We have been looking for a new home for a couple of months now and we still feel like we are getting better at it. There are so many considerations to take into account when you have plenty of time and no extreme priorities forcing a quick decision. So, there is no rush only a desire. A real problem for us is the perception, probably a false one, that we already live in paradise. Unfortunately, we are only renters here and purchasing a home locally with the intention of living in it for another 20 years doesn’t make sense on several levels.
1st. At the moment home prices are very high, here in the Berkeley area, and very low in several places we think we might like better. For example Reno, or Carson City, Nevada, or Bend, Oregon, or Boise, Idaho all have remarkably low prices at the moment and so we could live in a mansion in any of those places with the same amount of money we couldn’t even buy a hovel in Berkeley.
2nd. But, isn’t Berkeley a cooler place to live, you might ask? To which I would reply that 50 years of Berkeley is enough craziness to satisfy even a nonsense glutton such as myself. The last couple of months I have been avoiding my old coffee shop and strange to say I haven’t missed it one bit. If I have contact with those people that’s okay, if they are not present that’s okay too. My true love and I are having more time together and that is just fine with both of us. So, living in a totally new community shouldn’t be any problem, even if we don’t have a coffee shop to visit for conversation. The world is full of people and most of them are probably more pleasant to be around than Telegraph Avenue Street People.
3rd. Being a catastrophe worry wart, because of several life changing experiences early on, I don’t like the idea of buying a house near the San Andres earthquake fault or right on top of the Hayward fault. It is the fault geoscientists like to talk about as maybe killing 70,000 people when it pops. Here is William James’s beautifully written response to experiencing the famous 1906 San Francisco, California earthquake. He was just visiting the area and actually wanted to experience an earthquake. So he had a good time bouncing around. But, if one is a home owner it is not so much fun seeing everything you value destroyed. And, for us here in Berkeley the next major quake is overdue! You pay a big price to live in Berkeley. Second, on the catastrophe subset issue, we have city consuming forest fires right here in this area. The last one was in 1991 which took out 3,000 homes and about 30 people. There have been quite a few others but not that big. The fire problem is even worse now because the whole area is much more heavily forested than it was when those fires occurred. We have had a decade of normally wet weather and people planted lots more decorative trees and the old one got bigger. There are many eucalyptus trees which are a species evolved to be very flammable. The next drought will likely see another massive fire. It may be next year or it may not be twenty years but a dry patch is coming because that’s the natural climate of this area. I have lived through two bad droughts here, one in 1977 and another in 1993. The really bad drought was in the late 10s and early 20s and resulted in the massive 1923 Berkeley City Fire. Watch a youtube movie of the fire and here is a better one. Have some fun and watch a 1906 movie showing Berkeley people have been crazy for over a hundred years. That 1923 disaster was narrowly missed by some of my older locally-born friends. Back then much of this area was grassland but now it is a mixed forest with housing and it is all set for the next forest fire.
4th. There are growing social tensions and in our next door city, Oakland. It is so strapped for money it has declared it an official police policy not to respond to what the dispatcher judges to be minor crimes. Richmond on the other side of Berkeley has bus routes which the bus drivers refuse to drive because of the crime. In the midst of these problems are beautiful and expensive areas. It is a big and complex situation of the good, the bad, but it can turn ugly in an instant.
I have been lucky in life in that I got to do many of the things I thought I wanted to do when a child, thinking about the future. Some of the the things I got to do were beyond all but my wildest dreams. But, one is still unfulfilled. There is a stainless steel drinking bottle beside my right elbow — if I could fill that with a very wide variety of plant seeds and get it sunk into the ice at the South Pole as a basic EarthArk I would have completed the best of my ambitions — to improve the world. That particular ambition might well be fulfilled better somewhere other than here in Berkeley where there are so very many distractions.
Location, location, location — Toujours en avant.