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Trouble in Paradise?

Columnist: Bill Meagher
August, 2018 Issue

Bill Meagher
All articles by columnist

It’s summertime, and the living is uneasy, at least for 46 percent of Bay Area residents.

The annual poll from the Bay Area Council, a public-policy shop backed by business interests, shows that almost half of the folks who call the nine-county Bay Area home, are thinking of moving in the next few years; backing up the truck with all of their worldly possessions, except for that creepy painting by Uncle Earl of the horse with the eyes that follow you, and getting the hell out of here.

And why are we heading for the exits? As a native of life by the bay, in the past I could have answered that question by listing the 49ers, a lack of excellent Mexican food and traffic. But it seems that the main reason folks are unhappy these days is the cost of housing is just too high-

According to Zillow, the median cost of a home in Marin is $1.1 million. We in the journalism biz love us some data and words like median, which means that half the homes are less than that figure and half are more. Again, the good folks at Zillow inform that the median rent is $4,348, which is a large check to write for not owning something. Hell, it’s a big check even if you do own something.

Keep in mind the Bay Area Council has an interest that’s served by the annual report and the high cost of housing. The Council would like to see some affordable housing built, only in their case it’s workforce housing, to placate those who hear affordable and jump to the conclusion we are talking residents who are looking for work with a car up on blocks.

Workforce is the better-dressed cousin.

And I’m with the council. I think most Bay Area communities would be well served by building a slew of affordable units. But the hurdles associated with this issue are well known including sky high construction costs, lack of affordable land and neighbors who think it’s critical, only not down the street from me, thanks.

Housing is the biggest problem facing the Bay Area according to 42 percent in the report, a figure that was at 28 percent last year. Traffic clocks in at 18percent, homelessness and poverty are the largest issue says 14 percent and the cost of living is the real culprit according to 12 percent. The poll, which was done with 1,000 registered voters, showed 56percent said the Bay Area “had gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track.”

And 100 percent of those reading that response wondered if Donald Trump had a hand in the poll.

Here is some more data, unemployment in Marin is 2.3 percent, about as close to full employment as you get. But a simple truth is that too many of those jobs fall short of a salary that allows Marin employees to live here. And so, they either bite the bullet and pay too much to live here or live someplace else and spend too much time in a bad commute, eventually finding a job closer to home.

There is much to recommend when it comes to the Bay Area. We’re not far from the mountains nor the coast. The natural beauty almost passes without notice, the population is well educated, we have amazing medical facilities and universities. And the world champion Warriors are our neighbors. We are the economic engine of the world’s fifth largest economy, but the gap between the haves and have nots has never been broader. And a good argument can be made that the vast majority of our unhappiness springs from that sad fact.

It isn’t just the high cost of housing running people off. At the risk of being accused of being the gentleman of a certain vintage standing on his porch yelling at the kids to get off the lawn, the Bay Area has changed. That isn’t a judgement about good and evil, just an observation and for some who have lived here a while, it’s not everyone’s pint of IPA.

My family will leave the Bay Area in the next few years and it has nothing to do with the poll. Our destination is a house not far from a river in El Dorado County. Good news for us is more deer than people, bad news is the people voted for Trump.

Bottom line is a fair number of people find the Bay Area wanting. And that spells trouble if you own a business in Marin.

Bill Meagher is a journalist living in San Rafael with his wife and a pack of three cats. He’s a contributing editor with NorthBay biz and his day job takes him to San Francisco where he’s an associate editor in the west coast office of The Deal and TheStreet, sibling Wall Street digital news outlets.




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