People are moving out, and not enough babies or housing are being created — that was the upshot of the annual report on Ventura County by Matthew Feinup, executive director of California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, delivered at the Padre Serra Center in Camarillo. Fienup shared his annual breakdown of the dynamics affecting the economy on national, California and Ventura County levels. The local forecast was overall bleak but cemented by an optimism over how best to remedy a situation which essentially boiled down to “build more housing.” Before some 260 people, Fienup delivered his 2019 Ventura County Economic Forecast, informing his audience that the local economy, in fact, “has been in a recession,” pointing to a growth rate that is hovering just above zero, on par with the last five years. “This is the weakest period for which we have data,” he said. Fienup began his talk by examining the big picture. “A year ago, there was a surprising degree of optimism on the CERF team,” he said, noting that on the national level, CERF was bullish on the incoming corporate tax reform while stocks hit an all-time high and unemployment hit record lows. However, Fienup slowly built his case that economic observers must look beyond such indicators and even the inverted yield curve in determining the economy’s health and investigate “what’s happening to the labor force.” “Stock prices are disconnected from the fundamentals,” he continued, such as the labor force, which will continue to diminish as 300,000 baby boomers (akin to the population of Anaheim) retire each month. That number will increase more than 15 percent in the next three years, according to Federal Reserve economists, with the rate of retirement peaking in 2022 at approximately 345,000 people monthly. On the state level, CERF foresees 2.6 percent growth, which Fienup said “is not strong growth and very below the 3.5 or 4 percent growth potential of California.” Over the last five years, driving Ventura County’s flat economy has been a lack of development compounded by a housing shortage, diminishing population and birth rates, and more people leaving California than moving into the state. “People are voting with their feet,” Fienup said, reiterating a phrase he used in 2018, adding that the latest estimate indicates that Ventura County GDP grew just 0.1 percent in 2018. “The average growth over the last five years is zero percent, representing the weakest five-year period for which we have data. Average growth over the past four years is negative.” Annual growth of Ventura County GDP is forecast to range from just 0.2 percent down to 0.1 percent from 2019 through 2021. “The population in Ventura County has declined for the first time in history,” Fienup continued, with population loss largest in the cities of Ventura and Thousand Oaks. Introducing Fienup, CERF Director Dan Hamilton said that May statistics identified that the Ventura County population has contracted. “It’s quite striking and speaks to sort of the status of Ventura County,” he said, adding that in the last four years, more and more people are leaving the region than moving into it. The event also included an examination of the annual Latino gross domestic product with fellow CERF economist David Hayes-Bautista; and a panel moderated by former Ventura County Star editor and publisher Tim Gallagher, which included Nick Deitch of Mainstreet Architects and Planning, who said “fear” is preventing the region from moving forward on development, echoing Fienup’s assessment. “Our fear of becoming like the San Fernando Valley is turning us into the San Fernando Valley,” Deitch said. “We all agree that this is a beautiful and tremendous place, and we all seem to agree that there’s not enough housing.” “We need everything from tiny houses to penthouses,” Deitch continued. Support must come from local officials, Fienup added. From 2017 through last year, the county saw a 47 percent decrease in home building permits, with a mere 1,229 units permitted in 2018. Counter to NIMBY fears, Fienup argued that an increase of housing in the region would not bring on increases in traffic but would in fact diminish traffic by relieving people from commuting on the 101 freeway.