Author Topic: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??  (Read 2875 times)

ObviouslyNotAGolfer

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Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« on: April 02, 2021, 09:46:11 PM »
My wife and I are stuck in the Loss Angeles/HELL A area due to my comfortable job with great benefits, a pension, minimal stress, and a lot of free time (and also elderly parents). I was born and raised here, but we lived in the San Francisco Bay area for over ten years, and in Vancouver BC for about 4. I hate and detest SoCal with a passion (I viscerally hate it!). I miss the Bay Area a great deal! (Yeah, I know, you hate it because of the high cost and all the Hyundai-driving hippies, whatever)

Nevertheless, the *first* order of business after early retiring (maybe 10 - 12 years) is to get the hell out of HELL A asap!

We are scouting out places to retire. I am also an Irish/EU citizen, so we were looking around Ireland a few years ago (Yes I know central Dublin is now the most expensive place in the history of mankind--wouldn't want to live there anyway), and France-esp. Brittany in 2019. Still, being a California dude (SoCAL is not California IMO), it would be easier to retire here. And, we LOVE the Bay area.

Still, I would not really want to live in the City, and we could not afford that in any case. We love Berkeley, but it is not really a place I would want to live in--you have to be kind of a local to appreciate the place. We also love HMB and the environs--heaven! That might be a possibility--maybe halfway between HMB and Santa Cruz.

We scouted out some areas in Sonoma and Marin a couple years ago. We LOVED the Guerneville/Cazadero area, and also Jenner and Bodega Bay--absolutely fabulous places. Redwoods, beautiful uncrowded beaches, fresh air, great wine and food everywhere, and lots and lots of character everywhere (would be squashed to oblivion in SoCal in a picosecond). It felt like home. We also loved Mill Valley and Sausalito, but $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

We do not own, and would not buy a house in So Cal. We could not afford it in any case. We will have to buy a place after we retire. We will have a good down payment, my pension, our social security (haha), and a substantial retirement savings. Plus, I plan to do some work on the side here and there for extra income. Nevertheless, we would like to keep any hous purchase to 300-500K$. We do not want a very large place--single level, maybe 1200-1500 sq feet. We did not see all that much in that price range. Am I crazy?

Should we keep looking, or maybe go further north? 

Are you going to tell me that these places are really hell-holes and I only saw the good side of them? (No matter which place I mention, someone ALWAYS says this.)

Will it be possible to buy anything in ten years from now if you are not Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk?

Any general advice about these areas and retiring in them?

Thanks!



« Last Edit: April 02, 2021, 09:55:30 PM by ObviouslyNotAGolfer »

nessness

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2021, 09:55:35 PM »
I love Sebastapol - that would probably be my first choice in that area. No real reason other than I think it's super cute, and I don't think it's as ridiculously expensive as some of the other towns around there.

My main concern for retiring there (the whole Sonoma/Marin) area would be fires - they've had some really bad fire seasons lately and I think it will only get worse as climate change progresses. I mean, I know fires are a problem everywhere in California, and other places have their own climate change impacts, but that area seems to be particularly bad for fires.

ETA: I missed the $300-500k housing budget. That would be tough to find today, let alone in 10 years (assuming the market continues going up, of course). Maybe look at Oregon?
« Last Edit: April 02, 2021, 09:58:29 PM by nessness »

ObviouslyNotAGolfer

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2021, 10:05:24 PM »
Thanks! Funny you mention Sebastapol--we are likely going up that way this summer and Sebastapol is on our list! We visited Santa Clara, Healdsburg, Mill Valley, Sausalito, Guerneville, Jenner, Cazadero, Bodega Bay, but we missed Sebastapol and Petaluma (hippies!! ;-) last time--so, they are definitely on our list.

As for fires, indeed, that is a concern of mine! I hate to say it, but I can just envision some of these areas being flattened by yet another huge California firestorm!

I love Oregon too--been there many times. But fires may soon be a big problem there as well, with horrific drought all throughout the west. I also understand that the day will come when Northern-most coastal California and Oregon will be obliterated by the 1000-year tsunami!

We are keeping Europe in mind! Also, possibly New England--I am a blue-state, nature-loving, tree-hugging non-hippie!

« Last Edit: April 02, 2021, 10:12:32 PM by ObviouslyNotAGolfer »

traveler

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2021, 12:53:43 AM »
$500K will not get you far in the Bay Area. At least not in the areas you aspire to live on.

OP, have you looked at Zillow with your parameters?

I love the Bay Area too. But in a few weeks Iím FIRE and will move elsewhere. I will be very happy to come visit.

Dave1442397

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2021, 06:00:02 AM »
I've been keeping an eye on Portugal as a possible retirement location. This Bay Area couple has some good videos on buying a house there, and what life is like.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgi-Z0E0r2ALTXkO83i-PYoF1g3-zzb-1

Greystache

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2021, 08:08:22 AM »
California housing is in another unsustainable bubble at the moment. It should pop before you are ready to retire. Wait for your opportunity and jump on it.

dang1

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2021, 09:05:41 AM »
check out Fort Bragg, Eureka, Crescent City

ObviouslyNotAGolfer

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #7 on: April 03, 2021, 02:20:06 PM »
Portugal! That is an interesting one. I've heard others talk about Portugal as a possible retirement destination--it certainly has a lot going for it. Ireland would be much easier for us for a variety of reasons (I LOVE rain btw--and Guinness!), partly due to my citizenship and the language issue. In any case, a visit to Portugal is definitely on our list. We WERE planning a month in Spain this year, but then...pandemic! We were toying with the idea of Brittany, so we went there in 2019. Certainly a lot to love there, but the language barrier is not trivial--and I am semi-proficient (not fluent!) in French! Contrary to what everyone told us, we actually found the Parisians to be a lot friendlier--maybe just sampling error.

Eureka, Crescent City is another place on our list--I have only driven through there once, but unfortunately did not visit for long. The presence of Humboldt State--where I could teach a class or two and use the research facilities/labs--the redwoods, beaches, low cost of living are all quite attractive. Any thoughts on living in Eureka vs. Crescent City vs. Arcata?

California bubble--I hope it bursts--big time! But I am not all that optimistic.
« Last Edit: April 03, 2021, 02:26:20 PM by ObviouslyNotAGolfer »

nalor511

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2021, 02:50:11 PM »
CA bubble will not burst, particularly in Bay area, because there is just no extra inventory. Prices go up, people refinance, take out cash, repeat. It's weird, and I wouldn't do it, but there is just no extra inventory. Particularly in the north bay.

NorCal

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2021, 04:16:26 PM »
The places you mentioned aren't much cheaper (if any cheaper) than LA. 

You can find better deals if you go further north near Eureka.  Just beware the rural areas in Mendocino county can shift from "Nicest views on the planet" to "sketchy weed grower" territory in a heartbeat. I haven't been there since CA legalized weed, so maybe it's changed.

Moving further inland, the areas near Shasta and Lassen are incredibly nice and affordable.  The climate isn't a nice, and you still have to worry about wildfires (read about the Paradise fire), but you could find something in your price range.

I'd also avoid buying anything rural or even near the urban/rural divide.  I have family in Napa and Santa Rose, and the level of wildefires are completely insane.  And getting worse.

Channel-Z

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2021, 08:12:45 PM »
Anytime massive amounts of marijuana are involved, even if it is legal, the paranoia level in the people around it is off the chart. That said, the Eureka area is beautiful. The weather is pretty much the same all year, and if you need a warm-up, you don't have to drive too far inland. Eureka and Crescent City are also terribly remote. Anything requiring a major metropolitan area is a drive of several hours.

Sid Hoffman

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2021, 10:18:31 PM »
As for fires, indeed, that is a concern of mine! I hate to say it, but I can just envision some of these areas being flattened by yet another huge California firestorm!

I love Oregon too--been there many times. But fires may soon be a big problem there as well, with horrific drought all throughout the west. I also understand that the day will come when Northern-most coastal California and Oregon will be obliterated by the 1000-year tsunami!

This is where I lean on the data and statistics instead of news stories that make rare things seem more common than they really are. The number of homes lost to fires every year is minuscule compared to all the other calamities that occur, car wrecks and slip/fall accidents being far, far and away the real enemies to personal wellness. For Oregon specifically, the rainfall is concentrated at the coast and diminishes quickly as you work your way inland. Only 100-200 miles inland and it's already classified as high desert in fact. The areas anywhere in that first 30 miles from the coast aren't where most of the fires are since they get enough rainfall to very seriously limit the ability of fire to get started and spread.

Anyway, Oregon is wonderful and a lower cost area than California. Not dramatically lower cost, but cheaper still. Thing is, coastal Oregon doesn't have any big cities at all the way California does and I'm having trouble determining how big of a city area you are looking to live in. For me, I've vacationed in both California and Oregon a few times and as an example I kind of like the Depoe Bay area for a sleepy, smaller town and northern Newport, a little ways south of Depoe Bay if you're looking for a touch bigger town. For example generally the older we get, the more important being close to a real hospital and specialists is, and that could be easier to find in high population California cities rather than coastal Oregon. Coming back to California, I like the San Louis Obispo area and it's big enough to have an airport that can at least get you a few places direct, and just about anywhere with one connection along with more services and medical care as it's a bit higher population. Like for numbers, San Louis Obispo is 5x the population of Newport or Lincoln City, OR.

That said, if you're not retiring for 10-12 years then you're in a fantastic position to take regular vacations to as many places as you can, preferably in different seasons too. It sounds like you've done some of that already and it never hurts to try out more areas, especially at different times of year. For example I can barely tolerate Lincoln City, OR in summer (tourist season), but at other times of year, especially mid-week it is pretty nice too and of course when you're retired there's nothing saying you need to be out doing stuff around town on the weekends if it can be avoided anyway.

You've mentioned some beautiful places and I'm honestly kind of excited and happy for you. As much as I like the coast, especially the US west coast, I think I dislike working extra years that would be needed to afford it even more than I like the coast. Then again I've even considered things like off-season rentals there. That could be another option for your first year of retirement, like AirBnB's website makes it easier to find month-long stays available in places now so you can get a good feel for living somewhere without breaking the bank or committing to anything long term.

dang1

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #12 on: April 04, 2021, 01:11:14 AM »
CA bubble will not burst, particularly in Bay area, because there is just no extra inventory. Prices go up, people refinance, take out cash, repeat. It's weird, and I wouldn't do it, but there is just no extra inventory. Particularly in the north bay.
hmm, maybe. My experience: Bought in Southern Solano for 155 in 2000, sold for 355 in 2004. I remember people kept saying buy now or forever priced out, but rented until 2011, when I bought in West Contra Costa for 130. Yeah, current comps around 500, but then you never know, lol.

Mr. Green

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #13 on: April 04, 2021, 09:58:26 AM »
Two years ago we drove up the California coast from San Luis Obispo into Oregon, hitting many of the places you're looking at and we were absolutely ENCHANTED with the mountains/redwoods/climate of the coast. Just breathtaking. I would love to live there some day, or at least spend some extended time in the area.

We have tossed around the idea of renting somewhere on the CA coast for a year to use it as a home base for exploration. I was shocked at the disconnect in home prices vs. rent. Million dollar homes that only rent for $2,000 or so a month. Not exactly a landlords dream.

Sandi_k

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #14 on: April 04, 2021, 10:55:52 AM »
Do you want beach? Redwoods? Rain? or desert?

Marin and Sonoma are different climates.

How big of a town? How far from an airport?

We are currently in Eastern Contra Costa County, nearer the San Joaquin Central Valley. It's hot and dry. Marin is more coastal, with a marine climate. Sonoma is in between.

I have a friend who lived in Paradise, CA - the entire town burned down 3 years ago, and she is now in Grants' Pass, OR. Another friend moved to Bend, OR.

I think it's hard to buy in CA for the prices you want, unless you move at least an hour inland.

JetBlast

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #15 on: April 04, 2021, 11:43:16 AM »
Do you want beach? Redwoods? Rain? or desert?

Marin and Sonoma are different climates.


I think this is an important question. I lived in Santa Rosa for a couple years and the difference in climate from driving 20-30 minutes is substantial. Bodega Bay and Jenner are different from Guerneville and Sebastopol, which are again different from valley towns. Then the valley towns are different depending on proximity to the bay. St. Helena and Healdsburg are different from Petaluma, Sonoma, and Napa.

Cool and cloudy? Hot daytime but cools off nicely? Something in between? 

cchrissyy

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #16 on: April 04, 2021, 12:02:28 PM »
Quote
We LOVED the Guerneville/Cazadero area, and also Jenner and Bodega Bay--absolutely fabulous places.

a point of caution i don't see mentioned yet is not everywhere along the coast or between those towns has cell coverage.  it's been a while since i made the drive but i remember it being an issue and I recommend investigating the current situation before considering living there.

Catbert

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #17 on: April 04, 2021, 12:30:40 PM »
CA bubble will not burst, particularly in Bay area, because there is just no extra inventory. Prices go up, people refinance, take out cash, repeat. It's weird, and I wouldn't do it, but there is just no extra inventory. Particularly in the north bay.
hmm, maybe. My experience: Bought in Southern Solano for 155 in 2000, sold for 355 in 2004. I remember people kept saying buy now or forever priced out, but rented until 2011, when I bought in West Contra Costa for 130. Yeah, current comps around 500, but then you never know, lol.

In my SoCal neighborhood we're seeing houses selling in a week with 30 offers and 200K over list price.  It's feeling very 2007.  Southern California real estate cycle has always seemed more volatile than others.  But desirable areas always come back.  I bought my house for 265K in 1996 (bottom of cycle), in 2007 it was worth ~750K (beginning to tank) and today 1.4million according to Zillow.

Arbitrage

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #18 on: April 04, 2021, 02:02:45 PM »
I'm leaving LA shortly for much further north (northern Washington) to semi-retire/Coast-FIRE.  I hate LA as well; perhaps not as viscerally as you do, but I'm glad to leave it in the dust.  I did prefer the Bay Area during my time there, but also wouldn't want to live there now - even if we could afford it - as I'm definitely seeking out a far less crowded existence.  We also have much cooler weather - but not much snow - as a necessity, so the PNW is the solution. 

Unfortunately, prices are being driven up across most of the West Coast, so you'll definitely have to see what's affordable once you're looking.  Ten years out, you'll probably see another boom/bust cycle, so I wouldn't worry too much about the exact numbers right now, moreso the trends.  As others have noted, you'll definitely have to consider the various microclimates if climate is a strong driver for you.

sui generis

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2021, 03:03:16 PM »
I am confused by someone who hates LA/SoCal so much so seriously considering the Bay Area.  As the only two places I've ever lived in my 4 decades, I appreciate that they are incredibly similar places. What is it that you hate so much about LA that is NOT present here in the Bay?  Both have astronomical housing markets.  Both have bad traffic.  The weather is very similar, except a little warmer down south and a little wetter up here.  I love them both and when I moved north, I was just looking for slightly cooler summers and that's basically what I got.  OTOH, after a decade, I'm kinda missing the ability to ever wear shorts or a short sleeve shirt (just the slightest exaggeration, I usually manage to for 5-10 total days in any given year) and kind of dream of my old SoCal home.  Honestly, the biggest difference between SoCal and Bay Area to me that I cite to people is the bizarre lane merges on freeways here.

Going further afield in the Bay Area will get you the same benefits and detriments as going further afield from LA.  And of course zillow and such will give you a much more accurate idea of what you can buy anywhere than some anecdotes here, but $300-500k is going to take you to places that I don't call "the Bay Area" anymore.

billy

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #20 on: April 04, 2021, 04:10:26 PM »
I've been keeping an eye on Portugal as a possible retirement location. This Bay Area couple has some good videos on buying a house there, and what life is like.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgi-Z0E0r2ALTXkO83i-PYoF1g3-zzb-1

There cool, I follow them. But do you know how you would be taxed by US and portugal? I know first 10 years Portugal 10% flat tax on investments/pension/social security, so both countries will tax my investments?

spartana

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #21 on: April 04, 2021, 08:21:53 PM »
I am confused by someone who hates LA/SoCal so much so seriously considering the Bay Area.  As the only two places I've ever lived in my 4 decades, I appreciate that they are incredibly similar places. What is it that you hate so much about LA that is NOT present here in the Bay?  Both have astronomical housing markets.  Both have bad traffic.  The weather is very similar, except a little warmer down south and a little wetter up here.  I love them both and when I moved north, I was just looking for slightly cooler summers and that's basically what I got.  OTOH, after a decade, I'm kinda missing the ability to ever wear shorts or a short sleeve shirt (just the slightest exaggeration, I usually manage to for 5-10 total days in any given year) and kind of dream of my old SoCal home.  Honestly, the biggest difference between SoCal and Bay Area to me that I cite to people is the bizarre lane merges on freeways here.

Going further afield in the Bay Area will get you the same benefits and detriments as going further afield from LA.  And of course zillow and such will give you a much more accurate idea of what you can buy anywhere than some anecdotes here, but $300-500k is going to take you to places that I don't call "the Bay Area" anymore.
Oh I disagree. I live in SoCal now but have lived in Marin County (Novato) and still.spend several weeks or a month or 2 or 3 up in Norcal every year and the 2 places are vastly different from my perspective. Besides housing prices that is ;-). If I could afford it I'd likely move back up north - likely to Petaluma or Santa Rosa as they are very centrally located to all the cool stuff (redwoods, spectacular wild coasts, rivers, wine country, Sierras, lakes,  San Fran, etc.). I love it there and can barely stand SoCal - and I'm in a coast area in the OC which is highly coveted!

Anyway as to the OP, I'd discount anywhere north of Cloverdale as it starts to get very remote. While I like the summer weather around Eureka the winters are tough but inland it can be brutally hot in summer.  Plus...homeless. Street people everywhere. Drugs (and not just pot but a big meth problem). Lots of increasing problems in the far northern part of Calif. Well a problem in every place in Calif but very noticible in places like Eureka.  I like Headlsberg, Santa Rosa, and especially Petaluma. Not a hippy place but more a yuppie bohemian artsy place. Great small town vibe with many historic buildings and homes, somewhat upscale but with a down home farm/country vibe too. Plus I feel very safe there. It has changed a lot but not too much and, while expensive, it is less so then Marin. Everything is fairly close too.

Anyways my 2 cents. I personally like Napa and the whole wine country but too hot, too FIRE prone, and too far out from the coast. Petaluma is a fairly short drive to Bodega Bay and Tomales and PT Reyes as well as to Napa and Sonoma wine country as well as the Russian River and redwood groves as well as the rest of Marin and the Bay area.

ETA: Having recently sold my SoCal place and waiting for BFS house to sell, we are looming around also and while probably won't move to Sonoma or Marin we haven't discounted either completely. The wild fires are a problem but that's a problem anywhere in the West nowadays it seems
« Last Edit: April 04, 2021, 08:31:38 PM by spartana »

FINate

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #22 on: April 04, 2021, 09:42:55 PM »
Still, I would not really want to live in the City, and we could not afford that in any case. We love Berkeley, but it is not really a place I would want to live in--you have to be kind of a local to appreciate the place. We also love HMB and the environs--heaven! That might be a possibility--maybe halfway between HMB and Santa Cruz.

Very unlikely at your price range. Also, the big CZU Fire last fall dispelled the notion that coast redwood forests are safe from wildfires. The fire burned high into the canopy and spread very quickly, all the way down into chaparral along the coastal bluffs.  Insurers have taken note and are jacking up rates as quickly as legally permitted, will take several years before increases level off. West of HWY 1 is less fire prone but extremely rare and expensive. Davenport is a quaint town along the coast, but honestly you're looking at about double your price range and the town has a long-term water supply problem. Pescadero is a great little town but impossibly expensive due to Silicon Valley folks buying up property, which was already happening before the pandemic, guessing it's much worse now. Though expensive, I would live in HMB. Would avoid most areas near Santa Cruz for reasons of homelessness, crime, drugs, and hoards of tourists.

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #23 on: April 04, 2021, 09:50:35 PM »
I live in Marin and am completely a fan of living here. And am a card-carrying hippie that doesnít show it too much on the outside. Real estate is sooo expensive, and I may be willing to rent indefinitely in order to continue to live here but not have to pay so much to purchase - weíll see what SORR brings over the next few years. I may move further out into Marin - you donít save much money but I like northern and western Marin. Petaluma and Sebastopol in Sonoma are great, have the right mix of weather and are somewhat less pricey. And agree the fires are disturbing, and are another reason Iím not too keen on purchasing at the moment. Your stated budget might afford a very small condo. And as someone mentioned above, it is currently possible to rent a $1.5m house for about $3,800/month in Marin, and Iím not sure the trade-off calcs out.

I also far prefer suburban NorCal to LA.

friedmmj

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #24 on: April 05, 2021, 06:50:05 AM »
Two years ago we drove up the California coast from San Luis Obispo into Oregon, hitting many of the places you're looking at and we were absolutely ENCHANTED with the mountains/redwoods/climate of the coast. Just breathtaking. I would love to live there some day, or at least spend some extended time in the area.

We have tossed around the idea of renting somewhere on the CA coast for a year to use it as a home base for exploration. I was shocked at the disconnect in home prices vs. rent. Million dollar homes that only rent for $2,000 or so a month. Not exactly a landlords dream.

Obvious solution is to rent not buy a place especially in retirement where flexibility is a bonus.

spartana

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #25 on: April 05, 2021, 09:10:40 AM »
Two years ago we drove up the California coast from San Luis Obispo into Oregon, hitting many of the places you're looking at and we were absolutely ENCHANTED with the mountains/redwoods/climate of the coast. Just breathtaking. I would love to live there some day, or at least spend some extended time in the area.

We have tossed around the idea of renting somewhere on the CA coast for a year to use it as a home base for exploration. I was shocked at the disconnect in home prices vs. rent. Million dollar homes that only rent for $2,000 or so a month. Not exactly a landlords dream.

Obvious solution is to rent not buy a place especially in retirement where flexibility is a bonus.
I'm wondering where @Mr Green saw those houses as I've been looking at rentals online up in NorCal (mostly Petaluma area and Sonoma County) and seems very expensive with the median house rental around $3500 - $4500. The lowest I saw was a studio for about $2000. Very comparable to coastal SoCal where the OP lives. Since that is within commuting distance to the City (San Fran) there may be lower prices further north. Santa Rosa isn't too bad but still high. Some areas like around Clear Lake are very inexpensive but it is hot and somewhat rural compared to other areas. Plus super dry and wild fire prone. Oh and big drug problems. Sebastopol is nice and less expensive I think but for good deals you probably have to invade Oregon or Washington like the rest of us riff-raff Californians will likely do ;-).

friedmmj

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #26 on: April 05, 2021, 10:53:43 AM »
Why would a typical retired couple (assuming nest has emptied) want a house as opposed to a condo/apartment?

I've owned a 4 BR house for the past 20+ years and has been great for raising 3 kids.  Now, that I'm on the doorstep of retirement, we're planning to downsize into a 2 BR apartment/condo and rent in retirement.  I suppose if you have hobbies that require extensive space (woodworking, etc.)

Mr. Green

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #27 on: April 05, 2021, 06:18:01 PM »
Two years ago we drove up the California coast from San Luis Obispo into Oregon, hitting many of the places you're looking at and we were absolutely ENCHANTED with the mountains/redwoods/climate of the coast. Just breathtaking. I would love to live there some day, or at least spend some extended time in the area.

We have tossed around the idea of renting somewhere on the CA coast for a year to use it as a home base for exploration. I was shocked at the disconnect in home prices vs. rent. Million dollar homes that only rent for $2,000 or so a month. Not exactly a landlords dream.

Obvious solution is to rent not buy a place especially in retirement where flexibility is a bonus.
I'm wondering where @Mr Green saw those houses as I've been looking at rentals online up in NorCal (mostly Petaluma area and Sonoma County) and seems very expensive with the median house rental around $3500 - $4500. The lowest I saw was a studio for about $2000. Very comparable to coastal SoCal where the OP lives. Since that is within commuting distance to the City (San Fran) there may be lower prices further north. Santa Rosa isn't too bad but still high. Some areas like around Clear Lake are very inexpensive but it is hot and somewhat rural compared to other areas. Plus super dry and wild fire prone. Oh and big drug problems. Sebastopol is nice and less expensive I think but for good deals you probably have to invade Oregon or Washington like the rest of us riff-raff Californians will likely do ;-).
Further south. San Luis Obispo area.

JetBlast

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #28 on: April 05, 2021, 08:22:55 PM »
I liked Healdsburg quite a bit when we lived in Santa Rosa. Windsor had a neat little downtown square area and prices were a bit better than Santa Rosa or Healdsburg. Not sure if that holds today.

One thing to watch for if you buy in Petaluma is foundation problems. Part of the town is built on basically marshland where the Petaluma River spills into the bay. An experienced realtor should be familiar with areas that warrant some caution.

use2betrix

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #29 on: April 06, 2021, 05:29:54 AM »
1. I think a LOT can change in the next 10-12 years so while it may be worthwhile to get an idea of where you want to live, I would only take that with a grain of salt. Even planning for 5 years out assuming no major changes can be a stretch.

2. While you clearly detest LA, I think you should consider how many worse places you could be living to possibly brighten your mindset a bit. Especially due to the fact that it has provided you with a seemingly-very-comfortable career. Iíve lived in about 15 cities/towns over 8 states in the last 7-8 years, and there are way, way worse places to live than LA (I havenít lived there but have visited.) You have a long time left in LA to be so seemingly miserable with the location. I have zero intention of staying where I currently am (not a fan at all), but also know that Iíve lived in much worse places.

spartana

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #30 on: April 06, 2021, 08:40:56 AM »
Two years ago we drove up the California coast from San Luis Obispo into Oregon, hitting many of the places you're looking at and we were absolutely ENCHANTED with the mountains/redwoods/climate of the coast. Just breathtaking. I would love to live there some day, or at least spend some extended time in the area.

We have tossed around the idea of renting somewhere on the CA coast for a year to use it as a home base for exploration. I was shocked at the disconnect in home prices vs. rent. Million dollar homes that only rent for $2,000 or so a month. Not exactly a landlords dream.

Obvious solution is to rent not buy a place especially in retirement where flexibility is a bonus.
I'm wondering where @Mr Green saw those houses as I've been looking at rentals online up in NorCal (mostly Petaluma area and Sonoma County) and seems very expensive with the median house rental around $3500 - $4500. The lowest I saw was a studio for about $2000. Very comparable to coastal SoCal where the OP lives. Since that is within commuting distance to the City (San Fran) there may be lower prices further north. Santa Rosa isn't too bad but still high. Some areas like around Clear Lake are very inexpensive but it is hot and somewhat rural compared to other areas. Plus super dry and wild fire prone. Oh and big drug problems. Sebastopol is nice and less expensive I think but for good deals you probably have to invade Oregon or Washington like the rest of us riff-raff Californians will likely do ;-).
Further south. San Luis Obispo area.
Nice area but still pricey. Its too hot for me there (and too barren outside of the state parks) but I go there a lot (my get-away place to take a break from the dreaded LA/OC metro area) and do look at houses and rentals. Not too bad ...comparatively.  Lots of nice biking, hiking and kayaking between Pismo Beach,  Morro Bay to San Simeon and north. Monterey/Santa Cruz area is great too (huge redwood groves and many state park near by, and cheaper then further north but pricey.   I still like Sonoma or Marin County best though.

In any case if I were the OP I rent and not buy. If he doesn't have kids then finding a "relatively" inexpensive 1 bedroom apt anywhere he wants should be very doable. Also the flexibility to move on is huge compared to buying. plus no worry about losing your home to a wildfire. This will be what I'm doing once we are house-owner-free. Not long term but for a couple of years likely.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2021, 08:46:33 AM by spartana »

WSUCoug1994

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #31 on: April 06, 2021, 09:10:49 AM »
I moved from Seattle to Corona del Mar (CA) to Mountain View (CA) to Santa Rosa where I have lived since 2016.  I also lived in Novato for a year after our house was impacted by the 2017 Tubbs Fire.  I haven't lived in LA but I spent a lot of time there for work so I don't have a real impression of what it is like to live in LA. 

I have loved living in all of these locations for different reasons.  We have really enjoyed living in Santa Rosa - my wife's family immigrated here from Palestine in the 1970's.  She was born and raised here and has more than 400 relatives in and around Santa Rosa.  Santa Rosa is pretty much a blue collar/rural town supporting a lot of the agricultural aspects of the region.  No large employers - I think they are listed the #2 city in the country in terms of employment from small businesses and it is a big city overall just really spread out.   In terms of Northern California living - it is affordable - much more so than Mountain View, which isn't surprising.  The weather here is amazing - especially if you like outdoor activities or gardening.  ANYTHING will grow in your garden here - literally anything you want.  There is a decent art scene in the region overall but the schools are generally below average with some exceptions.  Homeless (pre-pandemic) is a pretty serious issue but there doesn't seem to be rampant drug use that I have been exposed to in other areas.  The fire threat is real and is likely going to be real for the future - although the experts will tell you this is a 50 year-ish cycle for these big burns only time will tell.  You can get what you want from housing perspective, you can live downtown, or in developed neighborhoods or you can live on a 20 acre farm.  There is a different pace of life here than in the heart of silicon valley and I love that aspect of it.  Although many people will argue with me, the food scene here is pathetic in Santa Rosa and generally the downtown area is under-developed and underwhelming.  We spend most of our "nights out" in Windsor or Healdsburg (which I love).  The other down side to this area is the closeness to an airport - SFO and Oakland airport are 75+ miles away - we have a regional airport but "you can't get there from here".  Happy to answer any specific questions that might be helpful.

robartsd

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #32 on: April 06, 2021, 10:28:56 AM »
As for fires, indeed, that is a concern of mine! I hate to say it, but I can just envision some of these areas being flattened by yet another huge California firestorm!

I love Oregon too--been there many times. But fires may soon be a big problem there as well, with horrific drought all throughout the west. I also understand that the day will come when Northern-most coastal California and Oregon will be obliterated by the 1000-year tsunami!

This is where I lean on the data and statistics instead of news stories that make rare things seem more common than they really are. The number of homes lost to fires every year is minuscule compared to all the other calamities that occur, car wrecks and slip/fall accidents being far, far and away the real enemies to personal wellness.
I agree that the loss of your home to fire is a relatively low risk. We pretty much know how to prevent wildfires from destroying homes. It does require defensible space around the home (so we can't nestle the house into the trees) and requires care in choosing exterior features. However, there are other risks of wildfire that you can only influence by where you choose to live. Even with the best defensible space and fire resistant exteriors, a home that will survive a wildfire may not be a place that you can survive the wildfire in, so evacuation may be needed. The community you cherish could also be devastated. Essential services may be disrupted for extended periods of time. Even if you are never in the immediate area of a wildfire, air quality problems due to wildfire seem to be becoming a seasonal problem.

WSUCoug1994

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #33 on: April 06, 2021, 12:47:10 PM »
As for fires, indeed, that is a concern of mine! I hate to say it, but I can just envision some of these areas being flattened by yet another huge California firestorm!

I love Oregon too--been there many times. But fires may soon be a big problem there as well, with horrific drought all throughout the west. I also understand that the day will come when Northern-most coastal California and Oregon will be obliterated by the 1000-year tsunami!

This is where I lean on the data and statistics instead of news stories that make rare things seem more common than they really are. The number of homes lost to fires every year is minuscule compared to all the other calamities that occur, car wrecks and slip/fall accidents being far, far and away the real enemies to personal wellness.
I agree that the loss of your home to fire is a relatively low risk. We pretty much know how to prevent wildfires from destroying homes. It does require defensible space around the home (so we can't nestle the house into the trees) and requires care in choosing exterior features. However, there are other risks of wildfire that you can only influence by where you choose to live. Even with the best defensible space and fire resistant exteriors, a home that will survive a wildfire may not be a place that you can survive the wildfire in, so evacuation may be needed. The community you cherish could also be devastated. Essential services may be disrupted for extended periods of time. Even if you are never in the immediate area of a wildfire, air quality problems due to wildfire seem to be becoming a seasonal problem.

Not sure I agree with this - as most of the homes lost in the Tubbs fire (6500) were in developed neighborhoods, away from dense forest and predominantly tile roofs with stucco finish.  I personally watched this fire jump 8 lanes of highway 101 and burn down commercial buildings that were no where close to any trees.  You couldn't outdrive this fire at some points it was traveling 300ft per second.

robartsd

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #34 on: April 06, 2021, 02:49:19 PM »
Not sure I agree with this - as most of the homes lost in the Tubbs fire (6500) were in developed neighborhoods, away from dense forest and predominantly tile roofs with stucco finish.  I personally watched this fire jump 8 lanes of highway 101 and burn down commercial buildings that were no where close to any trees.  You couldn't outdrive this fire at some points it was traveling 300ft per second.
How many of those structures had 100 feet of defensible space surrounding them on all sides? Just one house catching fire on a block of homes spaced 10 feet apart will lead to all the homes on the block burning if there are not resources to put out the fire.

WSUCoug1994

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #35 on: April 06, 2021, 03:09:53 PM »
I am not trying to take us off topic but yes many of the homes were not 100' of defensible space - not many neighborhoods in developed areas have that kind of space.  In my actual neighborhood - there are no lot sizes less than five acres - these are flat farmland - no trees or very few trees with way more than 100' of defensible space and little to no fuel for the fire and out of the 25 houses on my street all of them burned except for 2.  I would say that 85% of these homes were tile/stucco in their design.  I also saw this fire burn down metal and concrete commercial buildings that were surrounded by more than 100' of defensible concrete/asphalt.  These concrete buildings actually didn't even slow down the fire and it continued to burn into other neighborhoods on the other side from where the fire started.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2021, 03:21:33 PM by WSUCoug1994 »

windytrail

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #36 on: April 06, 2021, 03:12:12 PM »
The fire risk in Northern California is INSANE. Even if your house does not burn down, you will experience the effects in the form of:
- Power outages
- Days/weeks of poor air quality due to smoke
- Mandatory evacuations

Our rainfall this year was dismal, again. The state is hiring 1,400 additional firefighters in anticipation of another terrible season (https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/the-state-worker/article250318279.html)

More than 3% of the total acreage of the state burned during the year of 2020.

v8rx7guy

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #37 on: April 06, 2021, 03:24:34 PM »
Thanks! Funny you mention Sebastapol--we are likely going up that way this summer and Sebastapol is on our list! We visited Santa Clara, Healdsburg, Mill Valley, Sausalito, Guerneville, Jenner, Cazadero, Bodega Bay, but we missed Sebastapol and Petaluma (hippies!! ;-) last time--so, they are definitely on our list.

I spend quite a bit of time in the Healdsburg area for work and I must say it's super nice there!  I think over time it might get a little tiring living in a wine country town with all the uppity-ness that comes along with the tourists, but maybe that's not a bad thing for everyone.

Dicey

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #38 on: April 06, 2021, 03:34:51 PM »
CA bubble will not burst, particularly in Bay area, because there is just no extra inventory. Prices go up, people refinance, take out cash, repeat. It's weird, and I wouldn't do it, but there is just no extra inventory. Particularly in the north bay.
hmm, maybe. My experience: Bought in Southern Solano for 155 in 2000, sold for 355 in 2004. I remember people kept saying buy now or forever priced out, but rented until 2011, when I bought in West Contra Costa for 130. Yeah, current comps around 500, but then you never know, lol.
Hmmm West Contra Costa in 2011? Great timing! Your property value has more than tripled. Have you looked at the numbers for the house you sold in 2004?

Mr. Green

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #39 on: April 06, 2021, 05:16:02 PM »
I am not trying to take us off topic but yes many of the homes were not 100' of defensible space - not many neighborhoods in developed areas have that kind of space.  In my actual neighborhood - there are no lot sizes less than five acres - these are flat farmland - no trees or very few trees with way more than 100' of defensible space and little to no fuel for the fire and out of the 25 houses on my street all of them burned except for 2.  I would say that 85% of these homes were tile/stucco in their design.  I also saw this fire burn down metal and concrete commercial buildings that were surrounded by more than 100' of defensible concrete/asphalt.  These concrete buildings actually didn't even slow down the fire and it continued to burn into other neighborhoods on the other side from where the fire started.
When fires get that big the whole area gets heated up. And in ultra dry conditions, no humidity, and the fact that a single ember can travel over a mile on the wind and it gets ugly fast, as everyone has observed over the last couple years.

dang1

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #40 on: April 07, 2021, 10:17:01 AM »
CA bubble will not burst, particularly in Bay area, because there is just no extra inventory. Prices go up, people refinance, take out cash, repeat. It's weird, and I wouldn't do it, but there is just no extra inventory. Particularly in the north bay.
hmm, maybe. My experience: Bought in Southern Solano for 155 in 2000, sold for 355 in 2004. I remember people kept saying buy now or forever priced out, but rented until 2011, when I bought in West Contra Costa for 130. Yeah, current comps around 500, but then you never know, lol.
Hmmm West Contra Costa in 2011? Great timing! Your property value has more than tripled. Have you looked at the numbers for the house you sold in 2004?

comps in the mid 400s

Sandi_k

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #41 on: April 07, 2021, 10:43:41 AM »
CA bubble will not burst, particularly in Bay area, because there is just no extra inventory. Prices go up, people refinance, take out cash, repeat. It's weird, and I wouldn't do it, but there is just no extra inventory. Particularly in the north bay.
hmm, maybe. My experience: Bought in Southern Solano for 155 in 2000, sold for 355 in 2004. I remember people kept saying buy now or forever priced out, but rented until 2011, when I bought in West Contra Costa for 130. Yeah, current comps around 500, but then you never know, lol.
Hmmm West Contra Costa in 2011? Great timing! Your property value has more than tripled. Have you looked at the numbers for the house you sold in 2004?

comps in the mid 400s

We sold in Oakland in 2011 for $395k - solid neighborhood, 3/1.5/2000 SF.

Bought in east CoCoCo for $550k.

Now the Oakland house and the CoCoCo house are estimated a low seven figures. But we like living here much more. ;)

Dicey

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #42 on: April 07, 2021, 09:34:39 PM »
CA bubble will not burst, particularly in Bay area, because there is just no extra inventory. Prices go up, people refinance, take out cash, repeat. It's weird, and I wouldn't do it, but there is just no extra inventory. Particularly in the north bay.
hmm, maybe. My experience: Bought in Southern Solano for 155 in 2000, sold for 355 in 2004. I remember people kept saying buy now or forever priced out, but rented until 2011, when I bought in West Contra Costa for 130. Yeah, current comps around 500, but then you never know, lol.
Hmmm West Contra Costa in 2011? Great timing! Your property value has more than tripled. Have you looked at the numbers for the house you sold in 2004?

comps in the mid 400s

We sold in Oakland in 2011 for $395k - solid neighborhood, 3/1.5/2000 SF.

Bought in east CoCoCo for $550k.

Now the Oakland house and the CoCoCo house are estimated a low seven figures. But we like living here much more. ;)
Dicey waves from Central CoCoCo!

Sandi_k

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #43 on: April 08, 2021, 11:05:36 AM »

Dicey waves from Central CoCoCo!

* waves wildly back! It's a beautiful day today!

Dicey

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #44 on: April 08, 2021, 11:21:02 AM »

Dicey waves from Central CoCoCo!

* waves wildly back! It's a beautiful day today!
I suppose that means I need to get dressed and go out and enjoy it, lol!

Sandi_k

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #45 on: April 08, 2021, 12:10:27 PM »
@Dicey, I am having LUNCH ON THE DECK.

Gardencat

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #46 on: April 08, 2021, 12:31:35 PM »
Next time youíre up near the northern CA state line, go up a bit and check out Brookings, OR. It is beautiful, the people are nice, it is not only wealthy folks either. Itís a coastal town with tuna fisheries and backs up to lovely green mountains. I will note that it did get hit with wildfire within the last 2 years - that happened right after our visit.
Nice beaches, too. Invest in a warm wetsuit.


calimom

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #47 on: April 08, 2021, 01:05:19 PM »
In the North Coast area, the only town on your list I'd really consider is Arcata. Eureka and Crescent City have well-documented problems with meth users. Being a college town, Arcata is pretty liberal and has a fair amount of local theater and art scene. I just did a quick Zillow search and found a couple of reasonable houses for under $500K. Forget Marin for that pricepoint and you might be able to find a fixer in a floodplain in Guerneville. Arcata probably has less chance of fire danger, and the coastal air is much, much cleaner when there are fires inland. We've evacuated from inland NorCal 3 times in the last 10 years to the Lost Coast area where we have welcoming family friends. Fires really are becoming a sad fact of life.

You might also take a look at Cloverdale and Ukaih. There out of commute range to the Bay Area so a bit more affordable than their southern counterparts. Hot in summer, but access to nature is high. I also like Chico and SLO.

I'm considering a change of residence in the next five years or so when my youngest finishes highschool and starts college. I'm looking for affordability, culture and nature. Arcata is on my list for sure. Grass Valley is up there too.

Good luck in your search! I see many roadtrips in your future.

BussoV6

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #48 on: April 13, 2021, 04:37:12 AM »
Check out the dry ciders at Wrangletown brewery in Arcata. Visited there in 2019.

ice_beard

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Re: Retire in Sonoma or Marin County (California) ??
« Reply #49 on: April 20, 2021, 12:20:44 PM »
To get a sense of how much has burned and where, check out this cool feature on Caltopo...  there is a data layer on the right side that represents lands burned by fires.  Or try this link.

https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.8064,-122.64871&z=9&b=mbt&a=fire

This shows the extent of the fires in 5 year increments.  You can see the inland ranges have been hit HARD and the coastal ranges less so.  My fear is that trend is just going to work westward over the next several years, where a lot of these interesting little towns lie.  I have a friend who lost her home near Sebastapool last year.  And know at least two others who have lost homes in wildfires.  The hazard is definitely real. 

The fires suck, there's really no other way to put it.  You cannot argue that the climate of California has trended hotter and drier, especially over the past 3 decades (yes that is not even a blip in geologic time).  The only heartening fact I see in the fires is that once an area burns, hopefully it is less susceptible to further devastating fires because the fuels are reduced so much and given the change in the climate, the forest that returns will not be the same as in the past.  Drive highway 120 into Yosemite, just outside the park to see what I mean.  And hopefully we have learned that intermittent fires are actually good for the forest and should not be suppressed by any means necessary which will lead to healthier forested lands overall. 

I have hope we will eventually find a balance when it comes to fires in CA, but in the meantime, we will have to endure some bad years.  I just hope there is some sort of light at the end of that tunnel, and I use the aforementioned map to help me justify this somewhat tenuous position.

For the record, our power has not been cut off the past two years and we brought a newborn home days before the lightning storm last August and spent essentially the first month of his life indoors hiding from record breaking heat and smoke.  I know what it's like.  But I still think the quality of life in this state surpasses almost all other places.