Marin Independent Journal Editorial: To stabilize population drop, Marin must push for social, economic balance

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.

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