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Sonoma County continued its decade-long slow-growth population crawl, growing by less than half of 1 percent in the 12 months ending July 1, according to state estimates released Tuesday.

Lake County experienced its first population decrease since 1954, going from 64,466 residents in 2010 to 63,703 in 2011 — a decrease of 763 residents. The population dip reversed nearly six decades of growth, though it had all but stalled in recent years.

Mendocino County, which has had several years of population decreases in the past 11 years, dipped .31 percent to 87,669 residents.

The increase in Sonoma County's population was due largely to births, 5,344, compared to 3,592 deaths, resulting in a "natural increase" of 1,752 residents, according to the California Department of Finance's annual report of population estimates.

The report shows that Sonoma County had an estimated net gain of 895 foreign immigrants and a net loss of 426 "domestic" residents. That pushed the county's estimated population from 484,258 residents in 2010 to 486,479 in 2011 — a growth of .46 percent.

Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said the growth falls in line with expectation for the next 10 years — an average of .8 percent a year.

Sonoma County's growth rate was less than the state's overall growth of .70 percent.

In Lake County, an estimated 803 deaths exceeded births by 70. The county's net domestic loss was 750 residents, while only 57 foreign immigrants moved in. The resulting overall population decrease was 1.18 percent.

Mendocino County's population also decreased, though by just .31 percent. Births, 1,015, exceeded deaths by 191 while the county gained 143 new foreign residents but lost a net of 604 residents to other counties or states.

California's population grew to more than 37.5 million inhabitants, according to the state's estimates. The state gained 132,000 new foreign immigrants but lost 154,000 residents to other states, following a similar "domestic out-migration of the prior five years in which California experienced losses exceeding 100,000 persons to other states," the report said.

The .70 percent growth is a slight increase over the .65 percent growth rate of the year before, state officials said.

Other highlights from the report include:

<BL@199,12,11,10>Of the state's 58 counties, Sonoma ranked 28th in percent population growth.

<BL@199,12,11,10>Of the 18 counties with declining populations, Lake County had the seventh largest proportional decrease. Mendocino ranked 15 in percent population loss.

<BL@199,12,11,10>Los Angeles County, with the largest population, 9,865,567 people, grew by .30 percent, or 30,497 residents.

<BL@199,12,11,10>The number of people that left Los Angeles County, 83,790, far exceeded the 37,460 foreign immigrants that moved in. Los Angeles County births, 133,727, was more than twice the number of deaths, 56,900.

<BL@199,12,11,10>The state's nine largest counties — Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Alameda, Sacramento and Contra Costa — each have more than million residents. They account for 70 percent of the state's total population.

State department of finance estimates, mandated by the state constitution and other codes, are used by government agencies, academic institutions and private research organizations for such things as budgeting, planning and assessing social services needs.

The estimates are derived from data from a variety of sources, including birth and death counts, the number of driver's licenses, housing data from local governments, school enrollment data and federal income tax return data.

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