Original post:Why Is The Central Valley So Bad?

1: Several Valley residents commented with their perspectives. Some were pretty grim. For example, 21st Century Salonniere (writes The 21st Century Salon) writes:

It is horrible. It’s been horrible since at least 1996 when I got trapped here by my spouse’s job. We were going to stay two years tops and go back East. (Long boring story about what went wrong.) The only things you could say for it back then were “Well, the produce is good” and “Houses are affordable, sort of.”

Now the house prices in our neighborhood have doubled in the 4 years since we bought this home, and there’s no way we could now, if we moved here today, ever buy a home in this hellhole.

Who on earth is coming here and why?

> “the problem is more that everyone in the Central Valley wants to leave.”

Yes. Every interesting or smart critical thinker I’ve ever met here, everyone who gives even the slightest shit about museums and theatre and music and culture (with the exception of a few people who were born and raised here, so “it’s home”) has been desperate to leave. I’ve met a lot of nice people here over the years. They become close friends and they always leave the state. I’m counting down till I can leave too.


Sprawl has gotten worse. The population has increased without an increase in city amenities or services. The neighborhoods in the city have all gotten worse except at the far north wealthy fringes and in its one suburb, Clovis. The bulk of the city is crumbling and looking more like a developing country all the time.

Fresno schools have been abandoned by the middle class and have gotten worse. They were really pretty good when we moved here. Everyone who could afford a house elsewhere moved to “Clovis schools” (meaning Clovis and the aforementioned northern fringes of Fresno because they’re in “Clovis schools”). Clovis schools were always more conservative and authoritarian so we preferred Fresno schools for our kids… not sure I’d send them to Fresno schools today.

Economic security, food insecurity have gotten worse. The numbers of people / proportion of people needing food assistance is worse. The numbers of people who can work one or two jobs and afford to support a family are very small.

Medical care is a joke. Any doctor who cares about health or living in a nice place… doesn’t live here. It’s fair to say that except for a VERY few great doctors who were born and raised here and stayed to serve the community, the doctors here are the absolute dregs, the bottom of their classes.

Throughout my healthy young adulthood it was fine to live here and hope for the best. Now in still-healthy middle age, I realize I might need some competent doctors and a decent teaching hospital someday. Get me outta here.

The corruption of local government, of developers, of scammers who made a pharmacy school and would-be DO school into a cash grab – corruption is bad here and judging by the recent series in the Fresno Bee has gotten worse.

Homelessness is worse and definitely more entrenched with people living openly in encampments. It used to be confined to certain locations downtown. Now it’s everywhere including my middle class urban neighborhood. “Everywhere” is not an exaggeration: the numbers of homeless people are astronomical. My daughter sometimes had to step over a couple of homeless guys, sleeping in the doorway of her workplace this summer when she went to open up the building. We’re more likely compared to the 90s to be accosted by people asking for money in any given parking lot where we go to shop. Coming out of work today and walking to my car, I was accosted by a guy and I’d stayed late, so no one else was around. In my neighborhood a guy recently started yelling through the open window of a neighbor’s house, asking for spare change.

Air quality has gotten worse – largely because the enormous wildfires have become an almost annual event. The smoke spreads down from the mountains and fills the Valley and doesn’t leave for weeks. This year’s fire season wasn’t bad but the last two years there were periods where the air quality was so bad everyone was instructed to stay indoors because it was literally off the charts. I spent the month of September 2020 running the air conditioner 24 hours/day (just to filter the air) and ran HEPA filters all day long indoors. We couldn’t go anywhere but sat in the house, still (literally) choking on smoke for a month. My sense of smell didn’t come back fully after that and I have lawyers sending me postcards to try to cash in on that (no it was not COVID).

Fires also destroy a lot more homes now.

More friends than I can count have had their lives upended by fire evacuations sometimes for weeks, sometimes unable to retrieve their pets or belongings. A friend at work, pregnant with their first child, lost her firefighter husband to one of these fires. There are no words for what she’s going through raising a child on her own, who will never know her dad.

The fires alone make it a hellish place to live.

In conclusion (ha) this is not a nice place to live. And yes it is worse along many dimensions. I sincerely cannot think of any ways in which it is better since the 90s. None.

2: And Marc writes:

I grew up in the valley from birth until I left for college in 2009. A couple of things that I remember looking back at that time:

1. The 2009 housing bust hit HARD. Like, really hard. Housing prices skyrocketed in the couple years before and then in what seemed like overnight prices tanked and everyone lost their jobs. I recall hearing about cities like Stockton pushing a 25%+ unemployment rate. There were already crime and drug problems in cities like Stockton, Modesto, and Fresno, and that made everything worse.

2. There’s very little to do, and you have to drive a long ways to do it. Outside of Sacramento and perhaps a couple of pockets elsewhere if I’m being generous, there’s nowhere in the valley where you can, say, walk around and enjoy a day in the city and do things. I remember that parts of downtown Modesto and Fresno, at least back in ~2008, were literally shut down after dusk because of crime. Even then those fairly large cities are built like massive suburbs.

3. Water. I think this is the big one. The valley is only agricultural because of a large canal network. And for a long time (not sure how it is now), farmers got incredible water subsidies, partially rationed, which they were not allowed to sell. When I was growing up, one of the most common ways of irrigation I’d see was literally flooding orchards because farmers had so much water that if they didn’t use, they lost. So they’d use it on the least efficient method of irrigation possible. I think that’s changed a bit in the last decade, but only in response to very severe drought. I believe to some extent some farmers are now being subsidized not to grow crops at all to save on water. When that’s the backbone of your economy you’re in trouble. (Growing up I heard that I lived in the “breadbasket of America” frequently. I wonder what they’re telling kids now.)

Also, your categorization of the region as being a strategic location by which you can escape is spot on. People would talk about how great it is that you can reach SF, Monterey, Yosemite, or Tahoe for a day trip quite frequently.

Pardon my ignorance, but how does a housing bust hit an area hard? Don’t most people just keep paying the same amount on their mortgage, regardless of whether the sticker price of the house is lower? Wouldn’t the only people who suffer be people who are selling, which means they’re not going to be in the area much longer anyway? Doesn’t this make it easier for new people to move into the area?

But other residents spoke out in the Valley’s defense:

3: Katherine Singleton writes:

My grandparents had an almond and walnut farm in Ripon near Modesto. The time I spent there was the most idyllic childhood imaginable. California’s problem’s are well publicized as are the problems of rural agricultural areas. And city people usually have a reflexive distaste for a lifestyle they don’t understand. So I don’t think there is any big mystery here.

4: Derek M writes:

I grew up on a farm east of Visalia. Very idyllic. A great way to grow up. I also love how culturally diverse it is and we all got along pretty well. (For example – Go to a church on Sunday in the Valley–there are a lot of different colors there. You don’t seem to see that in other parts of America.)

Yes–it seems most of the commenters here are city people that just don’t understand. The issues that rural ag areas struggle with also happens all over the world. You’re correct–no big mystery. I’ve been to farms in Cornwall and the North of England and, surprise surprise, they are dealing with a lot of the same issues as the Valley. In fact, Jeremy Clarkson (the Top Gear BBC show guy) has made an entire series on Amazon Prime Video about his struggles (‘Clarkson’s Farm’)

5: Wanda Tinasky says:

Fresno native here. While I’m not the biggest fan of the area, I feel I have to push back against this a bit. I left in 92 for college and then a career in Silicon Valley, but my parents stayed here and I was forced to move back 2 years ago to help them out. I hated Fresno as a teenager and dreaded moving back, but it’s actually been better than expected. There are several microbreweries and craft beer taprooms now, which creates some semblance of a nightlife. The restaurant scene is mostly terrible, especially relative to SF, but there are some signs of life - I suspect it’s on the up. The biggest shock has been real estate prices - I never would have thought of Fresno as an expensive place to live - but that’s mostly been a consequence of inflation, COVID, and the Zoom revolution. I suspect the coming recession will pop that particular bubble. If not then the influx of Bay Area remote workers can only be a good thing for the local culture and economy.

Summers are brutal and the air quality is terrible - the valley is a cauldron for smoke, emissions and dust kicked up by farming. The homeless problem is worse than it was 30 years ago, but WAY LESS WORSE than it is in other parts of the state. I lived through SF’s transition to one big homeless encampment during the 2010’s - Fresno’s got nothing on that. At least the local PD try to clean them out occasionally. Fresno schools are bad, but they were bad when I was a kid too - the white flight to Clovis started in the 80’s. My folks would have moved us there if Edison hadn’t started a credible magnet program.

I think the nice areas have grown faster than the bad areas. Yes, you want to stay on the north side of town or in Clovis, but that’s nothing new. It’s not flashy but if you live in Clovis you’ve got a reasonably nice, low-crime, affordable (by CA standards) community with usable public schools. A lot of families prefer that lifestyle to scraping by in the bay.

That being said, if both my parents died tomorrow I’d be outta here immediately. But not for anywhere else in California and certainly not SF - the Bay has deteriorated more in the last 10 years than Fresno has in the last 30 IMO.

Congrats, you made me defend Fresno in a public forum. Never thought that would happen. Also kind of shocked there’s another ACX reader in town. Wanna meetup? There is a distinct lack of smart people to talk to here.

Wanda’s perspective is interesting insofar as it views everywhere in California as disintegrating simultaneously, with the Bay’s problems related to the Valley’s albeit at a different scale. I can’t speak to this firsthand since I moved around too much to get a longitudinal view of any one place.

6: Pete Morris writes:

I personally think the Valley is underrated and its diversity under-appreciated. This applies both to its cities and to its rural, ag-based communities. The stories of exploited and impoverished farm labor are all too true—“Factories in the Field” as Carey McWilliams famously described the situation back in Great Depression days. Yet there also are stories of upward mobility and cultural dynamism, such as the celebrated Masumoto and Thao family farms outside Fresno and the vibrant community of Punjabi truck drivers.

There is a treasure trove of literature, music, and other art coming from the Valley and/or about the Valley which has been accumulating since at least the 19th century. I will pick something relatively recent to share, a great track by Cracker from 2014: King of Bakersfield.:

The song illustrates some of the themes you discuss above, Scott, and it captures how love of the Valley is largely a matter of taste. For some, it is a version of California paradise; for others it is a long and boring stretch of empty highway miles. And for all those who know the Valley only from road trips along I-5, know that State Route 99 is significantly less empty. Even better, get off the main highways and explore the back roads. You may be surprised by the beautiful landscapes and interesting people and places you encounter.

7: Kelly Traveling The US writes:

I think there’s a story here the data aren’t telling. Give me Fresno over San Francisco any day.

[Me: I’m an environmental consultant (in a niche part of the field) who lived in Davis, then SF for 12 years until 2016. I still work exclusively with clients in California, including a lot of work in Fresno.]

Here’s a story that will seem silly to anyone from outside SF but I can’t forget it. In 2019 a Fresno client took me to lunch at a strip mall restaurant, and HE LEFT HIS LAPTOP BAG ON THE FRONT SEAT OF THE CAR. It was there when we got back. San Franciscans: Can you imagine such a thing? (In SF, the 4th time my car got broken into the only thing left worth stealing was the jack. So that was taken.)

That same day, the client drove me to see what he considered desperate poverty: a neighborhood in the shadows of an agricultural feed mill. It was smelly and industrial, the houses were small and older, BUT THE PEOPLE WERE LIVING IN HOUSES. I kept waiting for the kind of brutal conditions you see on every street in San Francisco–there is some of that in Fresno, but nothing like CA’s coastal cities.

Then we went to a school where we were doing a project. Across the street from the school, a house was for sale. It was small, probably 1000 sq ft, on about 1/8 acre. But it, and its street mates, were well-maintained–lawns were mowed, houses painted. The price? $78,000.

Compare the opioid overdose rate between SF and Fresno Counties: 44 vs 7.

Possibly, what seems like poverty that is “humbling and a little scary” to rich coastal front-rowers, is a relatively pleasant middle class lifestyle to a Mexican immigrant earning 10x the median household of his home country?

(though see here for some discussion of the Mexico comparison)

8: Derek Rob writes:

Reading this article is how I imagine it feels to live in a “less-developed” part of the world and read poverty-porn articles from American media outlets. The author “drives through as fast as possible” but feels comfortable making sweeping claims on the “misery” of the Central Valley based on a couple of newspaper articles and a few time-series plots.

“Temperatures often reach 110 F.” Maybe going forward we’ll see more of that, but by most accounts any day over 100 F is exceptional heat. A typical summer day? Balmy morning, a few hours of dry heat in the late afternoon, and warm, breezy evenings.

“Most people in the central Valley are conservative.” The Central Valley is certainly more conservative than CA coastal cities. By area, I have no doubt that the Central Valley is majority conservative. But, since the author is already lumping the entire Central Valley under a single umbrella, I would be curious if “most” actually bears out in the distribution of political affiliations among Central Valley-ites. Lump in Sacramento and Stockton, and, since the author says “most people” and not “most voters,” all of the non-citizen farm workers (documented or not).

“Sacramento is the sixth smoggiest area in the country.” Based on an article from 1999. I would be curious how Sacramento air quality compares to standards today. “The smell.” The author drove by a freeway-adjacent dairy on his way to LA and now knows what a four-hundred-mile swath of the country smells.

“Depressing tule fog.” A morning mist that burns off by 8 am most days?

“Severe drought… partly [from] California diverting water to hydrate growing coastal cities.” Coastal urban water demand has almost nothing to do with agricultural water shortages. Going to self-cite on this one (laziness; PhD in water resources engineering; married to a UC Berkeley water resources economist). Lack of winter rain/snow and associated land fallowing in the Central Valley almost definitely impacts agricultural labor demand.

“Everyone who can get out of the Central Valley does.” Uh. Yes, most Californians are just dying to move to the Bay to try to eek out a semblance of life where a 2BR house costs $1.5M. If this doesn’t reek of coastal elite naivety, I don’t know what does. Disclaimer: By most definitions, I am a “coastal elite” (am reading this stack, after all) and, over the last 13 years lived in the Bay for a combined five years (and liked it).

“Drugs and crime have gotten worse.” Like everywhere in the country.

The poverty and challenges of the Central Valley are super real. And it’s no doubt great to see Bay-Area Californians peering outside of their bubble (walk around SF and survey strangers on what “the Delta” is to get a sense of the magnitude of that bubble). But this article amounts to the kind of naïve, drive-by opinion peddling that undermines nuance and so classically characterizes the self-assured attitudes that drive (similarly stupid) caricatures of “coastal elites.”

I am sorry if this article offended Valley residents, but they do have some of the lowest median income in the country and several of the poorest metropolitan areas in the country, I think noticing this and trying to investigate is different than just driving through and deciding it’s bad.

9: Kelly adds:

This whole post is driving me crazy. “The vast wasteland of the central valley” comprises 1% of US farmland and produces 25% of the country’s food, including 40% of the best stuff. Without that largesse, we and much of the world would be hungry. The rich people who live in the Bay Area and LA should be down on their knees honoring the people who grow their food, not turning their noses up at them.

[…] I am a big fan of our fine author here, but this post drove me mad. Imagine looking out at some of the most productive farmland in the world from the hellhole of San Francisco (former decade-long SF resident here!) and asking what’s wrong with them!

If I ever said anything that implied the Central Valley did not have a lot of agriculture, I apologize unreservedly and retract this clearly false remark.

10: Others were mixed. JRM writes:

Some notes:

I’ve been in the Central Valley for 25 years, four in Bakersfield and 21 in Modesto. Since I’m here, you might think I’m good with it, and you’d be right.

Weather: It’s not as hot as Yuma or Phoenix or [list of other too-hot cities]. It’s still too hot.

Air Quality: It’s gotten better since I’ve been here -

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1352231020305525?via%3Dihub (less ag burning)

https://www.iqair.com/us/usa/california/fresno (everything is terrible, but meaningfully less terrible than it was)

Education: I don’t really see Davis as genuinely a CV spot even if technically is, but there is a UC school - UC Merced. There are other colleges and universities in the Central Valley, but the area doesn’t have high education levels overall.

Politics: “[M]ost people in the Valley are conservative.” Relative to California, for sure, hard yes. Relative to everything, I don’t think so.


If you look at the counties in the Central Valley, Sacramento’s middle-blue, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, and Fresno are light blue, while Madera, Tulare, and Kern are light red. My district has usually been pretty purple, with centrist D’s and R’s winning, though districts that attach to the mountain areas are red and those that head west get bluer.

This isn’t all that new, either - Obama won most of the CV counties vs. McCain.

The LA Times: Look, I still subscribe to the Times, but this story isn’t persuasive to me. To their credit, they quoted the late Carol Whiteside, who was one of the people who moved things forward here - downtown Modesto’s not downtown (pick Bay Area town), but it’s nice. Plus that’s 23 years ago.

Per capita income: Cost of living is still much less, but housing prices have really spiked once again. We were ground zero (OK, maybe some areas in Michigan, but…) in the 2007ish crash; we had a wild, obvious bubble. This feels less bubbly. Housing prices are a genuine issue.

Crime: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_locations_by_crime_rate#Counties

Sorting by violent crime rate… yeah, not great. The top five counties include just one CV county, but the next five include three.

Brain Drain: I can only say what I’ve seen in dealing with really smart kids around here: Yeah, they’re out. I helped coach some kids in middle school on a robotics team, and the four strongest kids are all the children of immigrants, all have done well (Stanfordx2, Cornell, MIT, and one of them is now at Yale Medical School, so… yeah, smart, high achieving kids.) They’re not coming back, and I don’t think there’s a good argument that they should. That’s a problems for lower education areas.

Commute: I commute eight minutes to work. I have done the long commute, and there are heavily commuter-based towns way far away from the Bay Area. This seems awful. Proposed solutions are outside this comment’s scope.

Vibe: Look, I’m not going to form a Jonathan Coulton fan club that meets every Tuesday, and I’m pretty sure there will never be an active Modesto ACT group. I get it. But we’ve got some culture - even if some of the acts that come through are the elderly versions of long-ago bands, our county has the Gallo Center for the Arts, which is really nice; an arthouse theater; and places to walk and see a lot of birds.

Plus a ton of really cool cars. It’s a thing.

The restaurant scene is pretty good. Is it Cambridge? It is not. But I like it here.

Caveat: I also have a job where I don’t break a literal sweat and in the summer, we have air conditioning for the human-unfriendly weather. There is real poverty, which I am not oblivious to.

That’s all the CV I have for the moment.

11: Some comments taught me interesting things about California history and politics. Ch Hi writes:

The change [from pro-farm to anti-farm policy in California] is due to a Supreme Court decision. It used to be that Calif. Senators were elected on a scheme that gave each county a representation proportional to its land area. The Supreme Court decided that this was invalid…so now they’re elected based on population. And most of the population lives in cities.

I’m not going to decide whether this was right or wrong, but it changed the Senate from pro-agriculture to pro-urban. (The fact that the agricultural areas always voted conservative is, of course, purely a coincidence.)

12: Mutton Dressed As Mutton writes:

Yglesias recently wrote this about immigration policy:

> The unintended legacy of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act was that illicit seasonal labor migration was largely replaced by one-off permanent migration, while the three- and 10-year bans made it harder than ever for permanent unauthorized residents to regularize their status without meaningfully deterring illegal entry.

I’m making no claims at all here, because I don’t understand the bigger picture of immigration trends in the Central Valley. But if you think that immigration is part of the story, it’s worth noting that there were some policy shocks during this time period.

13: Steve Sailer writes:

Property rights in water are not very sophisticated in California, so water gets used for wasteful purposes. At some point the politicians grandfathered in everybody who was using water at some point in time: 1915? So a number of farmers have inherited the right to absurd amounts of water which they use on water-intensive crops like alfalfa, cotton, and almonds.

Likewise, in the Southern California low desert around Palm Springs, you are allowed to use whatever water you pump out of the huge Ice Age aquifer, but you aren’t allowed to sell your water to Los Angeles or San Diego, so the hot Coachella Valley has a ridiculous number of golf courses that are kept green even in the 112 degree summers.

Nobody wants to bother with the giant political struggle it would be to rationalize water rights, although they apparently did do this in Australia in the early part of this century due to a huge drought.

I don’t know how exactly the water rights tangle ties into the Central Valley’s more general problems, but it probably means less investment: nobody expects the water supply to get better due to more rain in the future, but nobody expects the politicians to take water rights away from wasteful uses either, so the future for those not grandfathered in looks dustier and more expensive.

14: But DangerouslyUnstable answers:

As someone who grew up in the CV, I would just like to point out that, under a rational water rights system, almonds would almost certainly be one of the few ag uses to remain. They are lucrative and don’t grow in that many places. Yes, they use a lot of water, but they produce a lot of value that can’t easily be produced elsewhere. What would go away is rice, row crops, dairies, alfalfa, hay, and almost all the other crops that can be grown in dozens to hundreds of places in the US or the world.

Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine about how almonds get singled out as being particularly wasteful when they are one of the very few uses of the water where, if you had to pay a rational price for it, would still get paid and used as is. Although probably the recent (ish) switch from flood irrigation to drip irrigation would probably have happened sooner than it did.

15: Many people (~10!) recommended I read Victor Davis Hanson, who has written extensively about the Central Valley. For example, Anonymous Heckler:

Victor David Hanson, who has written frequently and vividly about the social decay of the valley over the years, had a moving book published in the 1990s, “Fields Without Dreams,” about the decline of family farms and the consolidation of agriculture into what are effectively absentee plantations. (The Resnicks are the most famous farmers who live in Beverly Hills, but there are others.) I don’t quite recall his specific diagnosis of the cause then, but farming has always been very hard work that kids look for ways to avoid.

16: And Ellen M Martin:

Here’s a short version of his analysis https://www.westernjournal.com/victor-davis-hanson-california-voters-make-major-decision-stake/

He’s a classics professor with a Stanford degree, but went back to run the family farm. in the Valley (3rd or 4th generation)

I would add, that even with the best of liberal intentions by the Eloi, one-party states run by corrupt politicians go bad fast, and the non-elite (Morlocks) get the worst of it while the coastal elites stay richer.

I’m a Chicago native who lived in the East Bay (Berkeley & Oakland) for the past 35+ years, working in biotech & SV. Last year, we moved to Colorado.

I can guess how most of you guys vote. If you are voting for incumbents in the current situation, you are doing it wrong.

17: Alex Richard says that commuters from the Valley to the Bay Area are a bigger (and different) deal than I thought:

> Sometimes well-off residents of California coastal cities get houses in the Central Valley and commute. It’s about 2 hours from LA to Bakersfield, or 1.5 from Stockton to San Francisco, so it’s not worth it for most people. But Central Valley houses cost between 25% and 50% the cost of coastal houses, so I guess it’s worth it for some. I don’t know whether this is good (because these people bring money in and create jobs) or bad (because these people bid up land values).

Your two assumptions here- that it’s the rich buying second houses and commuting, and that this isn’t a significant number of people- are wrong.

Anecdotally, I live in the South Bay and have spoken with multiple random workers who have multiple hour commutes from the Central Valley. I can’t find statistics on this, but this more-or-less matches what I’d expect- the people getting pushed out of the Bay Area due to housing prices are the poorest, not the richest.

Regarding the sheer number of commuters, here’s an article: https://extras.mercurynews.com/megaregion/

The article calculates that ~130,000 workers commute from the Central Valley into the Bay Area. If the average family has 4 people, one of whom commutes to the Bay Area, that’s 500,000 people who have been pushed out the Bay Area. The Central Valley has a population of 6.5 million; if you exclude the 2 million who live around Sacramento (the state capital, an exception as you discuss in the article), over 10% of the Central Valley’s families have somebody commuting to the Bay Area. I know much less about LA, and couldn’t find good stats from google, but if it’s similar then that’s ~20% of the entire population of the Central Valley who live there in large part because lack of housing pushed them out of the coastal cities.

18L Ragged Clown adds:

I came here to say this.

When I lived in San Jose, almost every construction worker, gardener or cleaner I spoke to commuted in from Lodi or Tracy or Stockton or Modesto etc because they couldn’t afford to live in the Bay Area.

When I first got there people used to move to Fremont or Pleasanton. Even those places are no longer affordable.

19: Mr. Doolittle writes:

The timing makes perfect sense to me if wages were dropping between the 70s and 80s and the place crashed in the 90s.

Think about it in terms of generations and generational wealth. If a middle-class family in the early 1980s already had a house and some established wealth (not a lot, necessarily), they can better weather changes in wages and front line economic conditions. Also, when an economy starts to hurt, it’s usually the lowest paid and least skilled workers who take the initial hit. In this case, my guess would be that far fewer young people were hired, rather than large scale layoffs of existing workers.

Either way, those people already living there and doing okay continued to be mostly okay, but it drained the prospects of future generations. People at the top of their earning potential in the 1980s will be retiring in the 90s, but because of the change in economic conditions, fewer people are moving up to fill their places. This hurts the overall economy, as there is less money available to buy things from local stores or whatever. The chain effect becomes a spiral and will continue to get worse unless/until something big comes to the Valley to reverse the trend. With tough state regulations and very little incentive to pick the Valley over other parts of California, that seems pretty unlikely.

This is the same pattern that’s played out in many parts of the Northeast and the Rust Belt. Old industries shut down, and as the existing money-holders die or move away, the economy sinks over time. Towns don’t usually die right after a big manufacturing plant shuts down (unless it’s the only major employer or something similar), but a plant shutting down can spell long term doom due to the knock-on effects later.

20: Kalimac writes:

This is really a side issue, but it’s the only thing in this post I’m qualified to talk about.

The 1999 LA Times article said, “First-rate culture is scarce. The state capital doesn’t even have a symphony.”

That was true then. The Sacramento Symphony had crashed financially and disbanded. But it soon reformed as the Sacramento Philharmonic (new organization, most of the same musicians) and still exists, despite their beloved music director dying unexpectedly a couple years ago. First concert of the season is a month from now: they’re playing a violin concerto by Wynton Marsalis, isn’t that an interesting notion.

But the same thing - orchestra disbands, later reformed - has happened in Oakland, in San Jose, and in San Diego, as well as in a lot of other cities around the country (Denver, New Orleans …)

Also I should add that Stockton, Modesto, and Fresno all have professional symphony orchestras which prosper fairly well. Maybe other cities in the Central Valley do as well (I know there’s one that splits its season between Redding and Chico), but I mention those because I’ve been to concerts by all three some time in the last decade (they were playing programs so interesting I couldn’t resist taking the drive out), and they all did credit to themselves.

21: But Lone-Pine asks:

Do you people really care that much about symphonies and high culture? How much more are you willing to spend on a house just so you can be in driving distance of a symphony? And how many times per decade do people actually go?

I’m grateful to them for putting this into words - I hear a lot of discussion seemingly predicated on that fact that you need to have a certain number of museums and symphonies to be a liveable city. But I basically never go to either and I think most people are probably pretty similar. I feel the same way about people who obsess over whether a certain city has “nightlife” or not. Granting that some people center their lives around all of these things, are they really a big enough percent of the population for this to have important demographic effects?

There’s some good discussion of people who think yes vs. no in the responses to Lone-Pine’s comment.