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Skepticism abounds about county figures

Greg Risling

El Dorado officials are startled – and skeptical – at recent state statistics showing the county had the highest population decline in California last year.

According to the California Department of Finance, the county was down 1.6 percent from 1996 figures, which translates into 2,300 residents leaving for other cities or towns. As of January 1, 1997, El Dorado has approximately 142,200 residents.

“I’m surprised with that data,” said El Dorado County Supervisor John Upton. “If anything, I thought there was a sense of growth, not decline. I question how the data was gathered… let’s see the results next year.”

Linda Gage, chief of the demographic research unit in the CDF, said she thought a turn-around in El Dorado County’s numbers is possible as people move into subdivisions being built on the Western Slope.

“There might be a lot of construction in the area, but the units aren’t necessarily occupied,” she said. “People aren’t moving in and the population increase won’t show up until that actually happens.”

El Dorado County Chief Administrative Officer Michael Hanford is examining how the state obtained the county figures. He said from preliminary information, the state contact was the El Dorado Transportation Commission – the agency which handles census information for the county.

“I have no idea how the EDTC was the contact,” said Hanford. “It should be our planning department. My guess is that the state hasn’t received all of our population information.”

County Planning Director Conrad Montgomery said the department did send the state its raw data on January 1. Montgomery also questions the validity of state statistics. When he was working for the city of Placerville, the state reported one year that Placerville has a 10 percent vacancy rate.

“South Lake Tahoe I can see, but it didn’t make sense when a lot of people were having a hard time (in Placerville) finding a place to live,” he said.

El Dorado was only one of 11 counties where population figures dipped. Forty-two of the state’s 58 counties reported an increase. Statewide population swung upward at an estimated 1.2 percent to 32.6 million.

The new information clashes with El Dorado’s rising school enrollment, peak-hour traffic congestion and growing revenue from building department fees. Hanford said the state report doesn’t jive with the spurt of 30 approved housing projects last year. The projects range in size from 400 to 20 units.

While new developments are sprouting up on the Western Slope, primarily to accommodate homeowners who commute to Sacramento, some residents want to ensure a steady pace for growth. Slow-growth supporters backed Measure K, a ballot initiative that narrowly was defeated in November. They argued that proposed development in the county’s General Plan exceeded road capacities and available water supplies. Opponents countered that the projections were flawed and taxpayers would pay for road and water improvements.

First District Supervisor Sam Bradley said the state numbers are significantly off. He said if you asked anyone in his district about a decrease in population, you’d be greeted with a laugh.

“Why are we building so many homes if the population is dwindling,” he said. “I talk to developers and they’re building 20 to 30 new homes a month. The figures the state is collecting aren’t good numbers.”


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