clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Malibu, movies, microprocessors and mountains - California seems to have a bit of everything.

Generations of hopeful migrants have made California the epicenter of the American West's population explosion. In two generations, the state's population has tripled, from 10 million in 1950 to an estimated 30.4 million today.But a new blip is showing up on trend monitors: a narrowing gap between the number of people moving in and those moving out.

It's not as if the West's biggest, most populous and most powerful state is about to empty out. A net gain of 6 million residents is expected within the decade.

But a growing spillover from California is raising hackles in nearby states, which long have had a love-hate relationship with their 100 million-acre neighbor. Outward-bound Californians fleeing smog, clogged freeways and urban sprawl have become scapegoats for the same growth-related problems in their new homes.

Margaret and Jim Eickmann noticed the animosity when they moved from Santa Monica to a suburb of Portland, Ore. Their California license plates gave them away.

No one tracks interstate migration, but California Department of Motor Vehicle records provide a clue. Officials say about 376,000 drivers moved to California in 1990 and about 340,000 moved out, a net migration of 36,000, down from 84,000 in 1989 and 160,000 in 1988.

In California, economists dismiss the change as insignificant.

Californians account for an estimated 30 percent of all newcomers in fast-growing Nevada, up to 40 percent in Oregon, 25 percent in Idaho, and 20 percent in Washington, officials in those states say.

Economic boosters in several Western states welcome new arrivals from California and are courting California businesses away.

Marian Hein, Utah's director of national business development, said she focuses recruitment efforts in Southern California because the costs of doing business is lower in Utah. This includes real estate, taxes, workers' compensation and wages. Employers also find Utah workers more loyal and productive, she said.

Several Idaho cities using similar arguments have persuaded California companies to relocate.

But as housing developments pop up and the newcomers start wielding economic and political clout, some established residents complain.

"It's sort of the `pull up the drawbridge' attitude," said Richard Sybert, director of the California's Office of Planning and Development. "Usually, although not always, you'll find the people who take that position most vehemently are the ones who just moved there a few years ago themselves."

Around Seattle, old-timers fumed as a rush of newcomers used the proceeds from selling their pricey California homes to snap up prime waterfront property. The new arrivals were blamed for making real estate prices soar.

In Oregon, the California backlash grew strong enough last summer that the state tourism agency broadcast a tongue-in-cheek lesson in driving manners. It's poor form, the radio ad reminded Oregonians, to ram outsiders into a guardrail or direct them to the nearest landfill.