California doesn’t have an exodus problem. It’s suffering a morale crisis.
The tired narrative that people are fleeing the state en masse surfaced again this week, thanks to a new report surveying residents on their migration plans and overall happiness with the Golden State.
Predictably, headlines and stories centered on what we all know inherently. Some people left during the pandemic, but it hasn’t been a mass exodus. Instead, the findings that eluded the headlines showed a more pressing problem. Californians are staying put for the time being. But they’re pissed off. The state, and by proxy San Francisco, faces major problems, and solutions seem elusive.
So let me address the narrative and offer some common sense.
First, the exodus. Here in San Francisco, we spent years complaining and bemoaning the influx of new residents, tech buses and fancy restaurants, crowding streets and highways and making public transit unbearable. Never has a city rejected prosperity with such vigor. And then the pandemic struck, Zoom liberated the commuting masses and a handful of recent arrivals high-tailed it to Austin.
Isn’t that good news? Please, let’s stop complaining about California’s first-ever population reduction and look on the bright side. Perhaps a few less people would be a good thing. Reject the national and global obsession with growth. Wall Street demands relentless annual growth, quarter-over-quarter, no matter what. And it’s destroyed the planet. Let’s learn from that lunacy and accept San Francisco’s slight retraction in a progressive fashion.
Let’s focus on those who remain. Let’s address equity issues, ensuring true stakeholders in our community can stay.
And that’s where things get interesting. The University of California study that sparked the conversation again this week found that fewer people are thinking of leaving California than before. So the exodus narrative is reversing already. Here in the Bay Area, 19 percent of residents were thinking of leaving, lower than the 23 percent state average.
That’s still a big number, but I refer you to the Saracevic Exodus Corollary. Less people = more available housing = less crappy commute = woot.
But that doesn’t mean things are fine. After our friends at UC determined fewer people were packing up the truck, they also uncovered a scary level of California concern. For instance, in a section of the survey titled “Potential Determinants of Moving Out of California,” respondents painted a pretty bleak picture. They were asked, “If you moved out of California…
• Do you think that your job prospects would be better or worse? 57.4 percent say better.
• Do you think that your cost of living and of housing would be less expensive or more expensive? 84.5 percent say less expensive.
• Do you think that your overall quality of life would be better or worse? 66.2 percent say better.
• Do you think that schools and other government services would be better or worse? 62.4 percent say better.
• Do you think that crime rates would be lower or higher in your new home state? 69.2 percent say lower.
• Do you think that your children would have a better or worse life in their future in your new home state? 67.8 percent say better.
• Do you think the state will be a better place to live or a worse place to live, overall, than it has been over the past decade? 42 percent say worse.
You get the idea. Folks aren’t quite ready to leave, but they see opportunity elsewhere and dysfunction at home.
Consider the situation in San Francisco. The tent poles of dissatisfaction abound. Rampant homelessness. Income inequality. Housing shortage. Public safety concerns. It’s a pretty big tent. But common sense solutions often don’t fly.
If retail theft is rampant, let’s double down on education and outreach and try to influence our youth before they turn to crime. On the law and order side, get more police on the streets and prosecute those who commit crimes. And let’s make sure the new police we hire are educated to be compassionate law enforcers under the San Francisco Police Department’s relatively progressive training protocol. Soon, we will need to replace many Clinton-era hires who are retiring. Let’s build a new generation of police in San Francisco that make us proud. And let’s empower security guards to do their jobs, too. It just makes sense.
If homelessness is out of control, let’s get the people off the streets and into legitimate, long-term treatment and care. Let’s build the facilities, or refurbish existing resources. Band-aid measures that provide street-level care are admirable, but don’t appear to be working. Hospitals, health care and homes could work.
Here’s an idea on the housing shortage. Office buildings stand vacant. People can’t find apartments. Convert commercial to residential and you solve two problems. Why not? One solution. Two problems solved.
Income equality underlies all of these problems. Raise the minimum wage. Enact middle- and lower-class tax reform. Invest in education. You can read all about it at Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute (https://belonging.berkeley.edu/), a thoughtful piece that offers six achievable solutions.
Now, before you fire up your email outrage and send the vitriol my way, let me say this. I fully understand these are huge, somewhat intractable issues that we’ve wrestled with for years. The ideas I offer above are simple and incomplete.
But I believe the answers to our problems lie in common sense. Join The Examiner in finding solutions that will work.
And, please stop worrying about people leaving town. Worry about your neighbor, instead.
Al Saracevic is The Examiner’s Director of News and Sports.