Is it time to relocate?

Hi friends -- for the last 4 years, I've referred to the fall fire season as: 'the fifth CA season: Mama questions her life choices,' but this year, with the insanely early and intense fire season on top of COVID and all else, I'm really struggling and wondering if it is time to explore leaving the area. I am not a CA native, but have lived in various parts of the East Bay for more than a decade; my husband has never lived anywhere else. His parents are both in the East Bay; mine moved 2 years ago to Reno/Tahoe to be closer to us, and my brother and his family now live in Roseville in a house that they bought with the intention of it being the only house they'll ever own. We have a preschooler and toddler. We bought our house in the Richmond area more than 5 years ago, and are now pretty deeply rooted in our local community, to the point where I've seriously considered running for city council or school board. My husband's an introverted sort who struggles with making new friends in a place he's lived all his life, and also works in software, so is wary of moving away from the tech coast. When the weather is good, the kids and I basically live outside, and our neighborhood is perfect for that kind of lifestyle. We have amazing neighbor friends who I've been scheming to build a real neighborhood community with for the last 2 years. And yet.

I grew up in northern New England and still have connections there, including some beloved relatives who just moved back to Maine. This week, I'm bouncing wildly back and forth between all the reasons to stay (everything outlined in the preceding paragraph), and the specter of the West just getting drier and hotter and more charred every year, with a longer, uglier fire season every fall. The cost of living hasn't prompted these thoughts in me; the traffic is annoying but manageable; the risk of "the big one" doesn't scare me most of the time (we've done all the preparations we can, have EQ insurance, etc.); but the idea of being locked in our homes for months at a time, literally unable to even play in the yard, every year for the rest of my kids' childhoods... that's starting to feel overwhelming. If winter lasts for 4 months as it did when I was a kid, I can put the kids in wool hats and snowsuits and spend the day outside, but there's no "good clothing" for fire season.

I know this list has some subscribers who've gone elsewhere. Anybody have any advice they could offer? <3

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RE: Is it time to relocate? ()

GO go go go! You have connections and community make the change! The time is NOW to move. Change is constant and the only thing that will keep us growing. We are headed away from the West and I know we will all survive and thrive. If you are looking for a sign or confirmation let it be this, GO! 

RE: Is it time to relocate? ()

My husband and I have been having the same conversations – I assume there are many people and families having this conversation. Especially if you have the flexibility like both my husband and I have to work 100% at home and from anywhere. Outside of that, a lot of your situation is the same as ours. We love our neighborhood and my husband was born and raised in Oakland with most of my husbands family live within 20 minutes of us here in Oakland. My family all live on the east coast in North Carolina and one day I hope to move back to be closer to my family. We have started looking to purchase a home in NC to invest in and rent out via Airbnb or long term rental so we can have this property in our back pocket if needed and at the ready if we want to move. We know if we do move back there, the city that we would want to live in has a housing market that has been on the rise for years and we worry that it will be insanely competitive by the time we want to move.

I know not everyone can take this same path that we are considering (and I know we are fortunate to even have this as an option). I just thought that it would be helpful to tell you our thoughts – you are not alone.

RE: Is it time to relocate? ()

Hi Mama!

Just wanted to say I am also a Maine native living in the East Bay! No advice really, but wanted to let you know we are in the same boat. Similarly, prior to COVID my parents were attempting to move to the area to be closer to our family and kids, however everything has fallen to pieces with COVID and now the fires. Over the past month we began to consider moving back to the East coast, but more recently we are seriously entertaining the idea. Weather is one of the biggest reasons why we love/moved to the Bay area, but what is there to enjoy when you are stuck indoors with the windows shut and any museums/kid friendly spots are all closed?

Sincerely, Also had enough.

RE: Is it time to relocate? ()

The fire season in the West can be scary.  If your post mentioned health issues that become really bad because of the air quality (like asthma), I would agree that it would really be time to consider a move.  Please remember that everywhere in the US has some type of hazardous weather.  Yes, I mean life-threatening weather.  It’s easy to forget about weather issues living in the Bay Area, because honestly, most of the time the weather is so easy.  

Here’s a different perspective from someone that grew up in Northern India.  This smoky weather “feels just like winters growing up in India”.  Yes, the air quality here during the fires is about the same as every year in a country that still uses fires as household heating and industry fuel.  Is it bad?  Yes.  Are other weather issues bad?  Yes.  Do you have to stay locked up indoors for the fires?  Hmmm.  Not unless you have health issues related to smoke.  To me, it’s not really different than staying indoors in the summer to avoid heatstroke in the south, or to stay indoors in the NorthEast when it gets so cold that it hurts to breathe.  To me, the biggest difference in geography is attitude.  Californians complain bitterly while a New Englander would take pride in being resilient in the face of adversity.  I can just imagine hearing a New England response to the smoke—just put in an N95 mask and ski goggles, and you are fine to play outside for the day.  Hope you get a chuckle in recognition of the thought of saying that in a Boston accent.  :)

Only you know what is easiest to tolerate for your family.  Best of luck in your decision.

RE: Is it time to relocate? ()

No advice but I FEEL YOU. We love love love our kid’s preschool, our friends, and probably the best neighbors we’ll ever have. And lots of other things about the bay and west coast. But family is on the east coast and the thought of another fire season is starting to tip the scales.  

RE: Is it time to relocate? ()

I don’t really have any advice but we are in the same boat. I am a Bay Area native, and in fact live in my childhood home. Most of the year I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Like you, we spend most of our time outside enjoying everything the Bay Area has to offer. Then: fire season. Suddenly I remember that there are five of us in an 800 square foot house. Not being able to at least take my kids to an indoor playground because of Covid exacerbates things so much. My husband is from DC and we are considering a move back to the area. I would be really sad to leave.  We know we need a bigger house so the question is whether we will invest more in the area or put down roots in DC. Thinking about it makes me so sad. 

RE: Is it time to relocate? ()

Thanks so much for posting this.  My family (my wife and our 15-month-old) are going through the same thing and we've been wondering what others are thinking about it.  We've been in the bay area for 13 years and we bought a house in Albany with the intent to raise our family here.  We absolutely love where we live (all of: the east bay, the greater bay area, and California).  But we're worried about the long-term health effects of raising young children in an area blanketed in smoke every year for weeks at a time.  (We've read that it's potentially very bad for developing lungs, but that people don't really know.  Seems like a big risk to take?)  As you mentioned, it's also a big bummer to be stuck inside for that time -- especially given that September and October used to be the very nicest times to be outside in the bay area!

Similar to you, we have family in New England (Massachusetts and Rhode Island), and we've started thinking about relocating there.  We never would have considered that a few weeks ago.  Though I grew up there, I find it very daunting to try to find a similar community (in terms of schools, diversity, walkability, etc.) -- and no idea how to do this from afar with a 15-month-old.  The places that I have found seem even more expensive than the east bay.  And might they be as susceptible to devastating hurricanes in New England as we are to smoke clouds here?

I don't have a lot to add except that we're going through the same thing: really not wanting to move, feeling like it might be untenable to stay, and wildly swinging back and forth on it.  I'm interested to hear how others are thinking about this!

One thing we try to keep in mind: if it weren't also for COVID, we could still visit places like museums, aquariums, restaurants, indoor sports, etc. when the smoke is bad.  It's the combination that's so rough right now.