And now as we light out for unknown territory, an interlude about what is driving me away Why from the Bay Area, with its perfect-for-me weather, beautiful sights, and vibrant culture, plus all the great experiences and friends I have here? There are a few things that I can’t fix, though I’d been hoping for years for improvement. I’m sure I’ll find similar problems elsewhere, but I’m not sure. For one thing, Texas has similar demographics to California, but along hundreds of miles, we saw not a single gang tag on their highways or in urban neighborhoods. So here we go:
- The cost of living. Outside of California, people think we exaggerate how much we have to pay just to live in the state. Even if you have an asset you can count on, like our former house, everything else continues to spiral up in cost disproportionately to most of the rest of the country. You end up feeling like you’re on a treadmill that just keeps going faster. It was only when we announced our upcoming exit that others who we thought were “making it” confided that they, too, find making ends meet is a struggle, even if you’re earning six figures a year.
- Political Correctness Thugs. The Bay Area has always been liberal, which I liked when I came here. But then there was room for dissent. Now we all know what the fashionable opinion is, and those who veer from it openly may risk career and safety. Mozilla’s CEO Brenden Eich was ousted from his job because he donated money to Proposition 8; Donald Trump supporters were punched and pelted in San Jose. I still believe in freedom of speech even for those I disagree with, but now those who dissent with the proper narrative have learned to shut up lest they lose their livelihood or life.
- Criminals. In San Francisco, 70 cars are broken into every day. Our local streets, walls, even vans that dare park in the open get tagged, and it’s a constant war to make sure the tagging doesn’t encroach into our neighborhood, and for a while I had to pass a tag that says “F— your neighborhood” when I took my daughter to school. A few days ago, former neighbors reported someone had tried to steal their car in their driveway and ended up damaging the ignition. It will be nice not to have to be on alert and cleaning up our neighborhood all the time.
- The Career Treadmill. Don’t you dare take a break from your career, to say, raise children or take care of an ailing parent. Any experience that is more than 6 months old is ancient history and a common joke is that recruiters are looking for people with 5 years experience in a technology that’s only 2 years old. Unless you’re always ahead, you’re obsolete.
- The State’s raging hatred of small business. If you have a small business, you are a shake-down target. Corporate taxes are high, unemployment taxes are high, health insurance is expensive. The state mandates paid sick leave and how long lunch breaks have to be. We had to pay when the state shorted the Federal government, we pay if our employee taxes arrive 1 day late, we pay worker’s comp. I spend hours paying and documenting payments, when I could be doing so much more.
- Venal/insane state legislature. If enough Californians sign up, we can propose anything — but the legislature and courts will override anything they don’t like, such as the politically incorrect Proposition 187. And they’ll legislate and enforce anything they feel like, regardless of voter opinion. Last year we started issuing California driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. This year, the legislature decided a $15 an hour minimum wage made sense. Meanwhile we have up to a 25% unemployment rate in the eastern part of the state, and a lot of people don’t understand English well enough to follow our laws or learn in school.
- Homelessness and despair. It’s always been endemic, particularly in San Francisco, but I’ve never seen it as bad as it is now. We see tents and stinking piles of refuse behind fences, under freeways, along bike paths. When street intersections were all taken with beggars, the additional ones moved into shopping center parking lots. Peter saw a man shooting up in the open on the sidewalk near Moscone Center in San Francisco. People live like dogs, and sedate themselves from their reality.
- The drought. California has always alternated between really dry and really wet. But this current drought is intense and longer than I’ve ever known. We have a friend with a homestead in the Del Puerto Canyon and when I visited her in September 2015, her well (and those of her neighbors) had run dry for the first time in living memory. She had to drive 18 miles to Patterson to shower with the municipal facilities, and I helped her fill 20 gallon bottles with water from a spring. It was a frightening foreshadowing of what California could look like if the rains don’t return.
- Taxes and fees. Our personal income and sales taxes are among the highest in the nation, but that’s not all. We have fuel taxes, and school bonds, college fees and capital gains taxes. We have to pay for bags at the grocery store, we pay the second highest gas taxes in the nation, we pay 9.25% sales tax. And yet, it is never enough: San Jose now wants extra for repairing its raggedy streets, which it used to be able to repair with the tax income it already had.
- Neighborhood Balkanization. Our suburbs are more and more isolated from one another, ethinically and economically, so much so that newer residents of places in Cupertino and Palo Alto have no idea there are hispanic people in San Jose or struggling farmers in Modesto. If you can pay millions of dollars for your home (or can get enough leverage to do so), you can live idyllically, never seeing the shrinking middle class suffer. Even in posh places like Dallas, I saw more economic diversity than I’ve seen in the Bay Area for ages.
I love you California, but I miss the state you used to be. It’s time for me to go.
My God Caroline! I always heard California was expensive and the times we went on vacation in San Francisco certainly supported that but I had no idea about all the other fees and taxes. I don’t know what will turn it around for California but I think you will find Nashville a refreshing change.
If I may indulge in a bit of home town bragging, the cost of living in the St. Louis area is affordable. We also have a world-class symphony, great restaurants and free admission to the zoo, art museum and history museum in beautiful Forest Park. There is also a thriving local theater scene.
Of course St. Louis gets a bad rap because of the Ferguson incident a couple of years ago, but that is an anomaly. The suburbs, (and the outlying rural areas we live), are welcoming and safe.