Having been in Austin for about 6 months now, there’s one irrefutable fact that everyone in Austin acknowledges with a cock-eyed smile; Californians love Austin, perhaps too much. More than that, Steiner Ranch (the neighborhood in which we settled) seems to be the magnet for relocations from the Sunshine State. One of those transplants myself, I’d love to get to the root of the migration and the passion we have for Steiner Ranch. Perhaps, in defense of our history as Californians; certainly, because we’re now Texans.
Most might find it interesting that of the dozens of transplants that I’ve gotten to know in Austin, NONE are originally Californian. Therein strikes me as to the root of our love of Austin; we’re not really Californian, at least not in the sense that those less than thrilled with all of the relocation from California consider us. I grew up in Michigan and frankly, California wasn’t the best fit for me. That begs my question, what are the differences between Austin and California?
Austin v. California
As far back as I’ve bothered to search, Austin has been questioning the pros and cons of the migration from California. An amazingly still relevant 1995 Chronicle article explored the very question.
“Over the past year or so, as rents and home prices have risen, and Austin traffic has grown more crowded and snarled, many of us have asked: Who are all these new people driving our roads and keeping the housing vacancy rate low, and where did they come from?” wrote Rob Patterson, “The answer in many cases is: They’re former Californians”
Then Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Communication Crispin Ruiz pointed out that some 40-50% of the requests for residential and business “relocation kits” came from California. Amusingly, she added, “The number goes up any time they have a natural disaster.”
To contrast Austin to California, one really has to compare Austin to Northern and Southern California separately. The two ends of the state are as distinct as sun and snow (almost literally) and no evaluation of our differences would be served without considering them both.
Let’s take a quick look at the following considerations, if I’m missing one, please join our conversation below: entrepreneurship, weather, commute, cost of living, lifestyle, politics, education, and community. In fairness, that last one has to be rather opinionated but I’ll try to remain transparent about my perspective.
No one can argue that S. California is home to America’s entertainment industry while N. California plays that role for the tech and internet scene. If you want to make it big in either field, your chances are probably better there. But California is certainly NOT an entrepreneurial state and Silicon Valley, known for its startups, is an anomaly in that regard.
What draws people from California to Texas? It’s that the cost of starting a business in California is so burdensome that you have to be crazy to consider doing so. Worse, the litigious nature of the people and the laws in place in California make navigating the considerations involved with working for oneself almost too great to bother. Rest assured, if you start a business in California, you’ve neglected some license, requirement, fee, or process. While California is home to those behemoths of their respective industry, Austin fosters new business. Austin isn’t the live music capital of the world because it’s difficult to make it as a musician. And while the venture community of N. California makes finding a substantial amount of capital to start a company feasible, seemingly everyone in Austin runs their own business – because they can.
California seeds dreams; head west to the Pacific, many aspire while growing up. The idea of living on the beach and following our movie and internet icons is appealing. They have the money to foster companies but they also have the expenses to make starting one difficult. California offers an exceptional pool of talent; but those experienced professionals, designers, developers, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs are hardly exclusive to California – once perhaps, but certainly no longer.
On the other hand, Austin practically expects you to start a business for yourself. What I find subtly very attractive about Austin (and Texas in general) is that teenagers excel, happily, at the same jobs that were common place amongst teens throughout the country decades ago: waiting tables, mowing lawns, coffee shops, mall retailers; not in California, you’re more likely to be served by a surly adult than a teen learning what it means to work for a living. Here you can thrive in a band, start a restaurant (or a trailer!), follow your dream as an artist, start an iPhone app company, grow your own small business, or start an online empire (heck, start 3). What Silicon Valley is to “startups,” Austin is to entrepreneurs and that makes Austin far more inviting, exciting, and encouraging.
Weather? Seems a strange comparison to make but I consider it one of the most important. Here, the win, for the most part, goes to S. California. Sorry Austin but you have to admit (even I’m admitting and I love the heat) that an average of 78 degrees throughout the entire year is awfully attractive. But that’s where my win for California ends.
Have you ever lived in San Francisco? Better, have you ever visited during those 8 months out of the year when it’s actually quite cold? As a long-time, former, resident of the Bay Area, I can share that I was one of those locals who would relish with amusement at the most popular item for sale in the shops along Fisherman’s Wharf: the SF Fleece. How to spot a tourist in San Francisco? While the weather in N. California is generally beautiful, unless you grew up in Minnesota, you’re going to find California shockingly cold – not the warm beach front property that we dreamed of as kids. The ocean and beaches around the Bay Area are usually freezing and while the lure of Santa Cruz draw families by the thousands to its beaches throughout the summer, you might find yourself digging holes in the sand to escape the cool breeze. Don’t get me wrong, for a few months in the summer, N. California is spectacular, and it is those few months when Austin is blisteringly hot, but it is only a few months.
Aside from the sun and seasons, there is that question of natural disasters proffered by the Chronicle so long ago. Crispin Ruiz was right in appreciating that the natural disasters of Calfornia leave more to be desired than those of Texas and Austin. The earthquakes of California are occasionally fun but more often than not deadly and disastrously dangerous. While Texas has welcomed its share of horrendous tornadoes and floods, the natural weather of Austin is so much more attractive as to be inviting. From the torrential rain to lightening storms, even Austin’s hail adds an element of excitement to living here. Besides, the weather in Austin makes for our amazing caves, rivers, and waterfalls.
Of course, there is an exception to my criticism of the cold of N. California. Tahoe. Easily some of the BEST skiing in the world (and yes, I meant to put BEST in all caps). That said, let’s consider the question of commute.
As we considered our move to Austin, the greatest criticism anyone had for the city was the terrible commute. My wife and I would smile and look to one another thinking, “is that all?” Yes Austin’s traffic needs some work and I’m a tremendous fan of the propositions for commuter rails but consider it with respect to California.
Live and work in N. California and expect to commute, on average, 45 minutes each way, every day. I think that’s a fair read; we lived throughout most of the Bay Area and, at best, my commute was down to about 20 minutes. At its worst (in to San Francisco) it was up to an hour and a half.
That’s one way. Public transportation is a mess of disparate rail systems, exorbitant cab fares, and questionable bus schedules so you can expect to spend almost 2 hours of your day in the car. While I never lived in the Los Angeles area, it’s well known that the same can be said of S. California.
I’m amused that people who have lived in Austin for an extended time still consider our home here in Steiner Ranch to be remote. Sure, we’re in the hills from downtown Austin but the 20 minutes into the city, I’d argue, makes Steiner Ranch (or the surrounding area, to give it credit) the most appealing place to live in the country. Minutes away from fantastic culture, live music, restaurants, and the urban life in downtown Austin are the lakes, rivers, and hills that are hours from a home in California.
Wait… is that last statement really accurate? Are you really hours from things in California? California is praised for its outdoor lifestyle. Certainly I must have misspoke. Hardly.
What most don’t consider when they think of commutes is the amount of time you spend in the car on adventures. In that regard, Austin wins by a landslide. While Texas is a much larger state, with the population density in the eastern part of Texas and the central location of Austin, everything (essentially) is within 1 hour or 3. Think about it. Lake Travis, Hamilton Pool, caves to explores, hills to ride, the up and coming east side of Austin to South Congress, Georgetown’s beautiful town square to Bee Caves’ The Backyard, the city of San Antonio with Sea World, the Alamo, the River Walk, Six Flags,Schlitterbahn, and the Spurs; everything is within an hour. Well no, not everything, but only about 3 hours away and you’ve got Dallas, Houston, and the Gulf of Mexico (warm water!). Contrast that with California who’s two major cities are on opposite ends of the state; about 8 hours from one another. Oh sure, living in N. California puts Tahoe about 4 hours away – when the weather is good.
Cost of Living
Do I really need to go here? We’ll keep this section brief. Expect to pay $1,000,000 for a home in California. I’m vastly simplifying the question for the sake of the debate so bear with me. When the housing market went bust and people had to move, hundreds of thousands of dollars were lost in California homes. Roughly, the cost of the same home in Austin.
The lack of income tax in Austin fosters that entrepreneurial spirit while shifting the costs in to property taxes makes all the sense in the world to most: you pay for what you consume, not how hard you work.
I think the great secret of Austin is that it really is one of the most outdoor friendly communities in the country. What draws many to California, is in fact far superior here. Save the couple months in the summer when the heat is too unbearable to be outside, Austinites live outside and in the water. From fantastic hiking to exceptional biking, everything found in California is here in Texas to a greater extent. Well, except skiing. I miss snow skiing.
More important for most than that outdoor lifestyle though is the social atmosphere of Austin. This might be where my thoughts here receive the most criticism… my read on the distinction between Austin and California is that Californians generally socialize professionally while people in Austin socialize personally. I hope my caveat “generally” mitigates too much criticism but for the most part I think it’s a fair assessment. Austin’s coffee houses and ice cream shops are full of teens dating and families spending time together; bars and clubs are crowded almost every night; neighborhoods are full of block parties and front porches where neighbors gather to live. Don’t get me wrong, parties and card games amongst friends are as common in California as anywhere; the differences are subtle: happy hour after work is rare, the ice cream parlor is too small to hang out, neighbors aren’t as, well, neighborly… people generally can’t afford to go out to the extent that you can in Austin, so they don’t, unless there is another motivation (usually professionally) to do so.
Part of what might drive that social phenomenon in California is that while it is the state known for its acceptance of everyone, it’s a very exclusive environment. Republicans in California rarely bother talking about their views because the debate is so exhausting and onslaught from the opposing views so prevalent. Forget about sharing your religious beliefs; while you are welcome to them, keep them quiet. There is a running gag amongst some in California (mostly those who aren’t originally from California) that you are welcome to believe and have any viewpoint that you want, as long as it’s their viewpoint. I hope I’m fair in saying that Texas is much more of a “to each his own” culture; combined with the very friendly attitude everyone has, it creates a culture where different points of view are not only welcome but encouraged – they make life interesting.
Living in Texas is just comfortable. It’s friendly.
Before we move on, one strike against Texas, and here because I don’t have a better place to share this perspective, are the bugs. They say everything is bigger in Texas. They mean it. I’ve started minor wars in my house to combat the fire ants, grubs, and wasps the size of my fist. (good thing I’m not in California, I’d have protesters at my door).
As we left California we were met with incredulous claims about the liberal nature of Austin, “Why would you leave San Francisco for Austin??” people would point out, “It’s just as liberal.”
What makes Austin amazing is that it’s a liberal city in a sea of conservatism. So you know where I’m coming from, I don’t mind sharing that I lean right and Republican but I’m fairly middle of the road. I think the folks on the far left are nuts and the fanatics on the far right are fruitcakes. What you have to realize about California is that it is very liberal and Democrat. Only if you’re an extremist does that environment work for you; truly, even if you are Democrat, I can’t believe that you are in support of the massive debt, taxation, and welfare programs at work in California – it’s an economy that MUST be supported by the massive industries we discussed above as it would otherwise be crushed under its own weight.
Amazing about Austin is not just that it’s a blend of personally liberal attitudes and conservative government but that your taxes serve your own community to a much greater extent. While your money allocated to the government in California goes to support people hours away from you; in Texas, most of your money is spent outside your door. Politicians really work for you.
Finally, I mentioned above the impact of the litigious nature of California. The experiences in which you’ll find this most prominent are in the public and business properties on which you spend your time. California is heavily laden-ed with rules and regulations impacting everything such as the scenic parks and views obstructed by fences and gates (if accessible at all).
Still amazing to me is that in Austin you can usually bring in food (and alcohol) to public facilities.
Nowhere is the impact of those views and politics more prominent than in the public schools. While in Texas kids say the Pledge of Allegiance to both the United States and Texas, in California it often isn’t said at all. Want to have a Christmas party in California schools? Forget about it, you can’t even mention Santa Claus or a Christmas Tree.
I actually broke out in a sweat when my daughter mentioned the Easter Bunny at a school party shortly after we moved to Texas; I was worried someone would admonish her! Imagine my shock when a first grader gave a presentation to his class about the creation. In Texas, it’s welcomed alongside the questions from kids who don’t believe in God, the open discussion between the kids about whether God created cars and the response that he created the possibility of them was brilliant! In California such a discussion is unfathomable. In one school we toured in California, they didn’t spend time studying Benjamin Franklin because the time was needed to ensure they studied people of every ethnicity. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to see a diverse review of our history and the impact of various cultures on our country, but it rubbed me the wrong way to see heavily influential historical figures ignored for the sake of diversity. Education in California isn’t just broken fiscally, it’s just broken.
By and large, in California, your kids are going to be in private school (if you can afford it) to attain the same standard that they receive publicly in Texas. Your taxes in Texas go to your school so parents are more likely to be involved and teachers are held accountable.
or Why do Californians Love Steiner Ranch?
I’ve heard and agree with just about every theory out there from the similarities, between California and Austin’s Steiner Ranch neighborhood, to the differences. Our homes among the hills are reminiscent of the most prime real estate in California and yet our community, the neighborhood we’ve created here, is really hard to come by in California.
I can’t imagine how I can sum it up more concisely than I’ve done above. Sorry about that length but the reasons people from California love Austin so much are extensive, complex, and important. Frankly, it’s probably easier to summarize the reasons California is so much better than Austin… let’s see… bugs, two months in the summer, skiing (snow skiing that is), and Mickey Mouse (though Austin has Bevo).
Personally, what draws me to Steiner Ranch is that it’s the best of everything: entrepreneurship, weather, commute, cost of living, lifestyle, politics, education, and community. Having spent a bit of time on this post, I’m going head home, sit out front with my neighbors, run around with the kids, share the latest stout my neighbor brewed, BBQ some brisket, and smack mosquitoes as only I can in Texas.