Bay Area Californians Moving to Where Living Costs Less

(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO — Christine Johnson, a public-finance consultant with an engineering degree, was running for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

She crisscrossed her downtown district talking about her plans to stimulate housing construction, improve public transit and deal with the litter of “needles and poop” that have become a common sight on the city’s sidewalks.

Today, a year after losing the race, Ms. Johnson, who had been in the Bay Area since 2004, lives in Denver with her husband and 4-year-old son. In a recent interview, she spoke for millions of Californians past and present when she described the cloud that high rent and child-care costs had cast over her family’s savings and future.

“I fully intended San Francisco to be my home and wanted to make the neighborhoods better,” she said. “But after the election we started tallying up what life could look like elsewhere, and we didn’t see friends in other parts of the country experiencing challenges the same way.”

. . .

(p. A12) Greg Biggs is adding more machines and moving jobs to cheaper locations. Mr. Biggs is the chief executive of Vander-Bend Manufacturing, a company in San Jose that makes metal products including surgical components and racks where data centers store computer servers. Vander-Bend has doubled its head count over the past five years, to about 900 employees, and pays $17 to $40 an hour for skilled technicians who need training but not a college degree.

This is precisely the sort of middle-income job needed in the Bay Area, which like many urban areas is bifurcating into an economy of high-wage knowledge jobs and low-wage service jobs.

The problem is he can’t find enough workers. The unemployment rate in San Jose is around 2 percent, and many of Vander-Bend’s employees already commute two or more hours to work. To compensate, Mr. Biggs has bought several van-size robot arms that pull metal panels from a pile then stamp them flush, bend their edges and assemble them into racks. He has opened a second location 75 miles away in Stockton, where labor and housing costs are a lot lower.

This is in most ways a success story. Vander-Bend is raising wages and training workers. The machines aren’t replacing jobs but instead make them more efficient, and the company is bringing higher-wage positions to a region that needs more of them. But for workers, even substantial income gains are being offset by rising costs.

For the full story, see:

Conor Dougherty. “True, California Is Booming. Also True: California’s a Mess.” The New York Times (Monday, December 30, 2019): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 29, 2019, and has the title “California Is Booming. Why Are So Many Californians Unhappy?”)

Napa Vineyards Adapting to Global Warming

(p. D8) Few in Napa Valley feel the urgency to address climate change more than Beth Novak Milliken, president and chief executive of Spottswoode, a family estate that makes superb cabernet sauvignons here on the western edge of St. Helena.

. . .

Ms. Milliken and Aron Weinkauf, the winemaker and vineyard manager, are experimenting with rootstocks that might do better in drought conditions, and grapes like alicante bouschet, mourvèdre and touriga nacional that, as Napa warms, might be blended with cabernet sauvignon to maintain freshness, structure and acidity.

. . .

Like Ms. Milliken, Larkmead is experimenting with different grapes. Mr. Petroski has already initiated a study, planting three acres with a variety of grapes like touriga nacional, tempranillo and aglianico to determine over the next 30 years what might be better able to withstand a hotter environment than cabernet sauvignon.

“I just want people to think that Napa Valley makes great, delicious California-style wines,” he said. “If this is a great vineyard site, it will grow great grapes. It doesn’t have to be only cabernet or merlot.”

For the full story, see:

Eric Asimov. “The Pour; Napa Valley Confronts Climate Change.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 6, 2019): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 7 [sic], 2019, and has the title “The Pour; In Napa Valley, Winemakers Fight Climate Change on All Fronts.”)

Lyft Driver Fears California Law Will Destroy Her Work Flexibility

(p. B4) California lawmakers have hailed the law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week that could require drivers of ride-hailing companies to be labeled as employees rather than independent contractors, saying the measure could raise wages and provide new workplace benefits.

But the drivers are divided about how it will affect them.

For Rachel Hudson, a 43-year-old driver for Lyft Inc. who struggles with arthritis and an anxiety disorder, the bill’s passage is unwelcome. Ms. Hudson has driven for Lyft for about five years and fears employment status could mean having to work in scheduled shifts that would wipe out the flexibility she needs.

“Sometimes, I need a two- to three-hour break. I can’t always be relied upon to be at work at specific times,” Ms. Hudson said. Driving for Lyft “is the only way I can afford a car. It makes a huge impact on my life.”

Ms. Hudson, who lives alone in Stockton, Calif., said that besides federal disability benefits, the earnings from Lyft are her only income.

For the full story, see:

Sebastian Herrera. “Uber, Lyft Drivers Torn Over Law Meant to Protect Them.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Sept. 23, 2019): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 21, 2019, and has the title “Uber, Lyft Drivers Torn as California Law Could Reclassify Them.”)

California Anti-Gig-Worker Regulations Have “Unintended Victims”

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — After months of bickering over who would be covered by a landmark bill meant to protect workers, California legislators passed legislation on Wednesday [Sept. 11, 2019] that could help hundreds of thousands of independent contractors become employees and earn a minimum wage, overtime pay and other benefits.

. . .

In California, religious groups said they feared that small churches and synagogues would not be able to afford making pastors and rabbis employees. Winemakers and franchise owners said they were worried they could be ensnared by the law, too. Even some of the contractors for the app-based businesses that have been at the center of this debate said the change could hurt them if companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash decided to restrict how often they could work or cut them off entirely.

. . .

(p. B4) Small vineyard owners are concerned that they could be forced to directly employ the independent truckers they use to haul their harvests and become responsible for providing insurance and workers’ compensation. Currently, truckers operate as contractors, with their own rigs and insurance, and serve several vineyards, said Michael Miiller, director of government relations at the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

“Our members are growers, not trucking companies,” Mr. Miiller said. “The target of legislators is Uber and Lyft, but the unintended victims are small, independent vineyards on the coast of California.”

Saunda Kitchen owns a Mr. Rooter plumbing business in Sonoma County that has 30 employees, for whom she pays payroll taxes and provides the various mandated benefits. But Ms. Kitchen said she believed that she herself would have to become an employee of Mr. Rooter under the new law, which could cause the parent company to pull out of the state.

“I wouldn’t have access to new technology, training, help with marketing,” said Ms. Kitchen, who planned to talk with Mr. Rooter officials on Thursday [Sept. 12, 2019] about how to proceed.

For the full story, see:

Kate Conger and Noam Scheiber. “Gig-Worker Law Sows Confusion and Defiance.” The New York Times (Thursday, September 12, 2019): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 11, 2019, and has the title “California’s Contractor Law Stirs Confusion Beyond the Gig Economy.”)

California Passes Statewide Rent Control

(p. A20) California lawmakers approved a statewide rent cap on Wednesday [Sept. 11, 2019] covering millions of tenants, the biggest step yet in a surge of initiatives to address an affordable-housing crunch nationwide.

The bill limits annual rent increases to 5 percent after inflation and offers new barriers to eviction, providing a bit of housing security in a state with the nation’s highest housing prices and a swelling homeless population.

. . .

“Caps on rent increases, like the one proposed in California or the one recently passed in Oregon, are part of a new generation of rent-regulation policies that are trying to thread the needle by offering some form of protection against egregious rent hikes for vulnerable renters without stymieing much-needed new housing construction,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, research director at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California.

. . .

Even as more states begin to experiment with rent control, it has long existed in places like New York City, which intervened to address a housing shortage post-World War II, and San Francisco, where it was adopted in 1979.

Today it is common in many towns across New Jersey and in several cities in California, including Berkeley and Oakland, although the form differs by jurisdiction. Regulated apartments in New York City are mostly subject to rent caps even after a change in tenants, for example, while rent control in the Bay Area has no such provision.

In New York City, where almost half of the rental stock is regulated, a board determines the maximum rent increases each year; this year it approved a 1.5 percent cap on one-year leases, considerably lower than the limits passed in Oregon and California.

For the full story, see:

Conor Dougherty and Luis Ferré-Sadurní. “California Passes Statewide Rent Control in Effort to Ease Housing Crisis.” The New York Times (Thursday, September 12, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date Sept. 11, 2019, and has the title “California Approves Statewide Rent Control to Ease Housing Crisis.” The online version says that the page of the New York print edition was A16. The page number in my National edition was A15.)

California Uber Regulation Reduces Drivers’ Freedom to Choose

(p. A27) Drivers are at the heart of the ride-share business. They’re also at the heart of the debate over a bill approved by California’s legislature, A.B. 5, which aims to solidify gig workers’ legal status as employees. Uber and Lyft have always classified drivers as independent contractors. But many lawsuits over the years, by drivers and others, have put that classification under question. A.B.5 is intended to help drivers by creating a set of criteria under which Uber or Lyft drivers could be considered employees of those companies, and therefore entitled to the benefits and protections of employees.

So why would some drivers be against it?

I spent nearly a year driving part time for Uber and Lyft, and then left my job as an engineer to cover the industry full-time through my blog “The Rideshare Guy.” After thousands of conversations with drivers, I’ve found that while they come from all walks of life, one of the main reasons they value this work is flexibility. As a driver, you can work almost as much or as little as you want, cash out your pay instantly, take a break at a moment’s notice, or even go on a six-month vacation. This flexibility and that feeling of not having a boss makes ride-hail driving stand out in the vast array of service jobs and low-wage work.

For the full commentary, see:

Harry Campbell. “Uber Drivers Just Want to Be Free.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 17, 2019): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 16, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

Cost of Housing Is Main Driver of Migration from Superstar Cities

(p. B1) Last month the Census Bureau confirmed a confounding dynamic taking hold across the American landscape: Superstar cities, the nation’s economic powerhouses, hotbeds of opportunity at the cutting edge of technological progress, are losing people to other parts of the country.

For the first time in at least a decade, 4,868 more people left King County, Wash. — Amazon’s home — than arrived from elsewhere in the country.

Santa Clara County, Calif., home to most of Silicon Valley, lost 24,645 people to domestic migration, its ninth consecutive annual loss.

The trend is becoming widespread. Eight of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the country, including those around New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami, lost people to other places in 2018. That was up from seven in 2016, five in 2013 and four in 2010. Migration out of the New York area has gotten so intense that its total population shrank in 2018 for the second year in a row.

. . .

(p. B5) Research by Peter Ganong from the University of Chicago and Daniel Shoag of Harvard suggests that housing costs are a principal driver of the change in migration decisions: As the highly educated have flocked to superstar cities, they have pushed housing prices way beyond the reach of people earning less. Continue reading “Cost of Housing Is Main Driver of Migration from Superstar Cities”