Update (February 17, 2022): That's a wrap, we plan on moving in the next three years. Look for a full update at the end of this post.
Like a lot of San Francisco Bay Area residents, my wife, mother, and I have thought about leaving the San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically Alameda, for a while. I consider us to be rather privileged and lucky. We live in a beautiful Italianate Victorian that was built in 1889 (one local historian says 1881), we share a brand new 2019 Subaru Forester, and Anne and I frequently attend events all over the Bay Area, such as Oakland Athletics Games, concerts at the Fox Theater in Oakland, and more.
Nonetheless, for a household of three adults, our gross annual income is about $90k, which is about $60k/year less than the average household of three adults in the City of Alameda. Per household, almost 60% of the city of Alameda makes more than $100k per year.
Like many people, we still have 25 years left on our mortgage, pay a crazy amount of property taxes, and probably one of the few households in the Bay Area who actually pays for Earthquake insurance. The concept of having savings is a pretty farfetched idea.
While we're able to survive day-to-day, the fear becomes about being able the maintain the beautiful house we live in. I've seen plenty of houses in terrible condition in Alameda, Oakland, and surrounding cities, it's a scary idea that our house will one day turn into an eyesore and our family will be living in pretty bad conditions.
For months, our family has been asking the big question about moving out of the San Francisco Bay Area. Destinations like Portland, Sacramento, and Salinas have come to mind or even the East Coast, such as Connecticut, New York, or New Jersey. For the most part, it's just talking and visiting real estate websites.
Fundamentally, it is the fear of the unknown that is probably stopping us from moving away; everywhere just seems so "foreign," even Sacramento. I was born and mostly raised in the SF Bay Area. Other than 7 years spent in Glendale, CA during my elementary school days and one year studying in London, I've been in the Bay Area for over 30 years.
I've come to appreciate most aspects of the SF Bay Area, even though sometimes I fear that the San Francisco Bay Area is becoming a failed example of liberal politics. BTW, I'm writing that as someone who's voted along Democrat lines for two decades. Anyway, other than crime, absolutely insane drivers, and what passes as customer service at the Home Depot in Oakland, I really love the diversity, weather, food scene, and the numerous activities the area has to offer.
During high school, I only lived about 30 miles from San Francisco; the Town of Danville. It might as well have been 300 miles. Even today, it is quite literally one of the least diverse and most Republican city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even Marin County, which is virtually 90% white, is at least a stronghold for Democrats.
I spent nearly all my time trying to feel like I fit in. I know that's the struggle most high school students feel, but let me give you some quantitative proof of how much of an outsider I felt. My average Grade Point Average from Freshman to my Junior year was around 2.0-2.5. I even had to retake Algebra twice. Instead of studying, I was always self conscious about what people thought about me and desperately wanted to fit in. So much so, that I remember that I was willing to do a "chinese fire drill" during a improv sketch for drama class. The person who initiated the idea telling me, "it's really cool of you to go along with it."
During my Senior year, I was lucky enough to finally find a group of friends I felt really comfortable with. A group of true Sci-Fi geeks who loved the Matrix, X-Files, and Star Trek. I went from 2.0-2.5 to a 4.0 GPA, all while going out with my friends maybe 2 or 4 nights a week. I carried that 4.0 GPA to Community College at the much more diverse Diablo Valley College and nearly graduated with honors my last two year at the extremely diverse UC Berkeley. The biggest difference for me was because I didn't feel like I needed to fit-in anymore among mostly white peers.
As my wife and I try for our first child, one of the biggest goals I have is for my child not to grow up in a town like Danville. Statistically speaking though, it's pretty tough for any other part of the USA to be as diverse as the SF Bay Area, especially compared to Alameda, CA.
Before we moved to Alameda, we actually visited Portland and had a realtor bring us around. Portland is a gorgeous city with a cool vibe, but ultimately it didn't feel diverse enough and the idea of rain 50% of the year turned us off to the idea of moving there.
When I drove Uber/Lyft for 50 hours a week, I met a lot of people from the East Coast and nearly every single one of them talked about how they love the weather of the San Francisco Bay Area.
My wife and I were lucky enough to live in London for about a year as a graduate students. In fact, that's where we met. I arrived in Summer and the weather was perfect at around 70 degrees and mostly sunny. Fall and Winter came and it was a brand new experience from someone from the SF Bay Area with constant rain and near freezing temperatures. To be honest, I don't think I minded it so much just for the fact that my wife and I had just started dating and so it pretty much felt like we were living a story line from Love Actually.
But after returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, it has become pretty apparent to me that while I wouldn't mind visiting the cold, I would be extremely apprehensive about living in it for an extended period of time. On the flip side, having lived out in Danville where the summers reach 100 degrees, as well as being pretty familiar with S. California weather, I also don't enjoy hot, dry weather. And having spent plenty of time in Asia where it's hot and humid, I also know that weather isn't particularly enjoyable.
The weather we enjoy is certainly a huge reason why it would be hard to find a new place to relocate to. Other than Hawaii, the San Francisco Bay Area probably has some of the best weather that probably makes life simply more enjoyable. I see people on television attending professional sporting events in below freezing temperature and that's just something you don't have to worry about in the Bay Area.
I admit, I'm one of those people who talks and complains about how the area around Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) and Chase Center has changed, but the truth is that the constant change is what makes the area so exciting; we're definitely not a "one horse town."
A quick google search says there are 44 museums in San Francisco. I've probably only been to six so far and the ones I've been to are really enjoyable.
The Bay Area has Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, SF 49ers, Golden State Warriors, the San Jose Kings. There is a Women's Tennis Association event held every year at San Jose State University. Then there's collegiate sports that covers the spectrum.
For live music, we have the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, The Fillmore, Warfield, Fox Theatre, Chase Center, Levi's Stadium, Slim's, Great America Music Hall, The Independent, Bottom of the Hill, Oakland Arena, The Shoreline Amp, Concord Pavillion, and even more smaller music venues. If a band or artist doesn't come through the Bay Area, then it has 100% to do with the artist/record label and not a lack of available venues.
The Bay Area has a ridiculous amount of craft fairs, cultural events, festivals, conventions, farmer's markets, etc. For the outdoors, we have so many state parks within one hours drive. Marin county is basically all nature and of course we're by the Pacific Ocean. While I wouldn't get in the freezing water, the coast is an amazing place to be near. It's really hard to imagine living so far from the Ocean.
Even when we're short on cash, there's still a lot of things for us to enjoy in the Bay Area. I never realized how small other "big" cities were, until I visited places like Seattle, Portland, or even San Jose. Those cities seems like sleepy little towns compared to San Francisco-Oakland.
Even 30 minutes away from San Francisco-Oakland, I'm amazed at what passes for good "ethnic" food. We recently went to a Thai restaurant in Dublin, CA, which really isn't that far from San Francisco-Oakland. The restaurant has 4 stars on Yelp with over 700 reviews and it was literally the worst Thai food we've ever had. While we were there, there were other guests who seemingly really liked the food and it really dawned on us that they were working off a different standard. Mind you, my wife was born in Thailand and was living there up until six years ago, and of course I have visited Thailand many times as well. So, our standard is pretty high, but we've also been to restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland that made us very happy.
Especially now, my wife and I are vegetarians and quiet honestly restaurants have to be on top of their flavor profile to make vegetarian dishes standout. I could be wrong, but I'm sure you can only find Vegetarian Japanese Ramen in a city like San Francisco-Oakland, Los Angeles, or New York. I'm sure it's probably extremely rare in Japan.
Even when we get a bit tired of eating, we're able to order a huge variety of organic groceries, which is very important to us. Even in the SF Bay Area, huge supermarkets like Safeway and Lucky's have a seriously weak organic selection. I can't imagine how bad it would be in a city where the demand for organic groceries is low or non-existent.
Why We Still May End Up Moving
I think money would be the number one reason why we may end up leaving. If we can't afford to see the last place Warriors play at the Chase Center, eat at all the new restaurant popping up, or visit museums, then those reasons for staying become invalid. Then in becomes a question if the weather and being in a diverse area is a big enough reason to stay.
But also, we might end up leaving because some people in the Bay Area are just really insupportable. We have wealthy people in the Bay Area basically pushing for "Not in my Backyard" policies at every possible chance. Then we have all minority groups who are essentially racist and target other minority groups. This all wouldn't be bad if we actually had some kind of sense of hospitality for strangers, but it rarely exists in the Bay Area.
Literally, San Francisco is blocking off one of the busiest streets in Downtown because of pedestrian accidents with vehicles. I've literally had a person who almost ran a red light and hit me in the middle off a crosswalk start to yell at me because...I have no idea why, but it was probably because he was drunk and belligerent. I've also had average looking young hipster drivers racing through crosswalks and almost hit me with their car and either look right at me or 100% percent try and pretend they don't see me.
In November 2019, the city of Alameda reported that seven children were hit by cars in a one or two month period. Basically, the level of shitty people in the Bay Area is hitting a pretty critical level.
As my wife and I very seriously start a family, the idea of moving away from the Bay Area seems to become more and more likely. If we every answer the questions of where, then I think it would be almost a done deal.
Update (2/17/2022): Anne and I are now parents to the cutest boy who just recently turned one years old. I originally wrote the above post before anyone really knew what COVID-19 was and while the San Francisco Bay Area has done a great job combating the virus compared to the rest of the country, it has failed miserably in terms of quelling violence.
While I completely understand that most likely things will only get better from here on out, it's not good enough and we've decided for the good of our son that we'll be moving well out of California.
There was really one turning point for us, the death of Jasper Wu. Less than 2 miles from our home, 23 month year old Jasper Wu was killed by stray bullet, most likely from local gang violence, while on the freeway. But, it hasn't stopped there, 3 more people, a mother of two heading to a job interview, an Alameda County Sheriffs Recruit, and a former UC Berkeley Basketball star, have been murdered all within a 2 mile radius on local freeways. Only one suspect has been caught.
While this happened after we decided to move, my 72 year old mother was walking in a crosswalk in front of the Alameda Kaiser and a driver rolled down their window and yelled at her, saying that she wasn't looking while crossing the road. The car actually didn't stop. They were yelling and driving through the crosswalk. If you're not a driver, then pedestrians have the right of way at all unprotected crosswalks in California and I would assume most parts of the USA.
But, I've had the same thing happen to me where a person almost sped through a red light and started yelling at me. Pedestrian accidents have been growing all across the country, but statistically Alameda is still an outlier. They say there are many reasons, such as distracted driving, but ultimately inconsiderate and reckless people are the root cause.
Besides pedestrian accidents and stray bullets, Alameda has had two incidents of street shootouts on our busiest commercial streets during the pandemic. Only by pure luck were no innocent bystanders killed or injured. According to Alameda Police Department, 50% of crime is caused by those coming from Oakland and right now Oakland is living up to its old reputation of violence with 133 homicides in 2021 and 587 non-lethal shootings.
Though I've grown up around big cities my entire life, I have never felt so unsafe in my entire life. It's probably because I have a 1 year old son to think about now, but it's also true that there are plenty of places that don't deal with this level of crime and violence. According to NeighborhoodScout, San Francisco/Oakland are in the bottom 1 percent in terms of safety and Alameda is now in the bottom 9 percent. So, it's not just my imagination, and quantitatively things have gotten pretty dire here. It's interesting because if you walk around town, you don't feel it, but once you start reading the Police Blotter or stay updated with the news, there are crimes in Alameda that just aren't happening even 15-20 miles in the suburbs.
Probably even more interesting is that many people here are becoming numb to it all and accept it as everyday life. For me, I see other options that I never realized before.
Around the same time of the Jasper Wu murder, the New York Times sent a newsletter advertising their: Where Should You Live? tool. Using their filtering tool on what's most important to me, the suburbs of Massachusetts and New York kept popping up. After researching further, I was astonished to see there are suburbs outside of Boston that have high schools sending 20+ students to Ivy League schools, houses for under $1mm, and property taxes roughly the same as California. Massachusetts also consistently ranks in the top for health care. Most importantly, these cities are safe; safer than 75% of other cities in the country. That is a far cry from Alameda's 9 percent.
The icing on top is that some of these cities are highly educated. In Lexington, MA 50% of residents have at least a Master's Degrees and around 80% of the population has a Bachelor's Degree. Also, one of my biggest fears has been moving to a city that lacks diversity. Lexington, MA is comprised of 40% minorities with almost 30% born outside of the USA.
Basically, there are cities outside of Boston and New York City that are safe, highly educated, extremely diverse, with great health care systems, have some of the best schools in the country, and are relatively more affordable than the San Francisco Bay Area. I understand the climate is extremely different than California, but I no longer buy into that being the big reason for staying.
I even went as far as to look at county data on metrics such as depression, suicide, and longevity and these county either match or beat Alameda county along all metrics.
It's only natural to have pride of one's hometown and, at a certain point in history, San Francisco deserved every bit of that pride. But the growing inequality and what can only be described as Liberal Hypocrisy is exposing California and the San Francisco Bay Area for what it is. I've voted Democrat my entire adult life, but even I can't defend what's going on in the San Francisco Bay Area anymore. We talk about equality and the needy, but the situation just keeps getting worse and worse and after a while we have to call San Francisco for what it is. A playground for the rich and everyone is just the help.
Except the rich isn't willing to accept that they might actually have to give "the help" affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, and good schools. So, in the end, "the help" gets not even one of those conditions and that's how you get the current wave of violence. While I understand why the San Francisco Bay Area is in the situation it's in, I also refuse to accept it and live with it for much longer. Ultimately, I'm waving the white flag. My family and I will still be here for a couple of more years while we prepare the house and hopefully COVID-19 truly moves into the endemic stage, but after that, we'll be exploring the other coast of the USA.