I was only planning on staying in Orange County for a couple of years.
It was September 1986 and I was a new employee on the Orange County Register. Who would have thought this collection of cities and their hometown newspaper would be home since then?
The journalistic constant in my 35 years was worry about the high housing costs. I’ve examined the debate in a variety of ways, from data to politics to anecdotes.
It can just be a story of too much success. My trusted chart tells me that over three decades, Orange County created 1.2% of the country’s jobs, but only 0.7% of its new housing.
According to an index, this discrepancy is causing local home values to increase more than fivefold. Consider my first OC home – a condo in Santa Ana. I paid $ 99,000 in 1986. Today it’s valued at half a million dollars.
So treat yourself as I try to tell this story in a different way: 35 pieces of local life that could explain why 3.2 million people – a lot more than 20 other states, and 1 million more since I arrived – Pay the Orange County Premium to Live Here.
35. Toll roads: For some, the cost of a toll road trip is too high. For others, the concept is a nuisance. But without these additional travel options, local driving, especially in South County, is hard to imagine.
34. Taco giants: Local business spells brought Mexican dishes to the masses. Few foodies try their hand at Taco Bell and Del Taco, but if housing costs are tough, their menus offer affordable meals.
33. 4. St. Santa Ana: This native New Yorker enjoys the urban flair of the developing restaurant and entertainment district. And it’s not just the nightlife. The city is getting upscale living space in its inner-city districts.
32. Anaheim Stadium: Demolition for Affordable Housing? No, the city decided to sell it to the owner of the baseball team to remodel a ballpark and create a mixed-use project. State regulators are questioning the agreement.
31. Botox: The wrinkle remedy developed by Allergan in Irvine also treats some serious medical conditions. It also symbolizes a strange focus on our vanity. In a place with high property prices, looks can be too important.
30. Nixon Library: This Yorba Linda landmark honors a disgraced former president. His government sadly battled efforts to desegregate housing – a legacy that still divides economic opportunity.
29. Downtown Fullerton: The city’s meeting point offers a pleasant change from any shopping center. With a train station nearby, it is surprising that no more apartments – especially high-rise buildings – have been built in this area.
28. Irvines Noodle Factory: The steam rising from Maruchan’s ramen factory near the Spectrum reminds me that manufacturing still accounts for 1 in 10 of the local jobs, usually with decent wages.
27. Mortgage lending: Local innovation changed home finance, not always for the better. Still, the ability of lenders to qualify a surprisingly large segment of the population is a factor in why housing is so expensive.
26. Beach beach: Its public paths to the sea run right next to ridiculously opulent houses. It’s a demonstration of the power of California’s beach access laws: you don’t have to be a gazillionaire to enjoy the world’s greatest coastline.
25. Master-planned municipalities: Love them or hate them, they are the Orange County look. Many enjoy life in a ready-made community. For those who can’t stand uniformity, options are yours. Like Los Angeles.
24. Communication chips: OC-Know-how built tiny radio semiconductors that fit into everything from fax machines to dial-up modems to today’s smartphones. Fortunes – think Broadcom, for example – were built with this intelligence.
23. Downtown Brea: Unlike near Fullerton, this unfolding urban center feels more technical than organic. Still, it’s an important OC lesson about how relatively high-density development gives apartment hunters more lifestyle choices.
22. The sequoias: Typical OC – Import an out of town flavor. The Carbon Canyon Creek Nature Trail takes you to 3 acres of coastal redwoods, the massive trees that adorn Northern California. How did you come here? Transplanted in 1975!
21. NIMBYs: Ah, the skewed logic of people living in relatively new communities … complaining about additional developments nearby. Selfish thinking is one of the reasons local home values have grown 11% faster than the nation annually since 1986.
20th Carls Jr .: The founding family of this drive-thru burger decadence provider, the Karchers, were a cog in the post-WWII fast food revolution. In this century, their Six Dollar Burger was a groundbreaking concept for higher quality quick meals.
19. Soup shops: It took Orange County to teach me how satisfying a well-prepared bowl of hot broth can be. At first it was pho restaurants with soups which were amazing for their simplicity. Now ramen is insane – a far more complex flavor.
18. The Date Shake Hut: The best cheap date is right on the Coast Highway in Crystal Cove. Since 1946, there has been no better place to watch a Pacific sunset and have a milkshake.
17. The orange circle: This university town and its picturesque roundabout are full of fascinating restaurants – and a cool annual street festival. The neighborhood, with its strict architectural controls, keeps an old-school feel alive.
16. UC Irvine: It may not have a traditional campus feel to it – nor the broader community connection people once envisioned – but the innovation that emanates from here helps boost the local economy.
15. Big park: This strange mix of sports parks and residential buildings is a better result than what others have suggested – to build an international airport on the old military airfield.
14. John Wayne Airport: It’s not as quick in and out as it was when I arrived in 1986, but the airport is still a reasonable place to catch a plane. Unfortunately, airfares tend to be higher than anywhere else in the region.
13. Pacific amphitheater: There is hardly a more pleasant way to spend a summer evening than a trip to the Orange County Fair. Rides, great food and good music in the amphitheater of the fairground.
12.Taco stand: Everyone has a favorite joint and menu item. The large selection – from mom and pops to small chains to taco trucks – creates a cultural and culinary gold mine.
11. Honda Center: This was classic build-and-will-be-real estate story. The city of Anaheim built the indoor arena without a major tenant. What the city got – Ducks Hockey – made me a season ticket holder since their first game in 1993.
10. South Coast Piazza: The Segerstrom family practically turned their Costa Mesa shopping center into a high fashion staple that draws shoppers from all over the world. Even if you don’t know one luxury brand from the other, the people-watching is worth a few visits.
9. Santiago Canyon Road: I live at the south end of this lovely 13 miles. In a county known for its breathtaking highways, this is a refreshing drive on a two-lane road through the foothills. This is just as good for the eyes as it is for the psyche.
8. Main beach laguna: In essence, this place is a living postcard. The signature lifeguard tower is perfectly framed by a curved coastline on a beach with locals, tourists, surfers and volleyball players. Its proximity makes every OC residence more valuable.
7. Little Saigon: The trading hub of a vibrant Vietnamese community is a place to soak up the flavors and products of culture. It is also a symbol of a county ready to accept refugees from another war that our nation should not have waged.
6. Cars: Are you wondering how people can afford to live here? Just take a look at what’s going on. Our love for automobiles is legendary, from collectibles to high-end brands to sports cars. The price tags tell you how much money is going through town.
5. Disneyland: Walt Disney’s dream amusement park put the county on the world map. Just say “Orange County, this is Disneyland”. This prestige also helps to increase foreign interest in local real estate.
4. Employment: The three magic words of the real estate industry: “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”. The county has created 650,000 jobs since 1986, a 64% growth rate that exceeds the country’s 52%. The labor produces an average household income of $ 90,000 compared to the country’s $ 63,000. Now you know why home prices are what they are.
3. 34 cities: Our local political structure is basically a collection of small towns. This is great for a sense of local control and contrasting community aesthetics. But on all major political issues – housing costs are a good example – this constellation makes it almost impossible to get things done.
2. The weather: Yes, 75 degrees and the sun can get boring. But donning rain gear infrequently creates quite a lifestyle. The climate may not be a very cerebral economic factor, but almost perfect weather – with few flaws – is something people pay for.
1. The melting pot: We are better for our different backgrounds, lifestyles and cultures. The Census Bureau estimates that in Orange County, there is a 69% chance that two random residents are of different races. The nation is 66%. And if OC were a state, only California and Hawaii would be more diverse.
Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at [email protected]