I used to know a lot of people in San Francisco. Emphasis on used to. Now, finding a couch to crash on whenever I make the great schlep up I-5 has become a near-impossible endeavor. My San Franciscan friends have all, by and large, given up the ghost and shuffled south, sacrificing discernible weather and decent public transportation for the endless sunshine and perpetual traffic of Los Angeles.
I can understand why they decided to move. San Francisco has become a great place to find $13 eggs, but a nearly impossible place to live. A single renter has to make seven times the minimum wage, or $79 an hour, to afford a median-rate apartment in the city. Los Angeles isn't a renter's paradise by any means—single earners need to make $49 an hour to afford an average rental here—but a difference of $30 an hour ain't nothin' to sneeze at.
With rents rising and North-Face-clad techies ready and willing to pay them, there's nowhere for normal San Franciscans to go but out. I asked three recent transplants how their former neighborhoods changed during their tenure there, why they moved, and the differences between the two cities. Here, in their own words, are their replies:
I lived in SF for nearly a decade—a little over nine years. I worked in a very neighborhood-y place during most of that time, so I got a fairly intimate look at the change of my neighborhood, the Lower Haight. I remember one apartment building burning down, displacing everyone. Years later, when reconstruction finally finished, none of the residents were allowed back in, and rent went up drastically. That kind of thing happened all over the place. My friends, some of whom had been living in their places for up to 15 years, were kicked out as landlords scurried to sell their buildings. Some attempted to fight. Many gave up.
Small businesses are closing left and right. Every restaurant looks like a fucking iPad. SROs are being sold in favor of creating expensive studios in otherwise undesirable areas. There is an artisanal Jewish deli now, and parking is $4 an hour on Mission Street. Many of my creative friends have fled elsewhere.
I moved to LA because I could no longer afford my rent. My bathroom kept flooding—eventually a huge chunk of ceiling fell down. My landlord heavily hinted that he was not interested in fixing it, but was extremely interested in my moving out.
I don't think LA is as obviously beautiful as San Francisco. San Francisco is an exceptionally beautiful city. Because it is so walkable, you happen upon cool shit all the time, block by block. In LA, you have to go a bit more out of your way to seek things out. But, whatever your interest may be, LA has the best version of it.
Los Angeles feels a lot more diverse, even though San Francisco tends to pride itself on its diversity. It also feels more working class. There's room for mediocrity here, which I find important. A shitty coffee shop wouldn't survive in San Francisco because there are just too many upscale ones the masses have decided to frequent. On my block in LA, there's a "third-wave" coffee shop next to a far more interesting small one that sells burned coffee. I like that there's room for both.
I lived in San Francisco for almost 11 years. I grew up in the Bay Area and progressively moved west—Walnut Creek, then Berkeley, then SF. The natural progression would have been Hawaii, but I went to LA instead.
Everyone says that SF is always being gentrified and pricing its residents out—there is some truth to that, but the changes of the last few years have been especially extreme. I don't think rents were tripling in what used to be the cheapest areas of the city before. The SF city government is corrupt in a Tammany Hall way; there are very little checks on evictions and rent gauging. They're really in the pocket of developers. Tech companies get massive tax breaks; meanwhile, there's a lot of subtle regressive taxation to the poor. While free tech shuttles clog narrow streets in the Mission, actual city buses charge over twice what they did 10 years ago.
It is, more than ever, a city for rich people. There are really profound demographic shifts happening, but sadly what I mostly noticed was that all the musicians I knew were moving and late-night taqueria crowds had gotten particularly awful. Bars were suddenly full of young people shouting and complaining about things being cash only.
My building in SF was rent controlled, so I could have lived there indefinitely—though my anxious, money hungry landlord stopped repairing anything around 2012. Some floors were certainly not level, and turning the oven on required lighting a long match and crawling into it, Sylvia Plath style. I was mostly saving money for relocation the last year or so I was there. I would have been fucked if the building I lived in was sold.
In LA, you don't need to wear three layers of clothing and bring an emergency sweatshirt with you, just in case it happens to be 45 degrees in July. People in LA are much better looking, much more fit, and also more inclined to dress like a two-year-old allowed to select her own wardrobe. I hear fewer long explanations of people's creative plans, and deliver fewer long explanations of my own.
The two things that most surprised me about LA were how wild and yet how jam-packed with people it is. I guess I had a mental idea of LA being freeways and buildings, but there are parks everywhere, and it feels like nature is encroaching in on the city, rather than vice versa. Coyotes and mountain lions live in the same neighborhoods as my friends, and there's an attitude of "Yup, some of our pets might get eaten. But whatcha gonna do?"
There's a lot more driving and less regular walking in Los Angeles, but I think that's compensated by the explicit and implicit body shaming that happens once one tries to work in the entertainment industry. Also, sometimes I feel like the weather is exercise-shaming me—when it's 80 degrees in mid-November, is there really any excuse not to go for a walk? Come on, fatty, eat your kale and let's go.
I was born in SF; after moving around for a bit, I lived there the past 22 years. I was there during the dot-com boom and crash of the '90s, and I left during the upswing of the second tech boom. I remember when the Mission District was not a place you would go to; I'd leave the apartment to get a burrito and rush back. I lived on Twenty-Fourth and Valencia for years, in a two-bedroom apartment that was $650 at the time—during the first dot-com boom, it went up to $1,350. Before I moved to LA, I lived in a one-bedroom in the Richmond district that cost $1,550; as soon as I left, it went up to $2,750. Now I hear about people renting out walk-in closets and couches for over $1,000 a month.
For a few years I worked in the Tenderloin District of SF, case managing youth who were in and out of juvenile detention. Most of the families I worked with were Southeast Asian immigrants who lived in small studios with their entire families. With the rise of the tech industry, they had to move out of SF as well.
I moved to LA to pursue comedy and writing. I knew it was cheaper here, so I can afford to live working part-time and hustling road gigs. A lot of my comedy friends that started around the same time as me have been in LA for quite some time.
Am I happy in Los Angeles? I think so. I have cheaper rent. I have good friends and am always meeting new people. I was depressed in San Francisco; I thought it was because of the fog and overcast skies. I was looking forward to the sunshine of LA. Turns out, I can be depressed in the sun, too. —Megan Koester