Lance and Wendy Feldman have been slowly cutting ties with their native California for the last two decades.
The process began in the early 2000s when they sold their teacher supply stores, which had been battered by rising property taxes in the Bay Area and competition from the internet. Then, after a lifetime of voting, they skipped the 2018 elections, believing that their support for Republican candidates didn’t matter in such a blue state. Finally, in August 2020, they put their Danville house on the market and moved away.
“There’s a sense of peace up here,” Wendy said from the couple’s new home in Eagle, Idaho, a suburb of Boise. “It’s comforting not to feel like a Martian. Living in California felt like living on a different planet.”
Asked what he misses about life in the Bay Area, Lance replied, “Not a whole hell of a lot. The weather’s a little bit better [in Danville], but we couldn’t enjoy the weather anyway [lately] because we were locked down” due to the pandemic. In Idaho, “it’s a lot more friendly and a lot less expensive.” For example, he said, a gallon of gas costs about $2.20 there, well below Bay Area prices.
The Feldmans are among a growing number of well-to-do, right-leaning California Jews who have moved to more conservative states in recent months, lured by lower taxes (and lower cost of living in general) and a more congenial political atmosphere. In addition to Idaho, popular destinations include Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Florida.
Of course, conservative California Jews are not unique in their search for greener — or, in this case, redder — pastures. The number of Californians who migrate out has risen every year since 2011, per Census Bureau statistics, while overall population growth has stagnated.
For many conservatives, though, the turbulence of 2020 — marked by what they consider draconian stay-at-home orders, violent social justice protests amid reckless calls to “defund the police” and another devastating wildfire season, on top of a growing homelessness crisis — reinforced their belief that the state is beset by numerous systemic problems, and that its political leaders are either doing nothing to solve them or actively making them worse.
So they are looking for the exit.
“While there’s been a long flow of people in and out of California over generations, I do think we’re seeing something a little bit more urgent now,” said Larry Greenfield, a columnist for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition from 2004 to 2008. “This isn’t just a trend. It’s a tsunami.”
He noted that several high-profile conservative Jews, including entrepreneur Joe Lonsdale, venture capitalist David Blumberg, and conservative podcast host Ben Shapiro, recently left the state.
Shapiro announced in September that he planned to move his family and media company, the Daily Wire, from Los Angeles to Nashville. He tweeted: “I’ve lived my entire life in California. Within weeks, we’ll be taking our 75 jobs and leaving. We’re not the first. And we certainly won’t be the last. Terrible governance has consequences.” (In an article explaining his decision to leave, he cited high taxes, spikes in crime and homelessness, “public ire” for the police and a public education system “burdened by the stupidities of political correctness.”)
Greenfield, who himself decamped from L.A. to the Las Vegas area in 2019, said natives are painfully aware of what they are leaving behind. “California is gorgeous,” he said. “This is not done quixotically or out of pure political pique. It’s a loss of hope.”
This article is based on interviews with several families from the Bay Area who recently moved out of the state or are planning to do so imminently. They waxed nostalgic about the California they once knew — a more sane and tolerant place, to hear them tell it, where conservatives like themselves were not ostracized simply for thinking differently from other Californians — and expressed hope for more personal and economic freedom in their new homes.
David and Neomi Wanetick, and their three children, were planning a move to Arizona on Jan. 8. Over Thanksgiving, they met with a real estate agent and looked at houses in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and environs. Their Concord house has already been sold.
“We’re ready, mentally and financially, to leave,” Neomi said.
The couple, who run a patent valuation business, chose Arizona primarily for economic reasons. Their income tax will be about 7 percent lower, while sales tax there is about 2 percent lower. Over the last five years, Neomi said, the family’s property taxes increased from $8,500 per year to nearly $12,000. Their water bill also jumped, from $130 to $300.
“By the time we want to retire, we will have to move anyway because we will not be able to pay $15,000 in property tax,” she said. “So it’s just making the decision now rather than in 10 to 15 years.”
David, who grew up in Vacaville, rattled off a number of grievances against the state’s leadership, including poor forest management (a wildfire forced the Waneticks to evacuate their house a few years ago) and “outright interference in businesses,” as exemplified, he said, by Proposition 22. (The 2020 ballot measure passed; had it failed, gig economy companies like Uber would have been forced to classify their drivers as employees, not independent contractors, and provide them with more benefits.) He also took exception to elements of the state’s proposed public school ethnic studies curriculum, which was revised after Jewish groups raised concerns over anti-Israel bias. “You have to really think, do you want your kids to go to a school where the curriculum will be antisemitic? Maybe the Democratic Jews like that, but for me it’s a turnoff,” he said.
On a personal level, David, 53, said he will miss seeing his father, who lives in Walnut Creek, but he feels “freer to identify as a Republican” in Arizona. He also appreciated small cultural differences there, such as being offered a plastic straw at restaurants. “People are a little less sensitive about the environmental issues,” he said.
For her part, Neomi, 49, said she is excited for her children — a 14-year-old son and 10-year-old twins — to return to school in person (though, as of December, most schools in Maricopa County were operating online only due to a surge in Covid cases). There are several synagogues and Chabad centers in the county to choose from, she said.
And as for the arid Arizona climate, she grew up in Beersheva, in Israel’s Negev Desert, so she said she’s “not afraid of the heat.”
Scott Feldman is renovating his new home in Houston. A retired major league pitcher, Feldman (not related to Lance and Wendy from above) grew up in Burlingame, attended the College of San Mateo for two years and lived in San Francisco from 2014 until last fall.
During his years in the city, he said he saw things that “shocked” him: human excrement and used needles and condoms on the sidewalk, “zombies” strung out on drugs and rampant property crime. The window of his car was smashed, as was the glass in the lobby of his condo in the Marina.
“I don’t think San Francisco is doing many commonsense things these days” to solve its crime and homelessness problems, he said. “There’s no rules. It’s a free-for-all. I had to get out of there.”
A political independent, he was especially bothered by what he perceived to be a growing “hatred” for the police, which he blamed on leaders such as San Francisco’s district attorney for the past year, Chesa Boudin, who he said “was raised by domestic terrorists.” (Boudin’s Weather Underground parents were imprisoned when he was a toddler.) Feldman’s father worked for the FBI and his brother-in-law is a cop in San Mateo, so he said he is sensitive to criticism of law enforcement. Asked about the Black Lives Matter protests, he said he opposes rioting and cutting funding to police departments, which some protestors demanded. “Maybe give them more money so that the training can be better,” he suggested.
Since retiring from baseball in 2019, after pitching a majority of his 13 major league seasons for the Texas Rangers in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, Feldman, 37, has focused on honing his life skills and plotting his next professional steps. His girlfriend, Liz, has been working remotely for her health startup since the pandemic began.
Without jobs anchoring them to the Bay Area, the couple decided to bid San Francisco adieu.
They chose Houston, in part, because Feldman played for the Astros for three seasons, 2014 to 2016, and still has friends in the area. “I feel like it’s a really safe place with American values,” he said. “You can get a nice house with a yard and spread out a little bit.” Texas does not collect income tax, and the average gas price is about $1.50 per gallon, but “they get you on property taxes,” which are among the highest in the United States.
Still, he said he is content with his decision to leave California. “Maybe I’ll be back someday, but for right now I’ll be a big-time tourist, coming back to visit my family and friends,” he said.
At her new Texas home, about an hour’s drive north of Feldman’s place in Houston, ArLyne Diamond was still unpacking moving boxes as of late December. A longtime Santa Clara resident, Diamond relocated to Montgomery County in November at the invitation of some friends in that area. “The Bay Area has changed radically in recent years,” said the 83-year-old, who identifies as a libertarian. “It’s become primarily Indian and Asian and the stores are catering to them. My neighbors have changed, and they’re lovely people, but they tend to hang out with their own kind.”
As the pandemic brought on even greater social isolation, Diamond felt increasingly lonely and desirous of a “less restricted lifestyle.”
“The restaurants are all open here,” she said. “I’ve gotten a manicure and pedicure. I’ve gotten a massage. Patrons are expected to wear masks, but the businesses have not been destroyed like in California.”
On issues like the pandemic response and public safety, Diamond said California’s leaders have made poor choices. “I think more and more the government is interfering in the day-to-day life of individuals, and I find that distasteful,” she said.
Diamond attended services at a San Jose synagogue and was involved with the Republican Jewish Coalition, a lobbying group. A management consultant, she recalled how she was shunned by some in the Jewish community for her political views after unsuccessfully running for California Assembly as a Republican in 2012.
“When they found out I was a Republican, they treated me as if I was wearing a scarlet letter,” she said. “It was a horrible feeling.” After that experience, she said she spent less and less time in Jewish spaces.
In Texas, she said she feels more comfortable because “you’re not in arguments all the time” over political issues. Describing herself as a “patriot,” she said she likes seeing American flags everywhere, and she found it moving when her fellow patrons at a restaurant stood for the singing of the national anthem before a televised boxing match recently.
Her new neighbors are friendly, and she likes how the men call her “ma’am.” She said she is looking forward to meeting new people and teaching a management class at the University of Houston beginning in January.
One downside of moving to a new city after living in the same one for more than four decades, Diamond said, is having to find a new doctor. “Fortunately, I have a great immune system,” she said.
Bob and Carrie Zeidman were ahead of the curve. They left Cupertino for Summerlin, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas, in June 2019. Over the years, Bob’s brother, sister-in-law and mother had followed the Zeidmans to California, and they followed them again to southern Nevada.
Carrie, a former president of the sisterhood at Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, said her deep roots in California made the decision to leave very difficult. Her family has lived in the state for 10 generations, and her mother and sister still live in Northern California. “But California kept making it easier and easier” to leave, she said, saying she resented “paying more for less quality of life” and reading critiques in the media about how “the rich aren’t paying their fair share.”
“Excuse me? We’re paying our fair share and most of yours,” she said.
Like Diamond, she said she lost friends over politics and her support for President Donald Trump. “It’s not like I want everybody to think the same way I do,” she explained. “They don’t have to. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m immediately excoriated for my opinions or ostracized from the group because I don’t think the way they do.”
Bob, who consults on intellectual property litigation, moved to the Bay Area in 1981 to attend graduate school at Stanford. He reminisced about days spent hiking and scuba diving and nights cavorting in San Francisco until 4 a.m. “When I moved to California from Philadelphia, it was everything I thought it would be,” he said. “This is where I decided I was going to live the rest of my life.”
But as the years went by, his taxes went up, traffic got worse and he no longer felt safe walking around parts of San Francisco. He blames Democrats and progressive policies for the state’s decline. “Forty years ago there were Republican governors and the Democrats didn’t have complete control of the Legislature,” he said. “Some of the things that got done in Sacramento were reasonable. Now we have sanctuary cities and extra rights for people who break the law.”
The Zeidmans were drawn to Nevada because there is no income tax, home prices generally are lower than in California and there is a strong Jewish community. (There are several kosher restaurants in the Las Vegas area, including a new Chinese place called Kosher Chinglish.)
And then there are the casinos. Bob, 61, began playing poker with friends from Beth David and has been competing in tournaments at the big casinos on the Strip for a few years. He recently won his first one, taking home $7,000.
Carrie, 60, has been feeling more relaxed since moving to Summerlin. Traffic is light, and it’s easier to talk to people without fear of offending them, she said. When she and Bob first arrived, some of their new neighbors were wary of the California transplants, fearing they were liberals. “I was like, ‘I’m one of you! Let me in,’” she said.
So what steps would California’s leaders need to take to tempt these families to move back, or at least to stem the tide of outmigration?
For starters, Bob Zeidman said the Democratic Party should stop “dehumanizing” Republicans and oversimplifying their positions on issues such as immigration. Scott Feldman recommended that San Francisco put homeless people in shelters and institutionalize drug addicts instead of “giving them needles and letting them camp on the sidewalk.”
As for California’s high taxes, he said he was willing to pay more “if they would actually fix the problems.” Lance Feldman suggested sweeping economic changes to make the state more business-friendly, including “getting rid of a lot of the regulations.” He also would like to see the state fix its education system by putting “more emphasis on math and science rather than on gender and identity issues.”
Wendy Feldman said the state ultimately needs to regain its political balance. “You need a left wing and a right wing to fly a plane,” she said, quoting her former rabbi. Greenfield, the conservative Jewish Journal columnist, agreed. “Could there be a revival of the California dream? I hope so, but only if California becomes politically competitive again.”