Kings County was the only southern San Joaquin Valley county whose population declined from 2010-2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.
Kings lost 2,713 people during that time to decline from 152,982 to 150,269, while Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties gained population, according to the report.
Fresno County gained the most residents, moving from 930,452 to 965,974. Kern County was a close second, adding 34,958 residents to reach a total of 874,589. Tulare only added about 16,000 residents to top out at 458,198.
Add it all up, and the southern San Joaquin Valley grew despite a lagging economy and the shadow cast by an historic, four-year drought.
Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson attributed Kings County’s unique status as a population loser to a state policy called realignment which keeps state prisoners in the counties where they committed their crimes rather than sending them to distant state lockups — three of which happen to be located in Kings.
Realignment began in 2011.
As a result, the population of Avenal State Prison, Corcoran State Prison and the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility has declined. The combined state prisoner population incarcerated in Kings County in the three facilities was 13,831 in 2014 — a drop of 2,684 inmates since 2011, according to a 2015 Kings County Economic Development Corp. report.
Add in the numbers for 2010, and the total 2010-2014 realignment-related loss of prison population was about 3,200, according to Robinson.
Kings County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes said he wasn’t sure what was driving the other counties’ growth. He attributed Kings’ population loss to the state prison drop.
“To the extent [the other counties] are growing, we would be growing the same, if it weren’t for the prisons,” Spikes said.
Spikes said a better comparison is to Madera County, which has similar demographic characteristics to Kings.
Madera County gained 3,683 residents from 2010-2014, according to the census numbers. The county has a state prison facility in Chowchilla.
The California Department of Finance projects that Kings County’s population will increase 69 percent by 2060 to reach 259,506 — an average annual increase of about 1.5 percent.