2020 Census Indicates Malibu Lost Nearly 15 Percent of its Population Since 2010

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Projections from the independent website World Population Review—not officially associated with the U.S. Census Bureau

The federal government’s release of the first local-level results from the 2020 U.S. Census took place on Aug. 12, with some startling results for Malibu. According to the government census’ “quick facts,” the Malibu 2010 population was 12,645, which dropped to 10,654 by 2020—a 15-percent loss.

Projected numbers for 2021 by World Population Review (an independent organization without political affiliation based in Walnut, Calif.) say Malibu’s current population should now be 9,946—a decrease of 21.34 percent since 2010. Malibu’s population first began decreasing in 2016, but seriously plummeted after the Woolsey Fire in 2018.

World Population Review also projects the following current numbers for Malibu’s population: 91.5 percent white; median age 53; 78 percent own their own homes; 66 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher; 86 percent only speak English; the average male earns $104,239 per year and the average female earns $49,981; the poverty rate is seven percent; median household income is $150,747; 51.5 percent are married; and the unemployment rate is 3.5 percent.

City officials and residents had been scratching their heads the past year over some puzzling numbers:  low Malibu participation rates in COVID-19 vaccinations and low numbers filling out the U.S. Census questionnaire. The newly released census data may have revealed at least part of the answer—the city has lost a significant portion of its population in the past 11 years.

The latest LA County public health data reports that only 60 percent of Malibu residents ages 12 and up have been vaccinated against COVID-19—but that is based on the 2010 Census. If the 2020 Census population is used, the percentage vaccinated is probably closer to 75 percent or more.

Last summer, residents were taken aback to find out that Malibu’s participation rate in the 2020 U.S. Census had reportedly only been 36 percent—the worst response rate in the area, if not among the worst in the country.

Of course, some asked, “36 percent of what?” A call to the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed that it’s based on the percentage of housing units that responded, not the last population count. When asked if the number of housing units is just an estimate, the answer was revealing: “No, it’s not an estimate; we know how many housing units are there based on satellite imagery, census takers and other data.”

Malibu City Council Member Steve Uhring was concerned about the low response rate last summer, when he was still on the planning commission and asked several city officials about it, including previous Planning Director Bonnie Blue.

In an email to The Malibu Times, Uhring wrote, “Long story short, the city has not done any research to understand why the numbers are so low. The best guess they could come up with is the fire burnouts (say, 400). Short-term rental properties and second homes account for the bulk of the 3,300 homes that have not completed a census form. If that is true, it says that we are not a city of residents, but instead we are a city of visitors. How that plays into the long-range plans for local schools or safe evacuations in an emergency (how do you make sure the visitors know what to do?) or spending on resident services (do I spend money on a resident senior center or on enforcement services to manage the visitors?) remains to be seen.”

The Census Bureau confirmed that the homeless and group homes, like residential treatment centers, are not counted in the response rate.

When asked how the census deals with properties that are vacant, only used as second homes or short-term rentals, they said the property owner is asked to write on the form that “0” (zero) people live there.

The SMMUSD reported online that Malibu High School currently has 484 students enrolled for the 2020-21 academic year, including a current senior class of 148 students (meaning other classes have an average of only 112). Public School Review reported that MHS’s student population had declined by 14 percent over the past five school years, which is not good news for Malibu’s bid to form its own independent school district.

Another factor that would affect Malibu’s population is the proliferation of short-term rentals (STRs) over the past 10 years—the conversion of long-term rentals to short-term means there is less available housing and fewer residents. The city reported to the California Coastal Commission on June 15, 2021, that 243 dwelling units had been approved as STRs under its new STR ordinance, with an additional 42 applications still pending.

Additional 2020 U.S. Census results, including more detailed population and household statistics, will be available online to the public by Sept. 30.