The Futility of Searching for Greener Grass

With orange skies, smoky air, and wildfire evacuations to the north, south and east, it’s no wonder that people are beginning to question whether they should move out of Mendocino County or even out of state. I understand the inclination, but be sure to think things through before you make a hasty decision that won’t actually solve your problem.

I’m not saying California is perfect, far from it. During the last four years, we’ve come to think of fall as fire season rather than just harvest. People have lost their homes, their crops, and their sense of safety. PG&E has gone into bankruptcy and we now have rolling blackouts much like a third-world country. All of which has led to poorly considered legislation that often makes things worse instead of better.

Governor Newsom’s short-term relief orders are rarely short-term and frequently have unintended consequences. For example, in October 2017, he enacted a temporary emergency order to cap cumulative rent increases at 10 percent until the order was lifted. That was three years ago, and the order is still in place. This well-meaning if misguided attempt to prevent landlords from gouging tenants during a wildfire is now exacerbating our housing shortage.

But still, when compared to many other states, California has a lot of upsides. So, let’s imagine, for a moment, that we can’t move—that a forcefield exists at the county line to keep us in. Then what would we do? I believe we’d make the best of what we have. Maybe that’s the right approach—forcefield or not.

I recently received a letter from a woman who lives at the top of Pine Mountain outside Willits. Her husband, Tom Varney, is part of the Pine Mountain Fire Council, a group led by Lauren Robinson that educates locals about fire safety, provides chipping services, and works with local firefighters to teach neighbors how to create defensible spaces. These efforts increase everyone’s safety and build a strong sense of community. Rather than looking for garden spots in other parts of the country, maybe we need to put all our efforts into this garden spot we have right here.

It seems to me the most important question to ask is this: are you moving away from something or toward something? It’s an important distinction. Everywhere has its issues. The South has hurricanes. The Midwest has tornadoes. The Northeast has really cold winters. Ironically, I heard people talk about moving to Oregon and Washington to escape the fires, and within days, those states were dealing with wildfire evacuations and hazardous air pollution from too much wildfire smoke.

The idea that the grass is greener somewhere else is often a recipe for disappointment. I was raised in Ukiah, and while it’s not perfect, it’s got a lot going for it. That’s why more people are moving into our community than out. People from metropolitan areas would rather be here with good reason. We have a better quality of life that includes a greater sense of safety, beautiful natural environment, and a fantastic location with quick drives to everywhere you’d want to be—a couple of hours to the coast or the Bay Area, five hours to the mountains for skiing, and no travel at all required for camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking right out your back door.

I believe if we put our time and energy into making our own community better, we’ll be more content in the long run. If instead, we move every time we’re dissatisfied with the place we live, we may spend our whole lives looking for that perfectly green grass that simply doesn’t exist.

If you have questions about real estate investing, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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