A business leaves their door open for people to walk in at City Heights. / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

San Diego’s growth rate has long followed one path.

The region was growing, largely thanks to more births than deaths among San Diego residents every year and migration. The assumption that this would continue has driven policy discussions for 20 years.

Now, the region is not growing. For three consecutive years, the population has shrunk.

The region’s natural population growth — the difference between how many people are born here each year and how many people die here — is still positive. More babies are coming into the world here than people dying. The region has been losing population the last three years because more people have been moving away from San Diego than have been moving here.

But now that last pillar of growth – natural population, births versus deaths – could be changing. And that could have enormous consequences on political discussions about everything from transportation and housing to education and workforce development.

The new data: The gap between the higher number of people being born here versus those people who are dying here has been closing since 2014. That year, nearly 25,000 more babies were born in San Diego than the number of people died. That gap shrank all the way to 15,000 last year, the lowest number since 2010.

The latest forecast from the California Department of Finance anticipates that trend continuing in the coming decades, with natural population growth here reaching negative territory for the first time in 2036.

Click here to view this chart in a new tab

What is happening: Recessions slow population growth. But Ray Major, SANDAG’s chief economist and deputy CEO said families haven’t fully returned to the behavior that forecasters expected out of them since the Great Recession more than 12 years ago.

“People have put off having children, and they’re having fewer children, so we have smaller families,” he said. “Historically, we always expected we’d have more births than deaths going forward, but we now know that even after the recession, people are still not having kids or having fewer kids. So we have an aging population, and demographic forecasters weren’t ready for that in 2008.”

That all amounts to a new question facing SANDAG as it prepares for its next long-term regional plan. San Diego is becoming an aging region with negative growth. The transportation and housing needs are different for that population, than for one that fancies itself, for example, a growing hub for life sciences companies and the young people poised to work for them. Major said SANDAG is beginning to ponder how that should change the agency’s approach.

The takeaway: San Diego needs to grapple with its conception of itself. On its current trajectory, it is not a vibrant city that attracts young talent and fosters economic activity. It is instead a place that is so expensive and difficult to live that it repels people and discourages having children. That is not the story that leaders tell, but it is the truth of the forecasts that those leaders use to make decisions.

City Walks Away from Employee Vaccine Mandate

This week San Diego County announced that it would stop requiring new hires be vaccinated to protect them from COVID-19, unless they will work in health care. They also will stop requiring weekly COVID-19 tests for existing employees who chose not to get vaccinated.

At the city of San Diego, Mayor Todd Gloria announced he too would stop requiring employees to get the vaccine and accommodate employees who had requested religious or medical exemptions. He painted his months-long push to force employees to comply as a success.

“Before we instituted the vaccine mandate, just 69% of City employees were vaccinated, and I’m incredibly proud the vaccination rate is now over 90%,” Gloria said in a written press release.

Almost 800 employees, the city announced, would be granted exemptions for religious and other reasons. We have heard a few employees were denied exemption requests but it’s unclear what exact threshold for the “sincerely held” religious beliefs the city is using. It’s obvious what’s happening here, hundreds of people have claimed a religious exemption by just saying they need a religious exemption.

Examine the spin: This is quite a take for the mayor, if you think about it. Since July 2021, the mayor and his staff have insisted that all employees be vaccinated. Never once did they publicly indicate any percentage of employees would be allowed to avoid the shots.

“This would become a new minimum requirement of employment and would be included in all future job bulletins,” managers announced to city labor union leaders in July.

As deadlines passed, the city sent out notices of termination and the mayor held steadfast. We don’t have an exact count yet, but it looks like the city fired more than a dozen employees.

Now, though, it appears Gloria has acknowledged he never intended to actually fire the bulk of employees who refused the vaccine. He just wanted them to think he would. Or if he had intended to fully enforce it, what changed this week?

An employee who did not want to get vaccinated may have suspected the city would never actually go through with it, but that’s quite a bluff to call.

A big promise: The mayor also announced this: “City departments will accommodate these employees by providing free weekly COVID-19 testing at the workplace to ensure the protection of employees and members of the public.”

For hundreds of employees spread over the city’s many departments and workplace locations, that seems like another big promise/mandate. Can it pull it off?

Notes

A W for Stone: San Diego’s Stone Brewing won a massive judgement against MillerCoors for the latter’s alleged trademark violation when it for promoting its brand Keystone Light as “Stone.” The actual Stone Brewing company posted a Tweet with one letter reacting to the news.

Unemployment now almost as low as two years ago: In February, San Diego’s unemployment rate hit 4 percent, just a bit higher than 3.8 percent we had in February 2020, before the pandemic began. The Workforce Partnership reported that we were still 14,000 workers shy from the 1.6 million employed people we had in the region in 2020.

San Diegan in Ukraine: Steven Moore, a political affairs consultant who worked for many years in San Diego flew to Ukraine recently to raise money to help shepherd displaced people to safety.

Related: Sergey Kagermazov, a Russian journalist who worked in our newsroom a few years ago, has decided to leave Russia for good. He sent us a note this week: “For me, the last straw was the law that any information about the war, other than official, can be punished by a fine or even prison. In fact, this is a ban on journalism.” He is staying in Turkey and says he has enough savings for a while.

Scott Lewis oversees Planetcob’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Planetcob.

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5 Comments

  1. The fact that local population growth is slowing down, or even reversing, does not mean that San Diego is “dying”, unless you're a YIMBY convinced that in order to “live”, local population has to keep growing forever. The fact is that when it comes to balancing our focus on accommodating the needs of local residents versus attracting more wealthy tourists and fugitive money from places like China and Russia, we've tipped the balance in favor of being a tourist town. There is enough outside money coming in to keep housing prices far too high for most residents, so our kids can't afford to purchase starter homes here. So we help them buy one in places like Boisie or Austin, or some of the other less expensive housing markets. Then we decide to sell our homes at the top of the market to move closer to our children and grandchildren.

    Local developers will keep building very expensive “market rate” homes as long as they can sell them as fast as they can build them, and local governments will never be able to bribe or subsidize them into building smaller, more affordable homes while the market remains this hot. The only thing that might bring down housing prices is enough people moving out, and the city's promise to reduce the number of homes serving as short term vacation rentals by about half, with half of them returning to the long-term rental or for sale markets. That might overturn enough landlords business plans that they decide to sell out while the getting is good, and grow the number of for sale homes to the point where supply finally exceeds demand, which may or may not happen.

    In the meantime, the city should stop handing millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars to its tourism authority to run TV and radio ads all over the United States urging people to come vacation here. Too many of those tourists get a taste of Sunny San Diego and decide to move here and buy houses, keeping housing prices too high for our own good. If local hotel owners want more tourists to come here and stay in their hotels, let them pay for advertising out of their own profits.

  2. It seems VOSD has a few narratives to reconcile, and I would like to see VOSD attempt to do it.

    On one hand, we have shortages: too little housing, too little water, too few parks, etc.

    On the other hand, this article suggests San Diego can’t be vibrant unless it’s growing in population.

    How do you reconcile those two competing narratives? I’m sure there’s a great story in there, somewhere. (Or at least an admission that vibrant is not a synonym for growing.)

  3. Lower population means all the build, build, build housing is not good public policy. Developers and builders are contributing to politicos so they perpetuate this falsehood at the expense of everyone already livi9ng here.

  4. When I arrived in San Diego with my Mama and Papa from Milwaukee there were 420,000 total population in 1967. I am a qualified candidate for SDCC D2 and having been in local real estate since 1975, I have grave concerns over the exaggerated mismanagement of our great city. It appears that these rogue groups of Circulate San Diego and Vision Zero know best. Except, they probably know nothing as evidenced by an untold spike in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities coupled with this notion that older white cats as me are finished as contributors to society. They are wrong and I ask of your vote to D2 SDCC. There are CC& R's, setback and zoning considerations in Point Loma, and beyond which must be addressed with public approval. I am an embarrassed Democrat. Come this November, all 9 seats on the SDCC will most likely be Democrat and this is frightening for a city of over 1 million residents. My name is Smiechowski, and I want to empower the good people in Point Loma who have worked a lifetime in preserving their estates. I love all of you and my Family died in the Pacific during WWII. Danny 858 405 5118 to volunteer 5 minutes a week.

  5. In my view the reason San Diego growth is declining, even though there is immigration, is because of the high price of housing dissuades high tech industries from coming here. And they … not tourists, will determine what the future of San Diego holds.
    https://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/city/california/san_diego

    San Diego cost of living is 160.1
    $ OF LIVING San Diego California USA
    Overall 160.1 149.9 100
    Grocery 109.7 105.1 100
    Health 89 92.4 100
    Housing 279.1 239.1 100
    Home Cost $812,100 $684,800 $291,700
    Utilities 102.8 102.4 100
    Transportatn 120.2 133.1 100
    Miscellaneous 105.6 103.7 100

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