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Is the Bay Area pushing people to the breaking point?

Louis Hansen, The Mercury News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Despite a booming economy, pleasant climate and natural treasures, nearly two-thirds of California's Bay Area residents say the quality of life here has gotten worse in the last five years, according to a new poll.

They cite a litany of reasons: high housing prices, traffic jams, the cost of living and homelessness. It's so bad that about 44 percent say they are likely to move out of the Bay Area in the next few years, with 6 percent saying they have definite plans to leave this year.

The poll, conducted for this news organization and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, reflects the paradox of Bay Area life -- how does a thriving job center with world-class universities and culture stir such dissatisfaction and misery in its people?

Home prices have risen at a record pace since early 2012. Commutes have grown longer and congestion has become worse as workers move farther away for affordable housing.

"It's a mix of hopelessness and understanding," said Clint Caldwell, 26, a recruiter at a San Francisco tech firm who grew up in the Bay Area and rents a home in Menlo Park with his wife and three children. "That's the bargain you have to make living in the Bay Area."

The dissatisfaction spreads across political parties and county lines, according to the poll of 1,568 registered voters in five counties. Just 7 percent of respondents said life has gotten better here in the past five years, and 23 percent said it's stayed about the same.


Two-in-three renters sensed a decline in quality of life. And 64 percent of homeowners said things had gotten worse, despite massive and historic gains in property values and personal wealth since 2012.

San Francisco residents showed the most displeasure, with 72 percent saying life in the Bay Area has soured in recent years. Pessimism spread across ethnic groups, with black voters most often reporting a drop in the quality of life.

More than 7 in 10 respondents cited the high cost of housing and living, traffic congestion and homelessness as the region's top problems.

"The Bay Area has tremendous challenges that we must address," said Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino. "We should absolutely celebrate our strengths, but not working at our weaknesses will come at our own peril."


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