California’s Problems Part 2



I had a friend with an interesting commute. He worked in San Jose for a now defunct disk drive manufacturer, Maxtor (bought by Seagate I believe). He used to write the system code for the drives.

He lived in Reno, Nevada and every Sunday night would start his long commute to San Jose. I would say that he drove almost 300 miles, down the Sierras, through the Valley, then into the Bay Area. This could be through rain, snow, traffic.

Every Friday evening, he would drive back to Reno. I can only imagine trying to navigate the Bay Area traffic gridlock on the way back to Reno after a week’s work – then, what has become common, Sacramento area gridlock.

While Sacramento’s traffic isn’t as bad as the Bay Area, it is getting there, thanks in large part to Bay Area people moving here in search of affordable housing. I have learned when going across town to have 3 alternate routes. You have got to keep your eyes open for constantly-changing traffic conditions and not be like a lemming.  Like watching for weather changes when flying.

It used to be that we had a mild traffic gridlock on a short section of highway at 1600-1800, but in the intervening 20 years one can have it 7 days a week in a 6-8 hour window.

It’s pretty dumb to sit in a line 1/2 mile long to get past the meter to get on…a freeway that is stop-and-go.

Which reminds me – it could have been a scene in one of my favorite funny movies – The Gods Must Be Crazy.

The surface roads have never let me down.

Chris would rent a little bedroom in an old San Jose house for – as I recall, $1500 or so. At one time he told me about a website that simply tracked U-Haul rentals – who is bringing them in to a given city and who is taking them out.

Needless to say, San Jose was in the red as far as U-Haul rentals. How many can afford to move there?

When I was driving back from Carmel the other week, I had an interesting discovery. It was about 1500, and no Californian in his right mind would attempt to enter the Bay Area on  Hwy 101 at rush hour. That would have easily been another 3 hours.

(Although I think I set a record a few years ago going to a Lexican’s get together in San Diego, hitting the Grapevine at  1430 or so, then taking a good 5 hours to traverse LA Basin in stop and go (mostly stop) traffic on I 405. It took me almost as long doing that as getting to Los Angeles! I got into Sandy Eggo at 2100 or so, went to my favorite place for dinner (of some 30 years, Anthony’s on the Harbor) and had a good martini. )

Alas, Anthony’s has been torn down there along with a favorite hotel I stayed at.

Anyway, back to my smart Bay Area diversion.

I decided to cut over to the Valley using state Hwy 152 which runs into I-5.

And I got a surprise. It was stop and go for a good 30-40 miles from commuters working in the Bay Area and going….where?

Like a mysterious column of ants that just seems to “disappear” I had no idea of their destinations.

I-205 is like that going towards Stockton and Tracy in the Valley but the 152 destination was a mystery. Were they all going to Los Banos? To Anderson’s Split Pea Soup Restaurant?

It’s out pretty much by itself on I-5, along with Harris Ranch. Both good places to stop for lunch. But there isn’t much out there.

In the late 70s, I was going to a computer programming school and lived in San Diego for 2 years. My apartment was on Upas Street, right off Park Avenue and next to the San Diego Zoo.

At night with the window open I could smell the Eucalyptus trees (an import to California from Australia), and hear some of the animals. Every Sunday the Navy brought a warship to the Broadway Pier and the public was invited to visit. With a friend named Dan, a native San Diegan who grow up in nearby Lemon Grove, we might go diving off La Bufadora by Ensenada or sailing in the bay.

I remember eating at a little restaurant there and the menu had one side in Spanish and the other in English.

Guess what was more expensive.

I think Dan’s favorite story was sailing in the Bay in his little 16′ boat and seeing a Nimitz-Class carrier bearing down on him. He thought that he had the right of way but…..

He had gone to UCSB (University of California Santa Barbara) working on a Phd in math and dropped out for one reason or another. Anyway we were both going to Coleman College – the computer school – and to get a Computer Science degree from them I needed to know some math – trigometry and calculus (why in Heaven’s name many required this I haven’t a clue. The closest I got to any real “math” was having a program abort on a mainframe, having a memory core dump spewing out in hexidecimal what the program was doing when it bombed, er, aborted.

As you have no doubt ascertained, this was awhile ago, around 1980.

Anywho, for the paltry tuition price of a taco lunch for Dan in Old Town San Diego (where Coleman was originally located), I got 30 minutes of tuition in trig and calculus.

Dan would always start out at the blackboard saying, “OK, here’s how they teach it but here is how you should really think about it“.

Anyway I picked it up in the abbreviated way of Dan.

Last I heard from Dan at Christmas, he and his wife were thinking of moving to Reno, NV.

San Diego really is a beautiful city. The nice thing is that so many areas are their own unique entities. Coronado, Pt Loma, Ocean Beach, La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego itself (which could be subdivided)….They all have their own look and personalities.

But really San Diego, referring to yourself as “America’s Finest City?” – isn’t that for other’s to decide? Isn’t that just a bit presumptuous?

But the last time I was there, wanting to see an old haunt at Ocean Beach where I spent so much time, there was a 90 minute wait in gridlock on I-8 just getting to the last 5 miles or so.  That was the time I wanted to stop on the way back up for a “good bye drink” at the del Coronado and parking was $20 for – 30 minutes?

Alas, the hotel where I stayed in OB went upscale and like so much of the city, very expensive now.

Then there’s the housing. When the wall came down through the early 90s so many aerospace companies were closing in So CA, much of San Diego housing was on sale. In the non-prime areas I’m talking (from memory) 30%-40% down.

Those days are long gone.

After over 30 years, the allure to return was starting to wear off for me. Not that the city still doesn’t have the pull and attraction for me. It’s just rather difficult living there.

I think even Lex was planning on leaving eventually. We’ll always think of Lex at his “crushing burden of debt” doing what he liked (flying of course), but he also had an escape plan. 

Eldest daughter is up in Portland for college now, youngest leaves the house in three years and after that I can’t see much reason to stay in Sandy Eggo once the tuition’s paid. Sure, the weather’s fine but the rest of the Southern California experience is largely wasted on me. I don’t surf, don’t hot tub and don’t swap wives, so for me its high cost of living, exorbitant taxation and potholed roads, the product of a deeply dysfunctional political culture at the state and local level.

While I have no doubt that if I could meet Lex today I would find some misconceptions,  I’d also be willing to bet if he were here today he’d be somewhere else, and not necessarily where his heart remained, Virginia.

Anyway having talked about San Diego, a recently article in the WSJ was about how the current San Diego  mayor there is trying to lower housing costs.

California owes its statehood in part to the 300,000 people who rushed in more than a century and a half ago, seeking their fortune in the Sierra Nevada’s golden foothills. Today the Golden State’s nonimmigrant population is shrinking by that amount every two years as the middle class rushes out in search of affordable homes—a resource just as coveted and now nearly as rare. Restraining the rise of home prices has become a priority for policy makers throughout the state, whose choice of solutions could form a template for addressing similar price surges nationwide.

The problem is worst on the coast, where employees of the booming technology industry and related fields are bidding up prices of the limited supply of homes. Reflecting on the pace of change in his city, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer nearly stutters over his words. “The average price for a San Diego house is about $590,000,” he tells me. “In 2013, it was probably, what—no that’s right: about $370,000.” That’s a 60% increase. Up north in San Jose, already lofty home prices nearly doubled in the same period, topping out at a median $1.1 million last summer.

…Mr. Faulconer argues that the problem is worsened by intentional limits on the housing supply. From coastal metropolises to sprawling bedroom communities, cities and towns have zoning ordinances that prevent or slow construction. “I saw it early on, when I was on the City Council,” he remembers. “Good projects would be stopped for Nimby [Not In My Back Yard – ed] reasons, political reasons.”

The mayor is pushing for rezoning in a lot of areas allowing for denser areas.

High costs that eliminate most first time homeowners is not good for the state.


Part 1 is here


Filed under Politics, San Diego, Small Stuff, SoCal, Travel

3 responses to “California’s Problems Part 2

  1. comanchepilot

    Everyone with half a brain has an exit plan from California.

    I am in Tucson this week. And on Thursday was driving around and saw this sign:

    ‘Travel Trailers – California One Way $49”

    Checking the website when I got home I saw it was $270 for a trailer the other way. It still costs more to leave California.

  2. Pingback: California’s Problems Part 1 | The Lexicans

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