I came to California in 2015 to further my career and to experience living in a more metropolitan area than the small area of northwest Ohio that I hail from. I was definitely able to further my career over the past five years, but the state no longer fits my needs. What follows is a brief overview of the reasons I’m excited to be leaving California for Arizona.

Population Density

I have never felt at home in high-population density areas. Once settling into Southern California, I noticed my general stress level would elevate gradually even during peaceful times in my life simply due to the friction that living in an overpopulated area creates. I couldn’t successfully eliminate this background-radiation-stress until making the pilgrimage into nature. Simply getting to “nature” was an ordeal. Most easily accessible parks, beaches, etc. are constantly swamped with hordes of other people trying to achieve the same decompression. To get thoroughly into nature required a drive of at least one hour without traffic due to the poorly planned, sprawling network of Southern California cities.

For reference of population density — a metric I’ve been using is people per square mile. Far from a perfect metric, but a good rule of thumb for population density. Here are some reference numbers:

  • Wood County, OH (my home county) - 211 P/SM
  • Orange County, CA - 3349 P/SM
  • Coconino County, AZ (area I am moving to) - 8 P/SM

Employment

Aware of the change in population density and its stress-increasing effects on me, I decided that it was a workable compromise for me to remain in a high-density area because of the career benefits living in such an area would afford me. This hypothesis turned out to be correct until around March of 2020 when COVID hit.

Most knowledge work professions will be remote for the foreseeable future. This is especially true in my current field of web development. Major companies such as Facebook, Twitter, et al. have announced remote work policies. I believe now that most developers have had at least a taste of remote work due to COVID a significant number of them will want to continue working remotely. Companies with a compulsory in-office policy will likely find that their application pools are significantly smaller than those that allow remote work. Of course, these in-office opportunities will continue to remain concentrated in high-density areas, but there will continue to be a plethora of opportunities for remote workers.

With the absence of the need to be in any particular city, I had to ask myself, why am I staying in a place that is clearly limiting my quality of life?

COVID-19 Protocols

It’s unfortunate that a virus has been so politicized. I’m going to avoid bringing politics into this essay and instead provide some numbers[1], and some questions.

Unemployment Rate - May 2020 - peak(?) of COVID

  • Los Angeles - 20.8%
  • Phoenix - 8.3%

Questions

  • Are these unemployment rates related to how each of these states handled COVID precautions?
  • Do I want to live in a state that will virtually stop[2] its economy for a virus instead of reopening with precautions?
  • Why have a significant number of small businesses in my area gone out of business as a result of the Governor’s strict lockdown mandates, but the Governor is allowed to attend an indoor birthday party at a fancy restaurant without masks or distancing?[3]
  • CA’s tax rate is the highest in the US (12.3% - 13.3%), why then have those living in or near poverty been affected worse than high-earners? Is none of the tax money going towards supporting those who are in need of support? I know people that still haven’t received their unemployment checks from the Summer months.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Southern California is past absurd. It’s my impression that native Californians suffer some kind of Stockholm Syndrome by which they rationalize the cost of living. Median income in Orange County is around $85K[4], yet the median home price is now $785K[5]. I’ve been rebuked for bringing this up multiple times, typically with one of two rebuttals:

  • This is where “it’s happening”.
  • Mountains at breakfast, desert at lunch, beach at sunset!

The first one is easy to address. It might have been happening here at some point. It is certainly not happening here anymore and likely won’t be happening at any point in the near future. The California entertainment sector has been decimated. Studios are not shooting movies and shows. Most mainstay comedians of note in the LA scene have already left the area, or are planning to. Who knows when and if concert venues will reopen anytime soon. Gavin is thankfully keeping The French Laundry afloat, but how many staples of low-end LA cuisine are forever gone?

The second point is theoretically impossible in anything less than ideal traffic conditions. You could do it, but you’d be spending such a significant time in traffic, it begs questions about the worth of such an endeavor.

The Elephant in the Room

I don’t have a solution for the homeless crisis in LA. I believe that with the high tax rate and the number of high earning companies in the state there is definitely enough money to somehow solve or at least improve the problem. Some of the initiatives I’ve seen voted down during my time here have been improved/expanded homeless shelters, high-density affordable housing, and rent control. Each election I see these initiatives appear on the ballot then promptly voted down by many of my fellow Californians.

I’m not proclaiming to have the answer for the homeless crisis, but I know for sure that I don’t want to help fund a government that seems largely uninterested in solving it apart from invoking such sentiments during reelection bids.

Final Thoughts

I’ll miss it here a lot. I loved being able to take a quick drive down to the beach on a winter night to get Seaside Doughnuts and watch the waves in the dark. I loved being picked on by Bobby Lee at the Comedy Store. I loved lane splitting. I loved all of the friends I made here especially because this is a tough place to meet new friends. I probably sound like a broken record to a lot of them because in a way I know this is the right decision given the times but I also need to convince myself because I feel like I became a Californian while I was here and I don’t really know what being an Arizonan entails yet.

I’m excited to get away from the population density, start a family, raise some chickens, garden more, and generally get back to my roots a bit. Who knows, if California manages to sort itself out I might be back someday.

  1. https://www.bls.gov/eag/
  2. Los Angeles County has never allowed indoor dining since the beginning of the virus. Orange County briefly did but has since returned to “purple tier” which prohibits indoor dining, gyms, etc.
  3. https://www.politico.com/states/california/story/2020/11/18/california-medical-association-brass-attended-french-laundry-dinner-with-newsom-kinney-1336924
  4. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/orangecountycalifornia
  5. https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-10-21/southern-california-home-prices-released-for-september#:~:text=In Los Angeles County%2C the,%2C while sales increased 17%.