San Francisco, and much of California, has never been like this.
California has become a hot, burning, epidemic-challenged and expensive state, with many living in sophisticated cities, idyllic oceanfront towns, and windblown mountain communities thinking hard about the viability of a place many have called home. forever. For the first time in a decade, more people left California for other states last year than there were.
Monica Gupta Mehta and her husband, an entrepreneur, have gone through technological failures and booms, earthquakes, seasons of fires and power outages. But it was only when the sky darkened and projected a creepy orange light onto their Palo Alto home earlier this week that they ever considered moving their family of five somewhere else. .
“For the first time in twenty years, the thought has crossed our minds: do we really want to live here?”
It would be difficult to leave. They love the area’s lush nature and are linked to Silicon Valley by work and a network of extended family members who followed them west from Pittsburgh. But Mehta says it’s something she would consider if her family is in regular danger.
“Yesterday it felt so apocalyptic to me,” Mehta said. “People are really starting to reconsider whether California has enough to offer them.”
This is the latest iteration of the California Dream, a gold rush-era slogan meant to capture the promising migration of an old nation to a rich new West. For generations, the tacit agreement for California residents has been like some kind of agreement that is too good to be true. Live in the lovely, albeit often drought-plagued Sierra, or beneath the Pacific coast cliffs on the beach, and work in an economy that constantly reinvents itself, from Hollywood to San Joaquin farms to Silicon Valley.
But for many of California’s 40 million residents, the California Dream has become the California Compromise – an increasingly difficult compromise to justify, with a rapidly changing climate, an all-out economy, high taxes, and a pandemic that has led to more cases of covid-19 infection than any other state.
Over the course of his tenure, President Trump has singled out California, a state that has lost 30 percentage points, as an example of Democratic-induced urban unrest, irresponsible immigration policy and mismanagement of forests, even though nearly 60% of state forests. they are managed by the federal government. Many are burning today, with millions of acres already burned.
Governor Gavin Newsom (D) responded specifically in some cases, but in others he invoked the California Dream, an adjective attached to no other state. In its January 2019 inaugural address, Newsom warned that “there is nothing inevitable about” that dream.
“And now more than ever, it’s up to us to defend it,” he said.
As the state’s climate shifted to one of the extremes, with wet and soggy seasons suddenly followed by heat and sharp, dry winds, no region was safe from fire. This year – even before peak fire season has started – widespread fires have forced evacuations, from San Jose in Silicon Valley to the distant village of Big Creek along the Sierra’s western slopes.
More than two dozen major fires are burning statewide and have consumed a record 3.1 million acres of land, more than 3,000 homes and at least 19 lives. Los Angeles reported the worst air quality in three decades due to the fires surrounding that city, already known for its orange air and seasonal dry cough.
Wine Country burns for the third consecutive year, with a string of vineyards lost. Homes were destroyed far south in San Diego County, and more than 200 RVs were flown to safety amidst the still hot and fast Creek Fire between Fresno and Mammoth Lakes.
The mountains behind Santa Barbara County, which caved in after being burned by the Thomas Fire three years ago, have turned into a worrying gray-brown bait in recent weeks.
Those slopes, prepared by one of the largest state fires in the history of the era, slid during rain-saturated mudslides in January 2018. Twenty people were killed in the affluent Montecito enclave, sweeping some from their foothills homes to at the sea.
Mandatory evacuation orders issued then included the home recently purchased by Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, newcomers to Santa Barbara’s changing climate.
“Hopefully this is a wake-up call,” said Anne-Marie Bonneau, who left her home in Ontario, Canada, for the Bay Area two decades ago but lacks clean air and a political environment. less confrontational across the northern border. “What will it take for this country to do something to tackle the climate crisis? Millions of people are affected. “
He sees what’s happening in California as just the beginning of what’s about to cross the continent.
“As always, California is a bit on the cutting edge,” he said. “We are always in front of everyone.”
Kim Cobb is among climate scientists who, for years, have warned that the consequences of a warming planet will become more intense, more deadly, and more expensive over time. But she too was surprised by the scenes unfolding across the West as fires rage this summer.
“It’s a completely different thing to watch this video and hear the sobbing voices of people who have lost loved ones, property and livelihoods,” said Cobb, a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Science. “It’s shocking to us emotionally, as well as to any global citizen who is watching this.”
She is also firmly convinced that, on our current trajectory, the worst awaits us.
“The science couldn’t be clearer on this point. The links between warming temperatures and these fires are clear,” Cobb said. “This is going to get much worse. . . . I know it defies the imagination. “
The fallout from the fire and the coronavirus outbreak, which killed 14,000 people in California, provided a kind of CT vision of the state and its many inequities.
Accounting for 61% of cases, Latins make up the vast majority of coronavirus victims, a disproportionately high infection rate given that they account for only 35% of the state’s overall population. Many are the “essential workers” who serve food, harvest crops and live lives that are not privileged enough to take refuge in the safety of teleworking.
Over the summer, the novel coronavirus and wildfires revealed a lot for Californians: who is safe from fires and disease, who keeps their jobs, who waits at home for a dwindling benefit check, and who has a soft evacuation site -landing or a hard bed in admission.
This is the debt side of the California compromise. It is an economy, the fifth largest in the world, built by government policy and private enterprise to favor the skilled in Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the rich everywhere. The rest of California is increasingly a service economy that pays a much larger share of its income in taxes, housing and food.
The median income in the state is $ 75,277. The average home price in San Francisco is $ 1.3 million, nearly double that of Los Angeles. The state government is doing next to nothing to close the gap.
Three years ago, state lawmakers passed the nation’s second-highest gasoline tax, adding more than 47 cents to the price of a gallon. With housing prices soaring along the coast, service workers in particular are moving inland from their jobs and into the country of fires, meaning they are paying far more as a share of their income on fuel just to stay busy.
Taxes increase more than $ 5 billion in annual revenue for road and transportation projects. But the sometimes multi-hour commutes, with affordable housing so far from employment centers, also undermine the state’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045, an achievement that could alleviate some of the extreme climate.
A poll conducted late last year by the University of California at Berkeley found that more than half of California voters had considered “seriously” or “a little” about leaving the state due to the high cost. housing, heavy taxes or its political culture.
The attraction for some, and the magnet that keeps many here, is the state’s breathtaking physical beauty, family history, and a liberal political culture that attracts supporters, many of whom in the north are heirs to a countercultural ethos.
Through legislation or direct action at the polls, California voters established the country’s first “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants, built a vibrant justice reform movement from the ground up, and committed to some of the the country’s boldest environmental protection goals.
Also, one measure to restore affirmative action on university admissions decisions, banned since 1996, is in the November poll. The legislator has just created a committee to study the cost of compensation for racial and ethnic groups that the state has historically mistreated. Marijuana is legal. So are the hallucinogenic mushrooms in Oakland.
The political divide once ran between northern and southern California, a stalemate between the Bay Area and Los Angeles for power and resources. Now the boundary is east and west, between liberal San Francisco and cities like Oroville, now threatened by fire.
Sarah and Joey Wilson, a therapist and owner of a gold mining supply store, live 15 minutes from Oroville in Kelly Ridge and are experienced internally displaced persons, respectively. But what bothers them most, beyond the frequent fires, is the government’s invasion of their outdoor lifestyles.
The lakes Joey used to fish are now off limits. State-erected gates now block public roads it used to access recreational land. And regulations have restricted certain types of prospecting for gold, the hobby that underpins his business.
“This actually probably made us want to move more than something like this,” said Sarah Wilson, 45, of the nearby flames.
Loyalty to liberal politics serves as an anchor for many of the urban – and more deeply rooted – residents of the state. But it only has light, if any, to appeal to newcomers or those here specifically for work.
Peter Alvaro has lived in his rent-controlled apartment in the heart of San Francisco since 1999, when he moved from New Jersey to get a taste of the city’s famous counterculture.
He knows the fires will only get worse, as they have consistently done over the past three years. But Alvaro feels that his identity is linked to the city and the surrounding nature. He loves raising his two daughters here, going to the beach three times a week and watching the constantly changing city around him.
Many of the people leaving San Francisco are tech workers, freshly freed from the city that helped make it so expensive from being able to work remotely during the coronavirus outbreak.
“The tech workers weren’t necessarily tied to the city, they came here because there was an opportunity,” said Alvaro, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “I hope the city can regrow some of the unique character that was lost in the last boom. The fact that young and rich adults are fleeing is good for the culture. “
Shortly after the first fires broke out last month, Gary Cook and his wife loaded their three rescue cats into a rented SUV and drove from Napa to their new home in Idaho. After 18 years in Wine Country, Cook and his wife felt California was no longer a good fit for them.
It wasn’t the fires, which Cook said were no problem for him, but the area’s cost of living, high taxes, power outages, and the political climate. Cook, who recently retired, felt that, as a conservative, he no longer had a political voice in California.
“There have been significant changes going on that have changed our view of the whole California dream,” Cook said.
He said he will miss Napa’s famous restaurant scene. Idaho is laid back and people are more in line with its views, but it’s more of a steak and potato type, he says.
Business is booming for Scott Fuller, who runs a real estate transfer business. Called Leaving the Bay Area and Leaving SoCal, the company helps people ready to relocate from the two largest metropolitan areas in the state to sell their homes and find more.
Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Idaho are the four main states where its customers are shopping, and many tech workers are trying out smaller industrial centers like Denver, Austin, Phoenix, and Seattle.
Since the start of the pandemic, it has also helped people move to less populated areas of the state such as Placerville or Lake Tahoe. But this trend could quickly reverse due to the record fire season, which is burning in those regions.
“For many people, [California’s] lose its luster, “Fuller said.” For the average person who maybe came here for the time, I think he’s saying the compromise isn’t worth it anymore.
It was difficult to pinpoint a place on the map, outside of urban centers, where a fire hasn’t broken out in the last month. Some are burning deep in the wilderness, a possible long-term health benefit of forests now struggling for the same poor water supply, and others along coastal stretches that have never seen fires in modern history.
Others are haunting the arid hills where fire – and death – have been the order of the day in recent years.
A few miles north of Oroville is the city of paradise in the foothills of the Sierra, which was razed to the ground in hours on November 8, 2018, in a wind-borne tragedy of historically deadly proportions.
Eighty-five people died, many simply overwhelmed by the flames that sped as they tried to escape by car and on foot. The Bear Fire is once again at the gates of Heaven, with much less to burn as the city slowly rebuilds.
Now a thick layer of black and white ash covers the streets, sidewalks and shops of Oroville, a city of 15,000 that swelled 25 percent practically overnight with the displaced from the fire in Paradise, also known as the camp fire. The fire followed a near-year disaster when the Oroville Dam spillways nearly failed due to flooding the Feather River, threatening to flood the city.
It is difficult today to find an Oroville resident who did not know someone who died or lost a home in the campfire. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, the fast-paced Bear Fire is forcing new evacuations as it burns northeast of the city.
The fire has already wiped out the small town of Berry Creek, which is located just north of Lake Oroville. Just outside Oroville, police cars block access to the roads leading to the lake, which at this time of year would normally be buzzing with jet skis and speedboats.
But few residents of Oroville, a conservative and fast-paced frontier spot, are discouraged enough to leave California.
More than natural disasters, many residents say it is the liberal overriding of the government of their Democrat-dominated state that has frustrated them. In 2016, Trump won Butte County in a state where he was defeated almost everywhere.
“California will always be California,” said Judy McClure, 69, a retired school librarian.
Rather than leave, he said, he would like to see the government loosen regulations and allow for more aggressive forest management to prevent larger fires.
“There is too much government,” he said.
Albergotti reported from Oroville, California; Dennis reported from Washington; and Scott Wilson reported from Santa Barbara, California.