Rich, poor, young and old un­happy in Bay Area

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Louis Hansen

Bay Area res­i­dents — de­spite be­ing swept up in an eco­nomic boom — are un­hap­pier with the place they call home.

Bay Area res­i­dents — de­spite be­ing swept up in an un­prece­dented eco­nomic boom — are grow­ing ever un­hap­pier with the place they call home.

Nearly 3 in 4 res­i­dents think the qual­ity of life in the Bay Area has got­ten worse in the last five years, ac­cord­ing to a new poll of reg­is­tered vot­ers con­ducted for this news or­ga­ni­za­tion and the Sil­i­con Val­ley Lead­er­ship Group. That marks an as­ton­ish­ing 10-point jump in dis­sat­is­fac­tion from last year.

In an­other dra­matic shift from last year, more res­i­dents are think­ing about mov­ing, 47 per­cent, than stay­ing, 45 per­cent. Nearly 10 per­cent say they have def­i­nite plans to leave this year.

The sur­vey un­earths a re­mark­able para­dox — high wages, an ex­pand­ing econ­omy, record growth in home val­ues, cou­pled with nat­u­ral won­ders have failed to al­le­vi­ate the crush­ing toll of longer com­mutes, spread­ing home­less en­camp­ments, and bud­get-break­ing prices for houses, apart­ments, child care and date nights.

Sara Les­lie, a Bay Area na­tive liv­ing in Los Gatos, sees the mount­ing stress in her friends and fam­ily, made worse by rapidly chang­ing neigh­bor­hoods and an erod­ing sense of com­mu­nity. “I know so many peo­ple mov­ing,” said Les­lie, 46. “I don’t see that the fi­nan­cial gain is worth the stress.”

Dave Metz of FM3 Re­search, which con­ducted the poll, said the high lev­els of dis­sat­is­fac­tion are al­most un­prece­dented given the re­gion’s strong econ­omy. Last year, 44 per­cent of res­i­dents said they ex­pected to leave in a few years, while half ex­pected to stay. The new sur­vey fol­lows a trend of grow­ing unrest found in 2016 and 2017 polls by the Bay Area Coun­cil, where res­i­dents say­ing they planned to move grew from about 33 to 40 per­cent.

“No­body is re­ally happy with the way things are go­ing,” Metz said.

The sur­vey of 1,257 reg­is­tered vot­ers in five core Bay Area coun­ties re­flects deep mis­giv­ings across the so­cial strata — wealthy, es­tab­lished home­own­ers, mid­dle-class work­ers, poor peo­ple and younger res­i­dents in apart­ments all sense a de­cline in their qual­ity of life:

• Rich and poor: About 77 per­cent of re­spon­dents mak­ing less than $60,000and 74 per­cent mak­ing more than $120,000felt the re­gion was get­ting worse;

• Po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion: Repub­li­cans (81per­cent) and In­de­pen­dents (80 per­cent) were more pes­simistic than Democrats (70 per­cent)

• Young and old: Roughly 76 per­cent of sur­veyed res­i­dents be­tween the ages of 18and 49said the qual­ity of life has de­clined, sim­i­lar to those be­tween 50 and 64 (73 per­cent) and over 65 (75 per­cent);

• Home­own­ers and renters: And de­spite record gains in home val­ues and per­sonal wealth since 2012, home­own­ers (73per­cent) agree with renters (76per­cent) that Bay Area life has got­ten worse.

Angst about the fu­ture also runs deep. About 65 per­cent of Bay Area res­i­dents sur­veyed say the re­gion is headed in the wrong di­rec­tion, up from 47 per­cent last year. Res­i­dents now are al­most as wor­ried about the re­gion’s fu­ture as the coun­try’s fu­ture, with 72 per­cent pes­simistic about the di­rec­tion of the United States.

Res­i­dents say they’ve grown frus­trated with the in­abil­ity of state and lo­cal lead­ers to fix long-stand­ing and ob­vi­ous prob­lems — home­less and RV camps pop­ping up along city streets, ris­ing hous­ing costs sink­ing the work­ing poor and mid­dle class, and traf­fic and tran­sit so­lu­tions run­ning the bu­reau­cratic gaunt­let for years un­til co­matose or dead.

The poll re­flects a grow­ing con­cern about home­less­ness. This year, nearly 9 in 10 res­i­dents called it an ex­tremely or very se­ri­ous prob­lem, up from 8 in 10 last year. “That is about as bright a flash­ing red light as you can see,” said Metz.

“It’s the cu­mu­la­tive weight, like rock af­ter rock placed on your chest, that’s come to a break­ing point for many of our neigh­bors, friends and fam­ily mem­bers,” said Sil­i­con Val­ley Lead­er­ship Group CEO Carl Guardino. “These chal­lenges won’t be solved overnight.”

Guardino is con­cerned that nearly 10 per­cent of res­i­dents say they have con­crete plans to move. They’ve de­cided other cities are bet­ter places to live and work than the Bay Area.

“The choice we have is, are we go­ing to fight or flight?” said Guardino. “I still think our area is worth fight­ing for.”

Richard Hall­sted, 62, re­cently re­tired as an op­er­a­tions man­ager for a manufactur­ing com­pany in the East Bay. He and his wife have lived in Palo Alto for more than 40 years and raised their two daugh­ters in the city.

Dur­ing a re­cent fam­ily walk through their neigh­bor­hood, he saw four home­less peo­ple push­ing shop­ping carts along the streets. It was a new sight in their com­mu­nity.

“What do you do?” Hall­sted asked and sighed. “I don’t know. If you built a bunch of con­dos on El Camino (Real), they couldn’t af­ford them.”

Hall­sted feels the big is­sues — tran­sit, in­fra­struc­ture, fix­ing state pen­sion obli­ga­tions — have been ig­nored by politi­cians more in­ter­ested in small bat­tles and iden­tity pol­i­tics. “They need to get back to ba­sics,” he said.

But even the litany of daily an­noy­ances fails to dis­lodge many long-term res­i­dents. Home­own­ers and those over 65 say they’re likely to stay put.

Don­ald Prestosz, 71, a re­tired high school teacher and busi­ness­man liv­ing in Half Moon Bay, said the Bay Area he has called home since 1969 has be­come too lib­eral. He hates one-party, Demo­cratic rule in Sacra­mento. “If you don’t have di­ver­sity of thought,” said

Prestosz, a Repub­li­can, “you’ll never get any­where.”

But Prestosz has no plans to leave his mo­bile home a short walk from the ocean. His doc­tors and fa­vorite golf cour­ses are all nearby. He’s sliced his hand­i­cap to 12. “My qual­ity of life,” he said, “is great.”

Irene Yen, 55, a pub­lic health pro­fes­sor at UC Merced, bought her home in north Oak­land 20 years ago. The fam­ily raised their two sons and sent them to very good pub­lic schools, she said. But she’s wor­ried about pub­lic em­ploy­ees and other work­ers get­ting priced out.

Much has changed — once a pre­dom­i­nantly black neigh­bor­hood, her com­mu­nity has gen­tri­fied as techies and other pro­fes­sion­als priced out of San Fran­cisco move in. Yen loves the en­ergy and plans to stay: “I have a lot of af­fec­tion for Oak­land.”

For renters, the prospect of putting down roots in the Bay Area — even if they grew up here — seems bleak. Roughly 6 in 10 renters say they ex­pect to move in the next few years.

Austin Rickli, 22, grew up in An­ti­och and Brent­wood and ex­pects to fin­ish his com­puter science de­gree at Sonoma State in a few months. De­spite good grades, low stu­dent debt and a mar­ketable de­gree, his hopes of stay­ing in the Bay Area af­ter grad­u­a­tion are wan­ing.

Most en­try salaries at smaller tech com­pa­nies range around $50,000 — a healthy pay­check at a glance, but one quickly eaten up by rent and loan pay­ments, he said.

He could move back home, he said, but he might choose an­other city. “I want to do any­thing in my power to start my own life,” Rickli said.

Many feel they’re reach­ing the break­ing point.

Robert Nued­ing and his wife, Kelly, ar­rived in the Bay Area a decade ago from cen­tral Ohio with op­ti­mism and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties. But in the last few years, Nued­ing, 38, lost his job at Wal­mart and his wife, suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety, left a well-paid po­si­tion at Ap­ple. They live in an old RV with a room­mate along the streets of Fre­mont.

“It’s just like be­ing trapped in a cor­ner,” said Nued­ing, who holds a mas­ter’s de­gree in lit­er­a­ture.

They con­sid­ered mov­ing back to their home­town, but jobs are scarce and pay poorly. Nued­ing wor­ries that a lo­cal school or univer­sity would not hire a home­less per­son to teach classes, even as a sub­sti­tute. “Un­til I have an ac­tual le­gal res­i­dence,” he said, “I feel home­less.”

Les­lie, the Bay Area na­tive in Los Gatos, lives with her hus­band in a farm­house in the foothills. Each has more than an hour-long com­mute on good days.

Les­lie has spent two decades in the tech in­dus­try and en­joys her job. Her mother and sis­ter have al­ready been priced out in the past few years. The Santa Cruz na­tive would leave if other fam­ily mem­bers weren’t still here.

She sees a dark side of Sil­i­con Val­ley tech — U.S. en­gi­neers re­placed by lower-cost H-1B visa hold­ers. All work­ers suf­fer, she said: The sys­tem un­fairly pushes down salaries, while for­eign-born en­gi­neers re­main heav­ily de­pen­dent on their em­ploy­ers.

Les­lie said many of her friends, es­pe­cially with young chil­dren, are over­stressed. She sees them try­ing to ease the anx­i­ety with pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion and ther­apy just to nav­i­gate daily life.

Les­lie rides her three horses or goes to the beach with her four dogs to cope. But she’s not sure how much longer that ther­apy will work.

The poll of 1,257 reg­is­tered vot­ers in Alameda, Con­tra Costa, San Fran­cisco, Santa Clara, and San Ma­teo coun­ties, was con­ducted by FM3 Re­search for the Sil­i­con Val­ley Lead­er­ship Group and Bay Area News Group. The poll, con­ducted Jan. 11-19, has a mar­gin of er­ror of +/- 2.8 per­cent­age points.

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