When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
— Donald Trump
When New York sends its people to Los Angeles, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing entitlement and aggression. They’re bringing $14 cocktails. They’re gentrifiers. And some, I assume, are good people.
They’re coming for the sunny weather and because the New York art scene died a long time ago. Or perhaps because they’re ready to have kids and have seen one too many parents struggle with a stroller on New York’s now barely operational subways. Or because L.A.’s sprawl is less daunting now that Uber and Lyft are transportation options.
I used to be a champion of moving to Los Angeles. “It’s the greatest city in America!” I’d say. Lately, though, I’ve held my tongue when friends say they might relocate to the West Coast.
Overall, California is driving out more people than it is pulling in. Between 2007 and 2014, more people left the state than migrated here. Leading the exodus are people without college degrees and those who make less than $30,000 annually. Inbound California migrants, according to a report by the nonprofit Next10, tend to be “primarily concentrated in high-wage occupations.”
People in this income bracket can often work remotely, so they may not even need to rely on California’s economy to provide them with a job. They can keep their East Coast clients while they enjoy the perks of West Coast living. As a friend of mine often says, winter is a choice. Increasingly, it seems, wealthy Americans are opting out of it.
Our city is in trouble as a result. While it’s never been cheap to live in L.A., the housing crisis has reached epidemic levels. The number of people living on the streets and in their cars has increased 75% in the last five years. And this is happening at the same time that many low- and mixed-income neighborhoods are turning into playgrounds for “creatives.”
My local Asian supermarket, where my neighbors and I used to get cheap veggies, seafood and noodles, is slated for redevelopment as “a trendy food-court-style collection of the latest eateries” with condos attached. Two other low-cost grocery stores nearby have closed in the past month. I suppose it was inevitable: The coin laundry up the street has already become a Chipotle.
It’s time to stop dancing around the fact of who’s to blame. The problem is not, as the New York Times recently argued with characteristic derision, that Los Angeles lacks civic institutions and a cohesive metropolitan identity. It’s that the city is pushing out people who aren’t reasonably well off, and only pulling in those who are. People like me.
I like to think I’m one of the good transplants. (Don’t we all?) I came to California seven years ago when most New Yorkers were still turning up their noses at this city. I had a local job — not a work-remote situation. I befriended my neighbors. I patronized burrito joints that were not endorsed by Anthony Bourdain. I got a public library card. I learned the bus routes near my house. I made sure to vote in local elections.
Personal actions can’t erase hard demographic truths, though. Even as I lament the disappearance of coin laundries and low-cost markets, I can afford a $5 cup of coffee, and frequently pay that much at one of several establishments covered in white tiles and monstera plants. Developers are catering to relative newcomers like me when they replace 99 Cent Stores with restaurants that serve biodynamic wine. My economic peers and I may grumble about skyrocketing rents, but we can afford to pay them. Many of our neighbors cannot.
President Trump unfairly blames immigrants (the ones who aren’t married to him) for the worst systemic problems plaguing the nation today. But at the city level, high-income transplants get to shirk responsibility for how they affect their adopted home. A few weeks ago, the artist Rafa Esparza, who was born in L.A. to parents who emigrated from Mexico, posted to his Instagram feed a stark white message on a black background: “Don’t move to Los Angeles.” He wrote in the caption, “What can citizenship outside of colonization and more in tune with cultural stewardship look like?”
This is the question for L.A.’s economically privileged new arrivals: How do you help care for the city that drew you in, rather than allow your presence to steamroll its culture?
Within the borders of a giant country like the United States, we move to find opportunities and like-minded people. But if we expect immigrants to adapt to their new home while making it their own, we should expect the same of internal migrants. This is not too much to ask of L.A. transplants. Some of us, I assume, are good people.
Ann Friedman is a contributing writer to Opinion. She grew up in Iowa.