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Clovis housing boom – and more prison inmates – drove Fresno County growth, study says

Fresno County’s population steadily ticked upward in 2018, with that growth attributed in part to expanded housing and a rising prison population.

There are now approximately 1.018 million residents of Fresno County, according to a report released Wednesday by the California Department of Finance. That marks a 1.1 percent increase from the previous year.

Clovis recorded the steepest growth in the county. It was also one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, adding 3,108 residents to notch a 2.7 percent growth rate. The city has 117,003 residents.

Clovis’ growth largely came from new home construction. The city added 945 housing units last year, the sixth most in the state.

The city of Fresno added residents, too. At 536,683 people, the population increased approximately 1 percent in 2018, according to the report. Fresno also came in eighth place statewide for housing growth, with 882 housing units added last year.

Smaller cities in Fresno County recording significant growth last year included Coalinga (17,600 people, 2.8 percent growth), Kerman (15495 people, 2.6 percent growth), and Sanger (27,094 people, 2.3 percent growth).

It wasn’t just housing that led to an increase in population.

While the state prison population, which frequently accounts for a significant portion of the population in the rural counties where most are located, decreased in several cities, the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga saw an increase in population that contributed to that city’s growth, according to the report.

Fresno County’s growth contrasted with statewide trends. Overall, California’s population was mostly flat in 2018.

California added about 186,000 residents last year, giving the state 39.9 million residents. Its birthrate is the slowest in state history. California had 18,000 fewer births than in 2017, according to the Finance Department.

The report also showed that wildfires drove an exodus from hard-hit California cities last year, shifting tens of thousands of residents from Paradise, Redding and Malibu to other communities.

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The Camp Fire in Butte County, which killed 85 people, did the most damage. It destroyed 11,371 housing units in Paradise and wiped out 90 percent of the city’s residences.

Many of those displaced Californians moved to nearby Chico, which gained 19,000 residents and become the state’s fastest-growing city. Chico’s population now stands at 112,000.

But Butte County wasn’t the only region of the state to see population shifts because of the fires. The state lost almost 20,000 housing units last year to fires.

Butte County hit by the Camp Fire lost 14,600 of them.

The Carr Fire in Shasta County 900 burned residences.

The Woolsey Fire did the most damage in Southern California. Ventura County lost 700 homes and the city of Malibu saw 500 burn.

Lake County, which has suffered extreme wildfires repeatedly since 2015, lost another 300 homes.

California has faced successive deadly fire seasons over the past four years, leading Gov. Gavin Newsom boost the state’s firefighting budget and commission a task force on how to pay for the damage.

“We’re all in this together .... We all have a burden and a responsibility,” he said at a news conference last month.

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