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California Exodus Is Really Only Happening From San Francisco

Discussion of a mass exodus of Californians has been floating through the news since the earliest months of the coronavirus pandemic, but it has been less of a flight from the state and more of a reshuffling within the state, a new report shows.

“While a mass exodus from California clearly didn’t happen in 2020, the pandemic did change some historical patterns, for example, fewer people moved into the state to replace those who left,” California Policy Lab Research Fellow and report author Natalie Holmes said in a statement.

The number of people leaving California historically lines up roughly with the number of people entering, but this changed in the final quarter of 2020, the report found. At that time, 267,000 people left the state and only 128,000 people arrived. 

"Counties in the Sierra Nevada mountains and other parts of northern California saw huge increases in entrances by former Bay Area residents, with 50% and in some cases 100%+ more in-migrants in 2020 as compared to 2019," the report said.

People don't seem to be leaving California in droves, but they are leaving San Francisco.

Net exits from San Francisco from March 2019 to the end of 2019 were 5,200. Net exits from San Francisco for the same time period in 2020 were 38,800 — a 649% increase. 

In Q4 2020, San Francisco saw 20,600 net exits, a 918.9% increase from the same quarter the previous year. LA County saw 51,400 net exits in Q4 2020, a 132.9% increase from the previous year.

“There is a trend in most urban areas, but it’s most pronounced in San Francisco,” California Policy Lab at UC Berkeley Executive Director Evan White told the Los Angeles Times.  

But those who moved didn’t go too far, the study found. Roughly two-thirds of people who left San Francisco moved elsewhere “within the 11-county Bay Area economic region,” and 80% stayed in California.

There have been indications that a reshuffling was happening in SoCal too. Rents in traditionally cheaper counties east of Los Angeles shot up as those in downtown LA dropped. Anecdotal evidence pointed to LA County residents on the hunt for more space for less money without going too far. 

"In short, to date the pandemic has not so much propelled people out of California as it has shifted them around within it," the report's author wrote.