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Sonoma County population's slower growth continues an 11-year trend

Sonoma County's experience as a fast-growth area faded further into history on Thursday as the latest population figures showed a 0.51 percent increase in the past year, continuing an 11-year trend.

The last time the county grew by as much as 1 percent was 2001, and growth in the past 10 years (2003-12) totals 4.5 percent.

Those figures are a dramatic shift from the postwar boom period, when the county grew by 43 percent in the 1950s, 39 percent in the &‘60s and 46 percent in the &‘70s.

That era, when the county's business establishment sought to emulate San Jose's suburban sprawl, gave rise to the environmental movement and the advent of restrictive zoning and urban growth boundaries in Sonoma County.

The State Department of Finance's latest population report, released Thursday, pegged the county's population at 489,283 on July 1, with a one-year gain of just 2,505 people.

The county had 5,179 births and 4,036 deaths in the past year, for a natural increase of 1,143, the report said.

Net migration — counting moves to and from other counties, states and countries — added another 1,362 residents.

In 2011, Sonoma County posted a 0.56 percent growth rate, gaining 2,694 people over the year.

The county's minimal expansion in 2012 mirrored California, which grew to 37.8 million people on July 1, up 0.68 percent over the year.

Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said the county's sustained period of growing at about a half percent a year represents a "happy medium" between the breakneck pace of the boom era and the current economic reality.

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