds, and some of it depends on what we do to shape that future. The North Bay has recovered, (with) some of its economic vitality faster than the rest of the (San Francisco) Bay Area.
But those gains can be stymied by the continuing problems with the lack of workforce housing, lack of a right-skilled workforce to fill job openings, lack of child care slots and its rising costs and the continuing fires, power shutoffs and now severe drought. Each of these challenges is daunting, but there is much we can do to improve the situation if we put the resources and effort into the solutions. We know what needs to be done — but do we have the political will to do it?
While Mark Twain may or may not be the author of the “water is for fighting over” phrase, the sentiment still rings true in California. And with the drought worsening, we can expect more fights over water in our future. In addition to dealing with the need to conserve water and increase water supply, there are two water-related issues before us now that need attention. The first is the use of water capacity as a way to stop new development. And the second is the threat to keeping water in the North Bay in the North Bay.
But first, a little perspective. The California Water Foundation’s Aquapedia (Link) describes the fight over water well. “California will always be inextricably linked to its water resources. Water continues to shape the state’s development and no resource is as vital to California’s urban centers, farms, industry, recreation, scenic beauty and environmental preservation.”
California’s economy and culture have always been shaped by the abundance or scarcity of water. The Golden State’s economy, agricultural production, and population have grown to number one in the nation, largely in pace with the development of its water resources. California receives 75 percent of its rain and snow in the watersheds north of Sacramento. However, 80 percent of California’s water demand comes from the southern 2/3 of the state. And that equation is one that continues to cause controversy and strife.
The Aquapedia says, “The most basic issues affecting California’s water supply center on distributing and sharing the resource — getting the water to the right place at the right time — while also not harming the environment and aquatic species. Distribution is also coupled with conflicts between competing interests over the use of available supplies.”
“But moving water over great distances has created intense regional rivalries. Water feuds historically have divided the state, pitting north against south, east against west and three major stakeholders (agricultural, urban and environmental) against one another. Intense disagreements persist over the manner in which California’s water resources are developed and managed,” according to the Aquapedia.
Moving the water has created a heavily engineered water system. Aquapedia says, “These geographic disparities have been remedied, in large part, by building one of the most complex and sophisticated flood management, water storage and water transport systems in the world. An integrated system of federal, state and locally owned dams, reservoirs, pumping plants and aqueducts transports large portions of the state’s surface water hundreds of miles.”
The state water system is also being impacted by the effects of climate change. Scientists predict increased temperatures, less snow, earlier snowmelt and a rise in sea level which will have major implications for water supply, flood management and ecosystem health.
Water districts should have learned from the last drought how to be better prepared for the next one. Steps should have been taken to incentivize conservation, increase water recycling and reuse, capture more storm water, fix leaking pipes in the system, and generate more supply like from desalination. Instead, some water districts like Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) are leaping to declare water hook-up moratoriums to stop new construction. This is a short-sighted and ineffectual response.
Housing is a crisis in the North Bay. We have a huge need to build more housing and because we haven’t built anywhere near the amount we should, the costs of housing have skyrocketed, pushing many of Marin’s workforce far from the county in which they work. Now we are experiencing a worker shortage, which is growing as we shrink our workforce due to the lack of housing. This is unsustainable and will wreak havoc on our slowing recovering economy.
Emma Talley writes in Could California’s drought crisis block Bay Area housing?(Link), “Restrictions on housing production in the form of service hookups could strain the market in Marin, making it even more unaffordable. Tom Lai, director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, said if the area cannot meet its state mandates for permitting new housing, the deficit could also perpetuate racial inequalities with respect to where housing is located, what types of housing are available, and who lives in that housing.”
Talley says, “In Lai’s opinion, an outright ban on all new service connections for an extended time would be shortsighted. I would urge those making decisions to ban new hookups to look holistically at the problem,’ he said, including reevaluating existing and new conservation programs.”
“As housing experts point out, new construction is quite water efficient and water hook-up moratoriums won’t solve supply concerns, says Talley.” ‘There are so many other options that we can consider, said Newsha Ajami, director of urban water policy with Stanford University’s Water in the West program. She explained it’s much better to think more strategically about how we want to be more water conscious and have a smaller water footprint.’”
While “there’s always this tension between development and water use,” Ajami advocates for connecting land-use planning and water-use planning, explaining that often the two are considered separately. She said when considering new developments, cities should focus on building structures that are “much more efficient in the way they use water.”
Southern California has invested more than $1 billion in new storage infrastructure since the early 2000s. Yet the recent storage expansion in the south is unmatched in the historically wetter north, Ajami said. “They’ve done a lot more to diversify and save water compared to some other communities across the state,” she said. “It shows that when you’re under constant stress, you respond.”
In Facing Drought, Southern California Has More Water Than Ever by Laura Bliss (Bloomberg Green Link), she says “Investments in water recycling, desalination and stormwater capture have also made a difference. The city does not expect to ask residents to ration supplies this year or the next, said Delon Kwan, assistant director of water resources at the L.A. Department of Water and Power, because Southern California has a record 3.2 million acre-feet of water in reserve, enough to quench the population’s needs this year and into the next.”
But those actions do not preclude Southern California’s lopsided population being in a different place as the drought continues and climate change intensifies. It is alarming that MMWD is pursuing repeating the solution they found in the desperate times of the 1977 drought – running a pipeline over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to bring in water from the East Bay. There are many reasons why that solution is not the right solution in 2021 but the biggest reason is the danger of that pipeline providing access by Southern California to our water supply in the North Bay. Pipes flow in two directions and what is painted as our salvation today could be our doom tomorrow.
It would be far wiser to pursue other solutions such as more recycling or reuse, stormwater capture, and desalination that will provide supply that is under the local control. “Demand management is the best and cheapest way we can approach water security,” Ajami said. “There is no supply in California that is not vulnerable.”
Access to higher education provides students in California with many socioeconomic benefits and strengthens our state’s global competitiveness.
But as we continue working our way past the COVID-19 pandemic, many students face hardships that put their degree or certificate completion at risk. The Cal Grant Equity Framework proposal (Assembly Bill 1456) being considered in Sacramento would help address the dire basic needs crisis our college students currently are experiencing.
In a clear example of the pandemic’s impact on college attendance across the state, almost five million Californians, many of whom do not hold post secondary degrees, have found themselves unemployed at some point since the beginning of the pandemic. Even more concerning — California’s community colleges have declined an average of 11% to 12% systemwide. This is far greater than the initial estimates of 5% to 7% at the end of 2020.
With career and educational goals on hold indefinitely for many current and future college students, we now risk losing an entire generation in the college and career pipeline, affecting their knowledge and skill sets and possibly leading them to face issues with employability and productivity.
Emergency aid is helping, but it is not enough. The pandemic further exposed inequities in higher education, which California must act upon by immediately, modernizing its approach to financial aid and better ensure education equity for students. With that, the timing on AB 1456 is critical as we actively take steps to support California’s college students.
Brought forward by Assemblymembers Jose Medina (D-Riverside) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), AB 1456 will modernize, simplify and expand the Cal Grant program by eliminating barriers to student eligibility based on factors like their age or time since high school graduation.
AB 1456 could not arrive at a more critical time. In late 2019, the state economy was still showing signs of strength: at that moment, California’s $3.1 trillion economy was the fifth largest in the world, ranked between Germany and the United Kingdom.
The state also represented 15% of the total U.S. economy. However, California’s economy lost momentum in fall of 2020 as COVID infections started to climb and the unemployment rate reached 8.2%.
AB 1456 would have a transformative impact for both local communities and businesses, as completion of higher education improves access in a skilled workforce, strengthening economic growth and increasing individual wages. This transformative proposal could be a shot in the arm for California’s economy, as there is much to build from: California remains a main point of entry for global markets, a hub for technology and innovation, and the center of the entertainment industry.
Cal Grant Modernization has been worked on by a diverse set of stakeholders to ensure it not only makes sense for students, but also, it is smart for business. Legislators should not hesitate to adopt financial aid reform as it directly bolsters future state revenue. Just a 5% increase in degree attainment could generate an additional $4.2 billion in revenue.
Now that’s smart.
How is the North Bay’s economy faring now that we’re 15 months into the pandemic?
Researchers from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute addressed several of the indicators during the North Bay Leadership Council’s 2021 State of the North Bay Conference, held June 10 via video conference.
“The impacts of COVID-19 on the Bay Area, North Bay and the nation’s economy were pretty severe and swift, so we’re still working to come out of those,” said Patrick Kallerman, institute research director. “We have vastly unequal employment, a changing work landscape, labor shortages and worker displacement, among other things.”
Although not all jobs can be carried out remotely, the popularity of jobs that can be done outside of the office remains strong. But there are pros and cons to that scenario.
Positive outcomes could include higher worker morale, ease of child care issues and more family time, as well as fewer single-occupancy vehicles on the highways, which down the road would help with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
One of the more significant downsides of not going to the office, however, would be the impact on the “dollars that support our infrastructure investments in a regional transit network,” such as SMART, Kallerman said. And that would have a domino effect, with fewer workers supporting downtown businesses for lunches or booking conference centers for events.
On the wages front, Kallerman said the number of middle- and high-wage jobs are almost 10% higher than before the pandemic. But low-wage earners have yet to see the number of jobs return to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, they’re off by nearly 40%, he said.
Overall, however, the North Bay is beating both the state and the region in percentage of jobs recovered. As of April, the North Bay had recaptured 49% of jobs, compared with 48% in California overall and 40.9% in the Bay Area.
Greer Cowan, research analyst at the economic institute, presented data that show more people are leaving the North Bay for other parts of the state and country. The pandemic has exacerbated departures that had already been intensifying over the last several years because of wildfires, she said.
The institute’s data show that going back to 2019, households that left the area had an annual income of less than $100,000. The top relocation destinations have been Texas, Arizona, Washington, Nevada and Oregon.
As of 2020, Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties collectively lost more than 8,000 people as a result of domestic migration, Cowan said.
“And looking ahead, the North Bay population is expected to age in the coming decades, which makes these challenges, in terms of labor force, even more acute,” Cowan said. “So it’s important to factor in this projected demographic shift in planning for the future of the North Bay workforce.”
The pandemic also has taken a toll on another segment of workers.
“Women and parents in general had a hard time maintaining their status in the workforce, while also taking on the additional home care needs that resulted from the pandemic-fueled changes to the child care system and elder care system,” Cowan said. “Over the last year-plus of the pandemic, in almost every month with a few exceptions, more women dropped out of the labor force than men.”
In most cases, they were low-wage earning mothers who brought in less than their male counterparts. Depending on the job, the differential ranged between 64 cents and 87 cents on the dollar, she said.
“But despite all these barriers and inequities, there’s a proven economic benefit of having women in the workforce,” Cowan said. “Economists often talk about the female labor force participation as the most significant change in the labor force over the past century or so.”
One brighter result coming out of the pandemic has been the impact of pandemic relief funds, Kallerman said.
“Consumer spending is back, way back,” he said. “I think that we did learn our lessons during the financial crisis, that if you act swiftly and inject money into the economy quickly, you can circumvent a sort of complete structural collapse that would take you years and years to come out of.”
The relief money also helped a number of small businesses to survive, he said.
“The delinquency rate for small business loans is still actually very low, so that tells us that a lot of them hung in there,” Kallerman said.
By MARIN IJ EDITORIAL BOARD |May 20, 2021 at 10:30 a.m.
It should be expected that Marin would be counted among the large majority of California counties that lost population over the past year.
The drop was small — 1% — but twice California’s 0.46% statewide count, according to the state Department of Finance’s annual estimate.
The state’s headcount puts Marin’s population at 257,774, with the largest declines seen in Marin’s unincorporated areas.
Observers speculate that those who left Marin were local workers who had lost their jobs or seen their incomes diminish due to the pandemic lockdowns.
Marin is an expensive place to live. The high cost of housing, not surprisingly, trickles down to the local cost of products and services as local businesses need to pay enough to hire and retain workers.
In addition, during 2020, more Marin residents died than the number of local births. That figure includes more than 100 whose deaths were related to the spread of that COVID-19 virus.
For decades, Marin has been counted as one of the state’s slowest-growing counties.
The previous state headcount put Marin’s population to just over 260,000.
The increases were fairly negligible, except for a recent period when enrollment in Marin’s public schools boomed, mostly due to young families moving to the county from San Francisco.
Commute traffic on Highway 101, across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and on Highway 37 were impacted more by local jobholders commuting from areas where they could afford to buy homes.
Cynthia Murray, chief executive of the North Bay Leadership Council, a bi-county organization of large employers and nonprofits, said Marin’s numbers reflect younger families leaving Marin for more affordable areas.
“The exodus of the younger middle class workers is accelerating with the new options of being able to work from home or need to go to the office infrequently,” she added.
Whether that pandemic-caused business trend turns into a new norm remains to be seen.
As Murray said, the American Dream of home ownership is less attainable in Marin for middle-class families. That’s the economic sector that made their homes in Marin and helped grow our county during the latter half of the 20th century.
It is a sad reflection of our county that those most in need — including those who make up much of our local workforce — face a decision of having to move from Marin.
It should be interesting to see how the 2020 U.S. Census headcount compares to the state’s numbers. They should be able to shed more light on who’s moving out and where they are going.
But according to the state’s estimates, the current bottom line is that Marin during 2019-20 lost population at twice the rate of the state.
The construction of affordable housing — and state lawmakers’ demand that Marin build even more housing, affordable and market-rate — is going to contribute to making this slide short-lived.
In addition, interest in building more senior housing should open homes for new households.
The state’s count is another sign that our county is still seeking to balance its social and economic needs, its water supply and need to recruit and retain local jobholders, along with the capacity of our roadways and retaining what has long made Marin a great place to live and grow a family.
The state’s numbers tip the scale slightly in a new, unexpected direction. The pandemic likely exacerbated an existing trend. The state’s push to build more housing at numbers for decades unseen across Marin will also weigh in on that balancing act.
PUBLISHED: May 15, 2021 at 5:10 p.m. | UPDATED: May 17, 2021 at 6:40 a.m.
A mountain biker rides along a stretch of the Gold Hill Fire in San Rafael on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
California posted a yearly decrease in population in 2020 for the first time in more than a century, and so did Marin County.
The state’s population dropped by 182,083 residents, or 0.46%, during 2020, according to population estimates and housing data released by the California Department of Finance. Marin’s population took an even bigger dip: It lost 2,614 residents, or 1% of its population, reducing its total to 257,774.
San Rafael, the Marin municipality with the biggest decrease, sustained a 0.6% loss, or 369 residents. Novato, which had a 0.1% decrease in its population, or 55 residents, was the Marin municipality with the smallest percentage loss.
Marin’s unincorporated area lost the highest percentage of residents, 2.6%, or 1,809 people.
“California as a whole had only three counties that did not experience population drop, so Marin County is not unique in that sense,” said Mike Blakeley, chief executive officer of the Marin Economic Forum.
“The implications in Marin of a shrinking population is that it could result in a diminishing workforce, which might make it more difficult for the economy to grow if labor is not readily available,” Blakeley said. “We already observe that employers are having difficulty hiring, especially at the lower wage levels, but this was also the case pre-pandemic so we would not attribute that to population decrease.”
Walter Schwarm, the state’s chief demographer, attributed the statewide drop in population to several factors. First, California continues to see declines in the “natural increase” of the population, he said. There were 24,000 more deaths than births in California in 2020. This trend was amplified by 51,000 deaths to COVID-19 in the state last year.
Schwarm said Marin County had 2,138 deaths last year compared with 2,073 births. That included more than 100 deaths from COVID-19.
Schwarm said another important factor leading to the population decrease was federal policy, including restrictions on H-1B and other visas, and global lockdowns that prevented international immigration during the pandemic. He said this resulted in 53,000 fewer international students in California during 2020.
The Bay Area Council wrote on its website that the population report “shows the nine-county Bay Area total population stagnating between July 2019 and July 2020. Notably, net domestic migration (movement between states) continued its growing negative trend, with a loss of 63,000 residents over the 12-month period.”
The 2020 data also indicate that California residents are moving from the coast to inland counties, Schwarm said.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, approximately 6.1 million people left California during the 2010s, while 4.9 million moved in.
Cynthia Murray, chief executive of the North Bay Leadership Council, said Marin’s population decrease “represents a further hollowing out of the middle class.”
“If you look at who is leaving, it is the younger workforce that is seizing the opportunity to move to where they can afford to buy a home and raise their family,” she said. “The exodus of the younger middle class workers is accelerating with the new options of being able to work from home or need to go to the office infrequently.
“Marin is, and will be, challenged to fill jobs that require people to be at the worksite,” Murray said. “With a lot of job openings, and talent in short supply, there will need to be an increase in wages and benefits to be competitive.”
The Department of Finance report also included new housing data, saying 103,073 new residences were created in the state last year. It was the first year since 2008 that the state created more than 100,000 residences.
In Marin, 176 residences were created last year. Novato led the way with 73, while 30 were created in San Rafael and 10 in San Anselmo.
The county also produced 77 new “accessory dwelling units” — also known as granny or in-law apartments — last year. Eighteen were in San Rafael.
Murray said the county’s “lack of housing will continue to spur more middle class workers to depart to less expensive parts of California or other states where they can live their vision of the American Dream, which for most of them is no longer attainable in Marin.”
Schwarm predicted in his report that California will return to slightly positive annual population growth this year as pandemic-related deaths decline and federal immigration policies are relaxed.
Schwarm added, however, that if the state’s population continues to decline it could affect local governments’ ability to spend by triggering the “Gann limit.”
Instituted by a constitutional measure in 1979, the Gann limit placed a cap on appropriations by state and local governments. The limit is calculated from the base year of 1978-79 and adjusted for cost of living increases and population growth.
If a government collects more in taxes than it is allowed to spend, excess funds must be returned to taxpayers. Tax rebates similar to the ones announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom this month would have been mandated by the limit due to the state’s large budget surplus.
“San Rafael’s loss is something we are watching and if the decline in population were to continue long enough, we could see a lower limit on our expenditure amount,” said City Manager Jim Schutz. “However, we are not running up against the Gann limit locally, so it would take some years of on-going declines for that issue to affect us.”