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The anti-California DreamIn summaryBeyond the conservative Facebook memes and viral YouTube videos, hasCalifornia reached a breaking point?Lea este artículo en español.At first, Stephanie Morris was nervous about leaving Modesto. She’d lived inthe Central Valley her whole life, but her family couldn’t keep paying$850-a-month for her sons to share a living room while she, her husband andthe baby slept in their apartment’s only bedroom.The anxiety faded by the time her family pulled out in a U-Haul bound for SaltLake City on a smoky September night. Morris, 31, had still never been to Utah— her husband liked it when he worked there as a truck driver — but she haddiscovered a whole world of people planning similar escapes online. Theyposted faraway landscapes on Pinterest, smiling family photos on Instagram andmemes about leaving “Commiefornia” in Facebook groups like “ConservativesLeaving California.”Stephanie Morris and her husband moved with their three children from Modestoto Utah this fall. Photo: courtesy of Stephanie Morris“I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not moving out of California to athird-world country,” Morris said. “I’m leaving a third-world country to joinAmerica.”Unaffordable housing. High taxes. A Democratic stranglehold on state politics.The concerns driving transplants like Morris out of the country’s richeststate during the COVID-19 era are not new. What is changing quickly is howdisillusioned California residents are coming together by the tens ofthousands on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere online, fueling a cottageindustry of real estate agents, mortgage lenders and political advocatesstoking social division to compete for a piece of the much–discussedCalifornia Exodus.Facebook groups like “Life After California” are full of stories about $4,000U-Haul bills and home bidding wars in Texas, but it’s too early to tell ifmore people are leaving during the pandemic. People move for all kinds ofreasons — a new job, to be near family, to buy their first house — and whilemany online moving groups target conservatives, a parallel migration of moreliberal transplants has also scrambled the politics of some red states.Early polls show that up to 40% of Bay Area tech workers will consider leavingif remote work continues. Recent tax proposals have also triggered familiarwarnings about wealthy residents fleeing the state.Even before COVID-19, California’s population growth had slowed considerably.Since 2015, the state has lost at least 100,000 more people than it gainedeach year from other U.S. states, including growing numbers of working classand Black residents. But California is still a top U.S. destination for peoplemoving from other countries, plus affluent transplants from other states. FromJuly 2018 to July 2019, California saw a net loss of 197,594 people to otherstates.Now, the pandemic has stripped away amenities used to justify California’shigh costs, and created a backlog of 1.6 million unemployment claims in thestate with the nation’s highest functional poverty rate. Though Gov. GavinNewsom styles California as a semi-autonomous progressive enclave, economicstimulus measures that promised near-term relief withered in Sacramento thissummer. In November’s election, the biggest state battles revolve aroundcommercial taxes and gig work — and in the meantime, the state’s nationalprofile promises to keep rising as a political piñata in the culture wars thatsurround President Donald Trump.Scott Shepard has watched these forces collide from his new home in Coeurd’Alene, Idaho. The California-bred realtor started relocation websiteExitCalifornia.org and a namesake Facebook page early last year, when he saw abusiness opportunity in the endless stories of friends and neighbors movingout of state. Now, during the pandemic, the site is so busy he doesn’t evenhave to pay for online ads.“It’s starting to kind of take on a life of its own,” Shepard said. “I wouldbe straight and say that it is primarily political. Then it really does comedown to the cost and taxes.”### The anti-California DreamExit California is emblematic of a growing number of online relocationcompanies marketed heavily on social media. They target prospectivetransplants who skew white, right and over age 30, though renters postalongside members in the market for million-dollar houses. Between photos oftidy brick facades, crystal-clear pools and recommended moving truck routes,the Facebook pages revolve around ominous articles about Black Lives Matterprotests, crime, immigration and, of late, pandemic shutdowns.Prospective movers who click through to the website can pick a state —Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas — and see financial incentives to useselected realtors, mortgage lenders or other service providers. Beyond themechanics of buying a house, the online groups are a platform for places topitch fed-up Californians who don’t know where to start.“There’s a fair percentage of them that don’t know where they wanna go,” saidScott Fuller, an Arizona transplant and real estate investor who startedLeavingTheBayArea.com and LeavingSoCal.com three years ago. “They just knowthey want to go somewhere else.”That’s not surprising to Bill Bishop, author of “The Big Sort: Why theClustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart.” He’s studied how overthe past several decades, neighborhoods across the country have becomeincreasingly politically homogeneous. Where people choose to live has become“a stage,” he said, to flaunt their values as old anchors like a one-companycareer fade into a blur of unstable jobs, anxiety and dwindling time withfamily and friends.“What they’re doing is selling a way of life that then corresponds topolitical choice,” Bishop said. “It’s kind of pathetic, actually, but what thehell?”### Playing politicsIt’s not just real estate agents using social media to reach jadedCalifornians. Sometimes, the California Exodus content is bankrolled by peoplein high places.Take the YouTube video “Fleeing California,” which has racked up 2 millionviews since it was posted in March. It starts with sweeping L.A. views of palmtrees and Spanish-tile roofs, then fades to a grainy montage of sidewalk tentcities and a person being pushed in front of an oncoming truck. A momentlater, in Texas, viewers see happy kids getting off a school bus and a goldenretriever bounding down a jungle gym while Republican Sen. Ted Cruz talks inthe background.> “What they’re doing is selling a way of life that then corresponds to> political choice. It’s kind of pathetic, actually, but what the hell?”>> Bill Bishop, author of “the big sort”The video was made by PragerU, a conservative digital media nonprofit thatproduces other titles like “Make Men Masculine Again” and “Dangerous PeopleAre Teaching Your Kids.” The California video was commissioned by a donor,producer Will Witt said: Texas ranching and oil scion Windi Grimes, a boarddirector of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and member of Trumpettes USA, awomen’s group formed in Beverly Hills five years ago to boost President Trumpas the country’s “savior.”How many people are persuaded to pack up and move by similar videos, socialmedia content or Joe Rogan’s recent podcasts on moving to Texas could helpshuffle the country’s electoral map at a pivotal moment. Some of California’slast Republican strongholds, like Orange County, are seeing their residentsdecamp for other states — a net loss of nearly 25,000 people last year alone —along with notoriously liberal urban areas like L.A., which posted a net lossof more than 97,800 people.The anti-California political spectacle playing out online has become a hobbyfor 30-year-old Texas country singer Charley Austin, who started the“Conservatives Leaving California” Facebook group last year. Some members postmemes warning newcomers “Don’t California My Texas.” But Austin, who says hehas campaigned for Trump, sees an opportunity to keep the state red as citieslike Austin (“the San Francisco of Texas,” he said) go farther left.“There’s nothing really we can do to stop people moving here,” Austin said.“The best thing you can do is help people that move here get acclimated to thestate.”### Making the moveBy August, Juliette Saunders had been fighting the state of California foralmost six months over her missing unemployment checks. Her business doingwine and paint nights in Orange County disappeared overnight when the virushit, and she was getting by with free lunches from her daughter’s school whileher resumé with a master’s degree got turned down at Target.Fed up with her cramped apartment, Saunders and her daughter left to visit hersister in Prosper, Texas, where she and her husband had built a 5,000-square-foot house near an artificial lagoon. They should move, too, Saunders thought,and the deal was sealed when her California boyfriend came to visit andproposed.“We’re gonna miss Laguna Beach and the art scene, and you know, Disneyland,”said Saunders, 53, whose now-fiancé was furloughed from his job as a securityguard at the amusement park. “But none of those things are open right now.”Saunders will also have work after she moves. She plans to go into businesswith her sister, real estate agent Marie Bailey, who’s busy managing her20,000-member Facebook group “Move to Texas From California!” She moved fromOrange County three years ago with her husband, who works in tech, to the gun-friendly Dallas suburb that feels “almost like a country club resort.”Julie Druyor and her family bought their new house in West Frisco, Texas,after losing bidding wars on two others. Photo: Courtesy of Julie Druyor.In online groups like Bailey’s, much of the conversation is pragmatic: whetherto drive to Reno to save on a moving truck; how to change your carregistration in Phoenix; which little league team to join in Frisco. Memberscompare notes on median home prices — $725,000 in San Diego, versus $260,000in Fort Worth or $619,000 in Scottsdale — but there are also other trade-offs.“Don’t expect California in Texas,” said Tommy Vasquez, 46, who moved to theHouston area with his wife and three children over the winter. “The climate isdifferent. It’s flat out here. But everything is green.”Vasquez was happy to trade his three-hour commute from Hesperia to Miraloma,where he kept driving all day doing deliveries for Costco, for a role as anight supervisor eight minutes away from his new house in Texas. Propertytaxes are still high, but he knew from Facebook that gas and air conditioningare cheaper, and his neighborhood is nicer.Competing with other prospective Texas buyers was the challenge for JulieDruyor, 40, and her family as they planned to leave Livermore this spring.They lost two houses near Frisco after bidding wars that she vented aboutonline, but they bought the third one sight-unseen. She’s embracing neweconomic freedom to stop working as a marriage and family therapist and stayhome with her kids, who have started at better public schools.“It’s miles different,” Druyor said. “You feel like you matter.”### Still golden?As California expats scatter, there are groups pushing others consideringjoining them to move in-state instead. “We’re smarter, more dynamic andwealthier than all those other states,” said Barry Broome, CEO of the GreaterSacramento Economic Council.He should know. During the last recession, Broome was making the same low-tax,bigger-house arguments to California companies and their employees on behalfof the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. At the time, business groups weremelting down about a proposed tax on high earners to fund education, Prop 30.Broome says he did pick off about 30,000 back office workers from Californiacompanies, and recent reports show that hundreds of businesses have continuedto move facilities out of state. So in Sacramento, Broome is now offeringstartup grants or new incentives in biotech and finance tech. There are smallsigns of momentum; his group purchased cell phone location data from “consumerintelligence technology” company Buxton, which estimated that 193 people whowork for Facebook have already moved to Sacramento.> “I worry a lot about if we’re complacent. We’ve been able to get away with> not-great policies because of the amenities.”>> mark duggan, stanford professorWhile politicians in other parts of the state similarly stake their hopes ofeconomic recovery on remote work and inland relocation, Broome worries thatrecent tax bills and labor reforms like AB 5 could undercut those efforts.Still, he’s not expecting a mass exodus this time around, either.“These economies are a lot more intertwined than people ever really want toadmit,” said Broome, a former union worker from Ohio. “It speaks tosustainability. We’ve been eroding the middle class for a generation.”Economists also wonder how this recession will be different. At Stanford,Professor Mark Duggan said the state will have to make big decisions aboutgenerating revenue to stave off major budget cuts after borrowing billionsfrom the federal government to pay unemployment claims. Political sacred cowslike residential property tax cap Prop. 13 may need to be reconsidered, hesaid.“I worry a lot about if we’re complacent,” Duggan said. “We’ve been able toget away with not-great policies because of the amenities.”For now, people like Terry Gilliam will keep selling the Red State Dream inFacebook groups like “Life After California.” Though it’s been harder toconvince his own family to leave the East Bay, he has a plan: the mountainsnear a place like Prescott, Arizona, where the scenery is dramatic but theclimate is mild — “much like the Bay Area,” he said.