Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm Still California Dreamin'!

The Associated Press is running an article offering the premise that the shine has worn off of California. Here's an excerpt:

The number of people leaving California for another state outstripped the number moving in from another state during the year ending on July 1, 2008. California lost a net total of 144,000 people during that period — more than any other state, according to census estimates. That is about equal to the population of Syracuse, N.Y.

The state with the next-highest net loss through migration between states was New York, which lost just over 126,000 residents.

California's loss is extremely small in a state of 38 million. And, in fact, the state's population continues to increase overall because of births and immigration, legal and illegal. But it is the fourth consecutive year that more residents decamped from California for other states than arrived here from within the U.S.

A losing streak that long hasn't happened in California since the recession of the early 1990s, when departures outstripped arrivals from other states by 362,000 in 1994 alone.

In part because of the boom in population in other Western states, California could lose a congressional seat for the first time in its history.

Why are so many looking for an exit?

Among other things: California's unemployment rate hit 8.4 percent in November, the third-highest in the nation, and it is expected to get worse. A record 236,000 foreclosures are projected for 2008, more than the prior nine years combined, according to research firm MDA DataQuick. Personal income was about flat last year.

With state government facing a $41.6 billion budget hole over 18 months, residents are bracing for higher taxes, cuts in education and postponed tax rebates. A multibillion-dollar plan to remake downtown Los Angeles has stalled, and office vacancy rates there and in San Diego and San Jose surpass the 10.2 percent national average.

Median housing prices have nose-dived one-third from a 2006 peak, but many homes are still out of reach for middle-class families. Some small towns are on the brink of bankruptcy. Normally recession-proof Hollywood has been hit by layoffs.

All of this bad news only puts California more out of reach for me, which really just makes California more of a dream. We visit California as often as possible - one of my best friends lives there, just north of Los Angeles. We have been out to visit probably a half-dozen times in the summer, when the weather is 50 percent drier and 10 degrees cooler than it is in the Mid-Atlantic.

We love that there is so much to do within an hour's drive... That Disneyland and Mexico and San Diego and even Las Vegas are nearby. San Francisco is a day-long drive, but the drive back down the coast is incredible, and you get Hearst Castle as a bonus. Monterey. Carmel. The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obsipo is the funkiest motel in the world. Every room has a different design, and the men's room has a waterfall for a urinal! You can go to the grocery store there and see a TV show being filmed in the parking lot! And perhaps most alluring of all... California is halfway to Hawaii, making an expensive and difficult trip less expensive and less difficult!

Yes, I suppose these are all things that are not essential to enjoying a quality life, and I suppose California has crushing problems that I choose to ignore, including that it's the only place in America where traffic is worse than it is where I live now. Schools are bad. Immigration, illegal and otherwise, creates an unbelievable burden on public resources. There are earthquakes and mudslides and wildfires and droughts.

I also personally know people who have been chewed up and spit out by California. My friend, Jen, loves her hometown of San Diego, but is now proud to call herself a Washingtonian(Admittedly- part of the reason Jen loves DC is that she left her family on that other coast!). I once lost an employee to California, but when I offered her her old job back a year later, she took it gladly. Even my good friend Jon, who is literally living the Hollywood dream life - swimming pools and movie stars - says he misses the fact that all of his friends and family live 3,000 miles away.

But thank goodness for the hardships that make California a difficult place to live. If it was easy to make a go of it there, then no one would want to go. For me, the sounds of the Mamas and Papas and the Beach Boys will continue to drum around in the back of my head... and I'll continue my California Dreamin'!


Jen Richer said...

Everything is dead on except your comment about California schools. Both public and private schools are fantastic comparatively. In fact, a recent US Today survey of high schools, a majority of the top performers if not in Fairfax or Montgomery Co, were in California. I may be a Washingtonian now, but I will defend my left coast roots to the end.

John Matthews said...

What do I know... all I know is what my friend with two kids in California schools tells me... I was not trying to me nasty... except to say that I have to correct your spelling a lot, Jenny... Where did you go to school again? :)