The California Syndrome

Would we ever move back to California? Sometimes I fantasize about it, I admit it, despite being in complete agreement with Steve that there is much more room to breathe here in Michigan. I think of places I love in California, like the Bay Area, parts of Los Angeles County, the desert area around Palm Springs, the farther north around Mendocino and Humboldt Counties, and I wish that I could go back (if there were a place in California that was acceptable to Steve and I both) because there are many things about the state that I love and miss—its beauty, its vibrancy, its energy, its native home-ness (for me, anyway).

But then I read articles like the one that appeared in today’s Los Angeles Times. A key quote:

Home prices have so far outstripped income growth in California that the average worker would need to save every penny he earned for more than eight years to buy the average house. In Wisconsin, that worker would need less than 2½ years of income to pay cash for a house. [Emphasis mine.]

With stats like that, only an independently wealthy or insane person would want to head to the Golden State. (The two categories are not mutually exclusive, unless you’re an independently wealthy person who likes taking big gambles that an inevitable big earthquake or a firestorm won’t eventually destroy the property you buy. Those are real dangers in California, especially along the coast.)

But the same article adds:

The 2000 census tracked movement of college graduates around the country and found the metropolitan areas around Atlanta, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix were top magnets …. Experts say the migration inward has accelerated since the census, as housing prices in California and New England have soared …. Though the colder, grayer Midwest has proved a less attractive draw, cities such as Minneapolis, Kansas City, Mo., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Madison, Wis., are also beginning to lure professional families from the coasts.

So, yes, with apologies to those Wolverine natives upon whose territory I’ve encroached, I suppose I’m technically part of that group that was “lured” to Ann Arbor from California, though I imagine that the reason for my “lure” was more practical than most. (Steve lived in California for 5 years, but he would bristle at being called a Californian. He’s a New Mexican at heart, and always will be.)

But the prospect that much of the rest of the country is on track to be “Californianized”—by that I mean an influx of Californians with money to throw around ratcheting up housing prices (and other costs of living) in parts of the country not heretofore affected by the skyrocketing costs of housing on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts—is absolutely depressing. (Though I seem to have noticed far more New Englanders here in Ann Arbor than Californians.) And I say that as a now former Californian.