Wayne Richey, candidate for mayor in Boise, Idaho, wants to save his native city from an invasive species — Californians.
Get rid of West Coast amenities. No more bike paths. Deep-six a proposed $100 million library. Shred plans for a new minor league ballpark. And slap new buyers with higher property taxes.
Richey, a 59-year-old auto body mechanic, said he would go further but “I can’t build a $26 billion wall,” alluding to President Trump’s effort along the southern border. “Apparently, that’s been tried.”
The California Diaspora, driven by retirees and high prices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, is roiling the heartland. It’s hardly the first time Golden State residents — seeking refuge from soaring home prices, maddening commutes and other irritants — have settled in neighboring states and been welcomed like a swarm of locusts.
Portland and Seattle have had their turn. This time, it’s Boise. The Treasure Valley city’s population has grown from 185,000 to nearly 230,000 since 2000. The median price for a single-family home in the Boise metro has soared from $133,000 in April 2011 to a record $355,000 in August.
Local real estate data shows much of the migration to Boise has come from within the state and neighboring Utah. “It’s a common misconception that we’re being overrun with Californians,” said Phil Mount, president of Boise Regional Realtors. “It’s not true.”
Still, some Boise residents fret about a wave of West Coast transplants.
And Californians are looking. A 2018 survey by Realtor.com found the majority of Boise home searches on its website came from out-of-state, including about 5 percent from Alameda and Santa Clara counties alone. Even more came from Southern California.
Boise homes are still a bargain for many Bay Area professionals, who can buy large new homes in Idaho’s capital for less than half this region’s $843,000 median price. Most people who leave the Bay Area have headed for less expensive counties in California, including Sacramento and the Central Valley.
But some Californians find the opportunity to work remotely in Idaho near a vibrant collection of outdoor pursuits — skiing, hiking, fishing and hunting within an hour of downtown Boise — appealing.
Former Boise State star football kicker Tyler Rausa shared a picture on social media of a business card he found stuck on the windshield of his California-plated vehicle. “Go back to California we don’t want you here,” it read.
Rausa, living near Boise while pursuing his goal of kicking in the NFL, told a local news station he was surprised and disappointed. He has since received dozens of encouraging notes from locals.
Don Day, publisher of the local news site BoiseDev.com, felt the nasty note went too far. Day, an Idaho native, said the region is a far more welcoming place to newcomers than the card on Rausa’s windshield suggests.
In response, Day wrote editorial welcoming out-of-towners to his home city. He even offered to print up cards with an outline of the state and a heart, saying “Welcome to Idaho! I hope you love it here as much as I do!”
Yet some long-time residents like Richey believe the city is changing too quickly. The angst, Day said, “is about how we manage growth.”
Richey, a political neophyte, is one of seven candidates for mayor. He worries that newcomers will continue to drive up prices and bring West Coast problems to Boise. He thinks some of those people are choosing to relocate based on little more than a Google search. “I want off all of those top 10 lists!”
Boise real estate agent Michelle Bailey, a one-time Bay Area resident, has served more than 100 clients relocating from California in the last 15 years. Newcomers need time to adjust, she said. For example, fences may be a normal feature on a Bay Area home, but they are unusual and off-putting to many Boise residents.
“Idaho doesn’t want California solutions to Idaho problems,” she said. Her advice to clients? “Just love it. Don’t try to change it.”
Ernest Cook moved to Boise a year ago, after 45 years in the Bay Area. Cook, 58, owns a software company and manages his Silicon Valley operations from Idaho. He and his wife love to ski, and for the first time in his life, he’s had a season pass.
The couple has become close friends with other transplants, including two couples they didn’t know in California though it turns out they lived less than two miles away. Cook has no regrets, he said, “not even for a millisecond.”
Richey’s foray into politics was inspired, he said, by an off-hand conversation with a neighbor, former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig. The senator encouraged him to run, saying he would enjoy the experience, Richey said.
So far, Richey — whose interests run from creating Christmas tree displays to building pumpkin canons to chuck the gourds more than a half-mile across farmland — is stirring the anti-growth pot and enjoying the attention.
His original platform was somewhat tongue-in-cheek — destroy Boise to save it. He’s toned down his rhetoric, but he worries that his two adult daughters will not be able to buy a home.
“This is an invasion,” Richey said. “They’ve driven up home prices so high locals can’t afford to live here anymore.”