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Ventura County Population Up

Despite sprawl laws, the area grows 1.7% to remain the state's 12th largest county.

May 07, 2003|Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County grew at the same moderate rate as California overall last year despite tough local anti-sprawl laws that cinch in city boundaries and prompt debate about every large development project.

The county's population grew by 12,900 to 791,300 by Jan. 1, up 1.7% from the previous year, the state Department of Finance reported in its annual demographic update.

That means that only 18 of the state's 58 counties grew faster, although Ventura County remained the state's 12th largest.

"It seems like growth in a healthy Ventura County economy is 1.6% to 1.8% per year," said Bill Fulton, a Ventura-based planning expert. "We're seeing some increased housing production and a creeping up of household size because of higher birth rates."

For the last four years, Ventura County has grown at about double its pace during much of the 1990s, when it slogged through a seven-year downturn caused by a statewide economic recession.

Most of the increase last year came in the county's two largest cities. In the west county, Oxnard added 3,000 residents to reach a population of nearly 182,000, while Thousand Oaks, in the east county, gained 2,700 residents to reach 124,000. Overall, the population gain was scattered somewhat evenly across the county.

Moorpark, the county's newest city, grew at the fastest rate, 4.2%, as its population jumped by 1,400 to 34,550.

Two-thirds of the growth occurred in cities along the bustling Ventura Freeway corridor -- Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura.

And planning experts say that expansion will continue partly because of pressure from families moving to Ventura County from crowded Los Angeles County and high-cost Santa Barbara County.

"Sometime in the next 10 or 15 years, we're going to hit a wall," Fulton said, referring to local anti-sprawl laws.

Since 1995, voters in every large local city and in unincorporated Ventura County have passed ballot measures confining growth within precise urban boundaries until 2020, unless voters approve otherwise.

Those boundaries were designed to accommodate about 60,000 new dwellings. But build-out in some cities will arrive well before 2020, Fulton said.

"The day of reckoning comes about 2015 or so, when all the kids grow up and need houses," he said. "Population growth is driven mostly by birth rates, so reducing the number of new houses doesn't automatically reduce population growth by the same amount."

So far, the rate of new-home construction has not abated at all, because there is room to grow within the new boundaries.

Last year, for example, the number of dwellings in Ventura County increased by about 3,100, the Department of Finance reports. That includes 749 more homes in Thousand Oaks, 538 in Oxnard, 434 in Ventura, 397 in Simi Valley and more than 300 in Camarillo and Moorpark combined.

That trend may even be accelerating. In the first three months of 2003, more than 1,000 home-building permits were issued, double the number for the same period last year, according to the Construction Industry Research Board.

That follows a robust 2002, when more than 2,500 new-home permits were issued. Three-fourths of those were in cities along the Ventura Freeway corridor: 779 in Oxnard, 526 in Thousand Oaks, 386 in Camarillo and 216 in Ventura.

Significant numbers of permits were also issued in Simi Valley and Moorpark, a pair of commuter towns along the 118 Freeway where a combined 355 dwelling permits were issued.

The local city least affected by growth was Port Hueneme, which has remained about the same size for many years and actually lost 150 residents last year, the state reported. Ojai, the county's smallest city with 8,000 residents, gained just 75 people. Santa Paula grew by just 150 residents, and Fillmore by 250.

Overall, Ventura was one of the slowest-growing counties in Southern California. Its 1.7% rate compares with 1.6% in Orange County, 1.7% in Los Angeles County, 1.8% in San Diego County, 2.5% in San Bernardino County and 3.7% in Riverside County.

On the Central Coast, Santa Barbara County grew by 1.0% and San Luis Obispo County had a 1.3% population increase.

Los Angeles County posted the highest numerical population gain in the state, adding 162,200 people in 2002 for a total of 9,979,600. Next was Riverside County, which added 60,200 people for a total of 1,705,500. San Diego County ranked third in population gain, posting an increase of 53,100 for a total population of 2,961,600.

Growth figures were determined by changes in housing stock in urban areas, birth and death counts, address changes recorded by the Department of Motor Vehicles, employment data, school enrollment figures, federal income tax summaries, data from immigration officials and Medicare and Medicaid sources.

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Ventura County population estimates

*--* Area Jan. 1, 2002 Jan. 1, 2003 % Change Camarillo 59,400 60,500 +1.9% Fillmore 14,450 14,700 +1.7% Moorpark 33,150 34,550 +4.2% Ojai 7,925 8,000 +0.9% Oxnard 178,800 181,800 +1.7% Port Hueneme 21,950 21,800 -0.7% Santa Paula 28,800 28,950 +0.5% Simi Valley 115,900 117,700 +1.6% Thousand Oaks 121,300 124,000 +2.2% Ventura 102,700 104,300 +1.6% Unincorporated 94,100 95,200 +1.2% Countywide 778,400 791,300 +1.7%

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Source: State Department of Finance

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