Saying ‘Goodbye’ to California

Stuart Waldman and Elizabeth Hawley
Stuart Waldman is president and Elizabeth Hawley is the former legislative affairs director of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy.

By STUART WALDMAN

It’s incomprehensible to me that anyone would want to leave California. Sure, we might toy with the idea of a mansion somewhere in flyover territory, but at the end of the day, the San Fernando Valley is home.

But apparently, leaving California is a real option for many people. We know that out-migration is increasing, and according to a Berkeley IGS poll, nearly 80 percent of 30- to 39-year-old Californians are thinking about leaving the state.

And last month, my fourth millennial employee in five years told me that she was moving out of state. That’s a lot when you lead a seven-person team.

I asked her why. I won’t name the place she’s moving to, but let’s just say that the weather is awful, I hear that the food sucks, and she could have had a great career here in Los Angeles. Why leave?

I’m passing the rest of my column over to her today to explain why.

By ELIZABETH HAWLEY

Each year, the Business Journal holds a breakfast where Matthew Fienup of California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting presents an economic overview of the San Fernando Valley. His analysis shows a Valley which is thriving and a local economy which is growing even faster than our neighbors’.

But Fienup’s analysis has a more sobering side, as well, and one that resonated with me personally. The numbers quantify the shortage of housing and the impossibility of getting on the housing ladder for too many Valley residents. He said the median cost of a house in the Valley is 10.4 times the Valley’s median income. That’s a higher “median multiple” than the rest of California and way more than the 3.4 multiple in the United States as a whole.

Take New York, Seattle, or London: other cities with high housing costs. You have to pay a premium to live there, too. And that’s fine – it’s worth it to pay a premium to be in a vibrant city with great job opportunities.

But the difference is that in those cities, you can choose how you pay the premium. You can pay high housing costs by living in desirable neighborhoods close to your job or the city center. Or you can pay by longer commute times and live outside the city but with reasonable commuting options, either by train or road.

But in Los Angeles, it feels like you pay the premium twice: you can live an hour from work and still be burdened by your housing costs.

Millennials are now aged between 23 and 37 years old – time to be feeling more established in our local communities. But many communities have chosen to raise the drawbridge to new families by campaigning against any new development which might increase the supply of housing and allow those families to afford to feel financially secure in their homes.

I think that it’s hard to invest yourself into a community when you’re not sure how high the premium to live here is going to rise, and how much more of that premium you’ll be willing to pay in order to stay. And the polling shows that a lot of Californians are considering whether the premium to live here is still worth it.

Living in Los Angeles has been amazing. I love the energy, the natural beauty, the opportunities, and my North Hollywood neighborhood. But for me, the premium has become too high. Yes, I want to be nearer to my family, but I also want to have the time and resources to feel established in my community.

I don’t know what the solution is. Measure M will get us some reasonable commute options, like almost every other global city: but much of that is decades down the line. Every elected official agrees on the importance of building housing, but we’re still low on the number of units we’re building.

California is always going to attract new people. But it hurts our state when families move out, taking their energy and their skills with them. The business community can’t afford for that to happen. I’ve loved living here and working to help improve our community. But sadly, I’m ready to move on.

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