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Californians aren’t leaving the state en masse — but they are leaving San Francisco, study says


The number of Californians leaving the Bay Area has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly from San Francisco, according to a new study released Thursday.

Despite suggestions of a California exodus to other states in recent months, most who leave that region do not move far, though many Sierra counties saw a large influx of migrants from San Francisco compared with 2019.

The share of residents leaving the state has grown since 2015 — from 16% to 18% — a trend that continued in 2020 with “no marked increase,” the report from the nonpartisan California Policy Lab said.

“While a mass exodus from California clearly didn’t happen in 2020, the pandemic did change some historical patterns. For example, fewer people moved into the state to replace those who left,” Natalie Holmes, research fellow at the California Policy Lab, said in a statement. “At the county level, however, San Francisco is experiencing a unique and dramatic exodus, which is causing 50% or 100% increases in Bay Area in-migration for some counties in the Sierras.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, net domestic exits from the Bay Area “have increased 178% compared to pre-pandemic trends, with a 9% increase in departures and a 21% decrease in entrances in the last three quarters of 2020 relative to the same period in 2019,” according to the study.

During the last three quarters of 2020, San Francisco saw the largest percentage increase in residential exits of any county in the state, data shows.

In the second through fourth quarters of 2020, exits from San Francisco “were 31% higher than during the same period in 2019.” New entrances were 21% lower, the study said. Net exits from San Francisco in the last nine months of 2020 increased nearly 650% compared with the same period in 2019 — from 5,200 net exits to 38,800.

“There is a trend in most urban areas, but it’s most pronounced in San Francisco,” said Evan White, executive director of the California Policy Lab at UC Berkeley.

Part of this flight from San Francisco, White said, may be the result of large tech companies shifting their offices to remote work for the foreseeable future. That kind of freedom may have led employees to move to more affordable counties, he said.

Most who left San Francisco stayed in the Bay Area economic region, according to the study, and some 80% remained in the state — a trend consistent with pre-pandemic patterns. Although Bay Area counties and urban centers in Southern California tend to be the most popular destinations for those leaving San Francisco, counties in the Sierra Nevada mountains saw some of the largest population growth from the Bay Area, especially in the final quarter of 2020.

“It will be interesting to see, when the pandemic comes to an end, whether those folks move back,” White said.

The number of people leaving California typically tracks with the amount entering the state. But the findings show that wasn’t the case in the fourth quarter of 2020, when 267,000 people left the state and only 128,000 entered.

“It doesn’t look like we’re going to see much change in migration for the state as a whole,” White said. “There’s not a huge migration of people and therefore of businesses, and that’s good news for the state, I suppose.”

But in San Francisco, he said, the implications have been “a little more interesting.”

“With people leaving, we’ve seen rents going down pretty dramatically,” he said. “If rents go down in the commercial and residential sector, we may see businesses trying to take advantage of that.”




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