Early October. We grabbed camping supplies from our garage and left our home at the base of hiking trails in the San Gabriel Mountains and drove for 90 minutes to San Clemente and camping with friends at the San Mateo Campground.
The weekend was warm enough to splash in the surf along the beach and enjoy the diverse landscape that the Golden State offers.
California is amazing in the diversity of land and the people. I’ve always enjoyed the variety of restaurants and the variety of languages and cultures clashing and mixing.
Just the other week, we had people painting who spoke Spanish and a friend from Egypt helping us with two children we were watching. Diverse people are part of our life. Our children were adopted out of foster care in LA County: white, black and Hispanic. My grandchildren are bi-racial.
It’s a wonderful, societal and topographical variety that my native western Pennsylvania didn’t offer. I moved to the state in the mid-80s and have always lived within one mile of where I originally settled.
I’ve been in the same house since 1994 with a family we’ve invested in with our time and love. You don’t just give that up.
But this quote from noted California scholar Joel Kotkin of Chapman University expresses my sentiments well:
“It takes a policy genius of some diabolical sort to push people out of California” (Joel Kotkin, interview with California Insider, Epoch Times February 19, 2020).
By mid-June, I was fed up with policymakers in the state and, for the first time, my wife and I spoke about leaving.
What happened in June?
Our middle-school age granddaughter had struggled with friends for a few years, but she was looking forward to being in eighth grade. At the same time, she’d look up homes in western Pennsylvania and dream about living on or near a farm. She also understood how much more affordable housing prices were there versus Pasadena and Los Angeles County.
The stay-at-home orders were restrictive and online schooling just wasn’t working for her while the middle school was only one mile from us.
The county had numerous hiking trails near us blocked and closed starting in March, and yet plenty of people took long walks through our neighborhood. Our church campus wasn’t showing any signs of opening.
My wife is a family nurse practitioner working at a clinic in northwest Pasadena, a low income area with people she loves. Her clinic did tele-appointments, but families were scared to go to the hospital. Depression was gripping children who were otherwise happy.
We have several people living in our house and a sense of unnecessary claustrophobia was settling in.
A neighbor who has a martial arts studio was looking forward to re-opening in July — and then August. And by September, he put his house on the market and was trying to move his family to Montana for work at a studio there.
Our belief was that the strict Covid policies were doing more damage than good, a belief made even stronger by the challenge that the counties face in fully re-opening, especially with the theme parks.
It’s official that the state won’t allow the theme parks to reopen until the summer of 2021 at the earliest. Log on to Disneyland’s website and you’re greeted with a picture of Downtown Disneyland District, which is open.
But go the park and you’ll find this message:
“Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park remain closed and will reopen at a later date, pending state and local government approvals.”
Here’s the list of major park closures:
- Disneyland and California Adventure (Orange County)
- Knott’s Berry Farm (Orange County)
- Universal Studios (Los Angeles County)
- Six Flags Magic Mountain (Los Angeles County)
- Raging Waters (Los Angeles County)
- Legoland (San Diego County)
Disney has laid off 28,000 employees as of the end of September and the City of Anaheim could have a $100 million budget shortfall. I expect the ripple effect will be felt in area motels, coffee shops and restaurants and bars.
The theme parks may likely sue the state to get re-opened at a much faster clip.
But the state isn’t “closed down,” either. Sea World in San Diego is open because it’s operating as a licensed and accredited zoo.
People are out mingling and mixing at the grocery store, the Big Box retail stores, and along the beaches. The freeways look like they’re returning to pre-Covid traffic.
A harsh reality
We’re re-thinking living in Southern California and the state even though we were aware of the challenges here.
The “pandemic” pulled back a curtain on tough realities like:
Our home is worth a cool $ 1 million, as an average middle-class home of 2,300 square feet on a lot just over 9,000 square feet. I often wonder how my kids will live. We have a nice amount of equity in our place that we’re counting on as one of our retirement income sources.
However, will we watch our equity erode? If it does, I do believe it could come back in 5 or more years. However, my concern is that the foundations of a strong economy are being damaged.
Representative Adam Schiff was on the Real Time with Bill Maher show, October 2020, and sounded like he was going to become a Republican when he said that California needs to become more business friendly.
I don’t think he’s going to make the switch. I’d expect the earth to stop turning, first.
But a decade ago, I interviewed another a Democratic state senator, Roderick Wright, who represented parts of Inglewood, Compton and the South Bay. At the time, Toyota was negotiating with the state to keep its plant open in Fremont. They wanted some tax breaks and California wouldn’t budge.
Senator Wright told me that he had small businesses in his area that supplied Toyota and they’d lose business when the car maker up and left since it couldn’t modernize its facility. He mentioned the state no longer has the competitive advantage it once held due to such favorable weather conditions.
Computer aided design and other advancements have diminished that advantage.
Taxes like the gas tax
California residents pay the highest gasoline tax in the country at 62 cents per gallon and the amount is to be adjusted every July 1, thanks to a bill that passed in 2017. The increase in 2020 of 3.2 cents per gallon was the third consecutive hike. I don’t think it’s going to be the last.
The state is going to be more tax-hungry than ever in the coming years. Retiring city, county and state employees need their pensions and the state is faced with an enormous liability — that’s been an issue for the past several years and now will only get worse.
Overall economy and the future
In 2015, Los Angeles County unemployment was 15.1%, higher than the state’s overall 11% unemployment, as noted by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.
How will this affect the trend of people leaving California?
Joel Kotkin reported in September 2018, a year and a half before the pandemic, in A Generation Plans an Exodus from California, that “Since the [economic] recovery began in 2010, California’s net domestic out-migration, according to the American community survey, has almost tripled to 140,000 annually. Over that time, the state has lost half a million net migrants with the bulk of that coming from the Los Angeles-Orange County area.”
Over a quarter of those leaving earned over $ 100,000 a year and another quarter earned between $ 50,000 to $ 100,000 annually.
The trend could likely accelerate. You’ve heard that Elon Musk and Joe Rogan will relocate to Texas.
So will the 75-person staff of the conservative Daily Wire publication. Many jeered Ben Shapiro when he made the announcement saying, “Hey, it’s just 75 jobs. We still have 39 million in the state.”
True. Just over that number. In 2019, the state had 39.96 million people. By January 2020, that number was down to 39.78 million residents.
But Governor Newsom, and other California politicians, please take note.
The trend of moving out is real. Need further proof?
Try this headline from The Drive.com on September 15, 2020: “U,-Haul Prices for One-Way Moves Out of California are Astronomical Right Now: It will cost you ten times more to move from LA to Phoenix than the other way around.
Business Insider carried a similar headline the next day.
I know friends who are younger and the husband works in wealth management planning. They bought their house near us a few years ago and just put it on the market before prices drop. They went on a road trip across the states to evaluate where they will move to.
The wife’s parents live near us and the husband is from England. And though they are intimately tied in with the state, they’re saying ‘bye.
So why don’t I leave?
My wife and I want to feel called or pulled somewhere, instead of running away from something. She’s in her position at a well-child community clinic and we have the family we do because our faith motivated us to want to help others.
If we were to leave, we’d want to be near friends or other family. I also think of the needs here, around Pasadena, people we currently know and are helping. We like our house and its location with a view of Mount Wilson and near plenty of hiking trails.
It’s not easy to pull up and head out, and yet, we may do that. The quality of life is eroding. And I don’t mean by the burgeoning homeless population, either.
For the past few years, I officiated competitive youth soccer and adult leagues, along with high school. It was challenging but fun after being a volunteer ref for so many years. I was part of a referee association where most of the refs spoke Spanish and they welcomed me and taught me a great deal about the game.
This year, that’s been taken away. And it may still be months before play returns — at least in Los Angeles County. Orange County may re-open sooner. That’s one example.
Moving is something we never would have considered, but the thoughts are heavy on our mind.
I’m not leaving California, yet. My family and I will continue weighing our options.