Updated at 5:20 p.m. Nov. 10:
Ventura County is the only region in Southern California that has not reached pre-recession job levels, according to research from Cal Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting.
Ventura is still 2,600 jobs shy from its pre-recession high and it is possible the job market has peaked, the annual Ventura County Economic Forecast found. Economists predict two years of slow economic and non-farm job growth, averaging 1.7 percent GDP growth and 0.75 percent job growth annually.
“We have given up on Ventura County becoming a jobs generating machine, an economic machine,” Bill Watlkins of CERF told a group of 220 people at the Padre Serra Parish in Camarillo on Nov. 10. “Ventura County is constantly talking about quality of life but for an immigrant who is working in the fields, trying to raise their kids, opportunity is a quality of life issue and that is something we have completely forgotten throughout California.”
Most of the people who are coming to Ventura County are wealthy individuals who have incomes that are independent of the regional economy, he said, which will create greater income inequality.
Ventura County’s slowing population growth and its deteriorating labor force participation rate have led to a declining labor force. The county’s waning labor force is unprecedented for a non-recessionary economy, Watkins said. Ventura County’s Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiatives, which were extended until 2050 on Nov. 8, are partially to blame, he said.
“Despite how these measures are promoted, they are actually anti-growth measures that make new construction difficult or impossible, and expensive and uncertain if possible,” Watkins wrote in CERF’s report.
The number of jobs in agriculture, production and construction will likely decline, while jobs in services and health care will likely see strong growth, the forecast concluded. More people are leaving the region than entering due to the lack of housing and jobs.
At the current rate of growth, it will be a few years before the county’s median home price reaches the pre-recession high.
“The prevalence and popularity of Ventura County’s many anti-growth policies convince us that the prevailing opinion, at least among voters, is that economic growth is no longer desired in Ventura County,” Watkins wrote.
The event marked Watkins’ final chapter for the center he founded in 2009. He officially handed over the crystal ball to CERF economist Matthew Fienup, who specializes in land use and water issues. The National Association for Business Economics awarded CERF second place in its annual most-accurate-forecast competition.
Fienup focused on implementing market-based trading for both development and water rights. A transfer of development rights would permanently preserve ag and open space by buying the development right of the land. Then, there isn’t the significant discontinuities in land values, of which Ventura County has some of the highest in the country, he said.
As for trading water rights, Ventura County could see its first water trade in the first quarter of next year, Fienup said. The Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency would orchestrate the framework of the trades. The group of farmers, public officials and water district supervisors are currently hammering out the details of the groundwater sustainability plan.
It would allow farmers and other water owners to sell their water allocations to cities, farmers and other users for higher-valued uses.
“The hope is that water will move to its highest-valued use and, most importantly, water users will have a new degree of flexibility as water usage is cut over time to achieve sustainable levels,” Fienup said.
Australia implemented a water market in the midst of a 14-year drought that had an economic impact of $370 million annually, he said. The drought didn’t cause farmers to go out of business and there weren’t cuts to water use primarily because of water trading, Fienup said. Lower-valued uses like rice production made way for higher-valued uses like growing strawberries or urban consumption.
Other speakers focused on some of the potential impacts that President-elect Donald Trump will have on the statewide economy. Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee said that programs like the Affordable Care Act will likely cease to exist as the goodwill with the federal government erodes.
“A lot of the progressive agenda that California has adopted is dependent on goodwill from Washington and that goodwill is going away,” he said
• Contact Alex Kacik at [email protected]