THE BAY AREA?

These folks did it — with mixed results

The Mercury News - - Your Life - B y An­gela Hill >> ahill@ba­yare­anews­group.com

Raya and Michael DeMar­quez both grew up in San Jose, got mar­ried here, raised their kids here, bought a house here more than 20 years ago and felt set­tled in the Bay Area life — for life.

Then they lost that house af­ter the 2008 re­ces­sion, lost their jobs. In the en­su­ing years, they worked hard to put things back to­gether, re­build­ing their ca­reers, rent­ing a house. Yet all the while, they sensed the en­croach­ing costs of change: the tech boom, the swelling prices, the thick­en­ing traf­fic, the cul­ture shift. They started to feel like out­siders in their own home­town.

So in 2015 they did some­thing they never would have con­sid­ered a decade be­fore. They moved. Away.

To Port­land, Oregon, in fact, as many Cal­i­for­ni­ans have done, of­ten to the cha­grin of Ore­go­ni­ans. And while there have been some ad­just­ments and trade-offs (think weather), they’re truly happy they did it.

“We’d never go back to San Jose,” says Raya DeMar­quez. “We’ll see if (Port­land) is where we’ll stay. We’re giv­ing it through this win­ter to de­cide if we can handle the weather — it was rough last year.

“But we’d never move back,” she says. “Never.” Ad­mit it. You’ve thought about it, too. Usu­ally when in sus­pended an­i­ma­tion on the Bay Bridge, or tour­ing a 1,200-square-foot, mil­lion-dol­lar “starter home” in Pleasan­ton. Sure, the Bay Area is won­der­ful, beau­ti­ful — I mean, look at that view when you’re stopped on the bridge! But there are greener — or at least cheaper, calmer, less-con­gested — pas­tures … right?

You’re not alone in such thoughts. Results of the 2017 Bay Area Coun­cil Poll, an an­nual pub­lic-opin­ion sur­vey, show 40 per­cent of re­spon­dents are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing leav­ing the Bay Area in the next few years.

But what’s life re­ally like on the other side? We talked with a few folks who have made the move — of­ten find­ing a com­mon thread to be on­go­ing ef­fects of the eco­nomic down­turn. Some aban­doned the Bay Area and love their new digs. Oth­ers moved, then found the new lo­ca­tion wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be and moved back.

Short-timers

That’s what hap­pened for Peggy and Tony Uc­ci­ferri. They had lived in Wal­nut Creek for years, then moved to New Or­leans in 2012. They stayed nine months.

“When we left (the Bay Area), it wasn’t like, ‘We hate Cal­i­for­nia, we’re leav­ing.’ We were vic­tims of the re­ces­sion,” says Peggy Uc­ci­ferri. She’d been laid off from her edit­ing job at a par­ent­ing magazine. About a year be­fore that, Tony had left his job in af­ford­able hous­ing and had trou­ble find­ing an­other gig. So when an op­por­tu­nity arose for him in New Or­leans, the Uc­ci­fer­ris sold their house, took the leap and quickly felt mover’s re­morse.

They loved New Or­leans as a place to visit, but didn’t feel wel­come as res­i­dents. Their son, still in high school, was mis­er­able with no friends. Tony’s job wasn’t what he’d hoped. The po­lit­i­cal cli­mate did not suit their views.

“We live in a bub­ble here in the Bay Area, and you take it for granted when you’re here,” Peggy says. She was ter­ri­bly home­sick, miss­ing fam­ily and friends. “One day we woke up and said, ‘This isn’t work­ing for us. Let’s go home.’ ”

So they made the equally bold leap to move back in 2013, stay­ing with a friend for a cou­ple of months un­til an­other friend of­fered them an af­ford­able rental in

Wal­nut Creek. Tony was able to get a new job. Their son re­turned to his old high school and “ev­ery­thing was right with the world,” Peggy Uc­ci­ferri says.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to buy again — we sold at the low­est point in the mar­ket, and now, well …,” she says. “But we learned our les­son. We won’t be leav­ing the Bay Area again. As crazy as it is, we’re so lucky to be here.”

Homesick­ness cured

Sad­hana Agar­wala suf­fered sim­i­lar homesick­ness when she and her boyfriend moved from San Jose to North Carolina in 2005. She sold her Alum Rock dis­trict home, and they fol­lowed other fam­ily mem­bers who had all bought homes in a new devel­op­ment out­side of Greens­boro. In her new home, she too felt at odds with the po­lit­i­cal lean­ings and was sad to be “out in the boonies,” she says.

That was un­til Agar­wala and her boyfriend came back to the Bay Area for a visit two years ago — the perfect cure for her long-last­ing malaise.

“Tom and I looked at each other and we were like, ‘Oh my God. What the hell hap­pened?’ ” she says. “The traf­fic is in­sane. There’s con­struc­tion ev­ery­where. Ev­ery­thing is too freak­ing ex­pen­sive. I was lucky to buy my house when I did and sell when I did. Now, we have five times as much room for five times less money, plus prop­erty for our dogs. We’re never mov­ing back.”

Bu­colic ben­e­fits

Ju­lia Park Tracey, a writer and re­cent Alameda poet lau­re­ate, just moved to the red­woods of Forestville in un­in­cor­po­rated Sonoma County ear­lier this year. It’s not so far that she and her hus­band can’t get to Bay Area fam­ily and events. But it’s far enough away to feel far enough away.

Mar­ried 10 years with five kids be­tween them, they had long rented a large house on Alameda’s old Navy base. When they got down to one kid at home, they down­sized to a sec­ond-floor apart­ment near Alameda High School. But when Tracey’s hus­band be­came dis­abled, he was no longer able to work, and the stairs be­came an is­sue. They wanted to move and no longer pay rent, but knew they couldn’t af­ford to buy a house here.

For­tu­nately, they al­ready had a house. A re­ally tiny house at 648 square feet, but a house none­the­less. The 2008 re­ces­sion had ac­tu­ally worked in their fa­vor, pro­vid­ing a glut of cheap va­ca­tion homes that had stood empty for years. So, “with bub­ble gum and bal­ing wire and coupons,” she jokes, they bought the Forestville place in 2011 for a mere $56,000 to use as a re­tire­ment spot far off in the fu­ture. The fu­ture couldn’t wait, so they made the move sooner and couldn’t be more pleased.

“We’re in a cathe­dral of red­woods,” Tracey says. “It’s a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment for my hus­band health­wise. Santa Rosa’s only 20 min­utes away. It’s just over an hour to the Bay Area. I’m work­ing, writ­ing, vol­un­teer­ing. We’re very happy up here. I go out­side at night, and there are no sirens, no air­planes. The stars are amaz­ing. Right now, the only noise I can hear is a chicken hav­ing a melt­down out­side.

“Hous­ing is pretty ex­pen­sive up here now,” she says, “so it was just luck of the draw that we got in when we did.”

Where to?

The burst of the hous­ing bub­ble wasn’t so help­ful for Raya and Michael

DeMar­quez, es­pe­cially since they both were in real-es­tate-re­lated ca­reers — Michael as an es­crow of­fi­cer and Raya in sup­port ser­vices at a ti­tle com­pany. Michael was out of work for a year. They lost their home, their sav­ings. They man­aged, though, and had come out of the dol­drums some­what.

“We were liv­ing a good life, but we could not save. It was reach­ing a point like, OK, what are we gonna do?’ ” Raya says.

To top it off, they were liv­ing in a rental in the neigh­bor­hood be­hind West­field Val­ley Fair shop­ping mall near the San Jose-Santa Clara bound­ary, which was un­der­go­ing a huge ex­pan­sion, wreak­ing havoc on lo­cal traf­fic. “And for me, the cul­ture in the area changed dras­ti­cally,” she says. “You’re in com­pe­ti­tion for ev­ery­thing, from a park­ing place to a home to a line at a restau­rant.”

One of their three daugh­ters had moved to Port­land and loved it, find­ing it ur­ban with lots of artis­tic tal­ent — like a mini San Fran­cisco. The me­dian home prices were in the up­per $300,000 range at the time. Michael was able to get a job trans­fer, and they moved in 2015. He im­me­di­ately “con­nected and plugged into the city,” he says. Raya found it a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult, but was will­ing to hang in there.

Port­land is get­ting busier it­self, how­ever, with an in­flux of tech work­ers, more traf­fic and new hous­ing. “In the first six months, ev­ery­thing was new, a dis­cov­ery. It felt like ev­ery­thing kind of slowed down for us, which was great,” Michael says. “Then last sum­mer and fall, I was al­ready notic­ing that traf­fic was increasing, and those same forces were at play as in the Bay Area. So this might not be our per­ma­nent home.”

Still, when they left San Jose, Raya says she felt like she had es­caped some­thing. “The con­ver­sa­tions ev­ery­where you went were so neg­a­tive: it’s so busy, it’s so ex­pen­sive. That’s all you heard, and it was ex­haust­ing.

“Of course, when my par­ents moved out of the Bay Area 20 years ago,” she says, “they said the ex­act same thing.”

COURTESY RAYA DEMAR­QUEZ

Michael and Raya DeMar­quez es­caped the bus­tle of the Bay Area in 2015for Port­land. Here they are at the Cape Horn Look­out over­look­ing the Columbia River Gorge.

COURTESY JU­LIA PARK TRACEY

Pa­trick and Ju­lia Tracey at the weekly sum­mer farm­ers mar­ket in Forestville. The Traceys re­cently moved from Alameda to the small town in un­in­cor­po­rated Sonoma County.

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