U-Haul_El Centro Moving and Storage-Agustin Zamora

Agustin Zamora, general manager of U-Haul Moving & Storage in El Centro, aids a U-Haul customer in a U-Haul promotional photo taken in El Centro, June 2014. U-Haul has six facilities within the Imperial Valley.

IMPERIAL COUNTY — Californians are continuing to leave the State for cheaper but not necessarily literal-greener pastures, according to U-Haul’s ranking of migration growth by 50 US states and Washington, D.C.

The U-Haul company tracks one-way destinations of all their do-it-yourself mover vehicles, compiling data regarding US and Canadian migration trends according to their in-company numbers of departing and arriving trucks, according to U-Haul press releases. According to the company’s numbers, California was dead last in growth among the 49 continental US states and Washington D.C., surpassing Illinois in 2020 compared to 2019 U-Haul numbers.

States like Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Arizona were in the top-5 in growth, while some of California’s geographical neighbors — and even Alaska — ranked ahead of the Golden State (Colorado ranked 6th; Nevada, 8; Utah, 17; Washington, 36; New Mexico, 39; and Alaska at 34), according to a release.

The U-Haul data is compiled from more than 2 million one-way truck-sharing transactions annually before U-Haul ranks the states by migration growth, the company also ranking top-25 US growth cities. While the U-Haul migration data does not directly correlate to population or economic growth, the Company’s growth data is an effective gauge of how well cities and states are attracting and maintaining residents, according to a press release.

The U-Haul data also only represents do-it-yourself movers, not all people who moved in 2020, yet the data shows that while some people are still moving into California from other states, not as many are leaving.

According to The Sacramento Bee, U-Haul data does corroborate other recent data from California’s annual Department of Finance population numbers in November 2020, which showed state growth stalling for the first time in modern history, with 200,000 more people leaving California than moving here between July 2019 and June 2020.

According to The Sac Bee, California’s new official population is 39.78 million, which is only 21,200 more residents than 2019. The figure is 451 few people than state officials estimated on January 1, 2020 when numbers were tallied in July 2020. If migration trends hold as 2020 data is collected, the year of COVID-19 could turn out to be the first year California has lost population since records going back to 1900. As a state, California is also behind the nation in terms of growth and has been off-and-on since 1994, according to a California Department of Finance-US Census Bureau chart.

Many seem to be leaving more expensive, big-city areas in California for more suburban or more rural areas with the COVID-19 pandemic playing a role, according to the Los Angeles Times and U-Haul area managers in the Bay Area and Southwest region.

“The cost of living in Northern California and the Bay Area usually drives people to more affordable areas anyways but COVID very much drove that exponentially higher than usual,” said U-Haul (Bay) Area District Vice President Victor Vanegas.

Vanegas said states such as Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and "certainly" Texas are seeing a lot of former-Californians move there, as well as movement from California to other areas south, southwest, and southeast of the Bay Area in general.

“Early on in spring (2020) when the first stay-at-home order had been implemented, we certainly didn't see a whole lot of moving happening (in the Bay Area),” he said, “but I think as people realized that the pandemic wasn't going away anytime soon and life had to go on, we started to see people get a little bit more comfortable with getting their moves back in play.”

“California can be a very expensive place to live, no doubt about that,” U-Haul Company of Southwest Arizona President, Mark Buford, said in an interview. “All you have to do is look at housing in the Bay Area or some of the Los Angeles counties and I don't see how many people can do it. We can't all be movie stars.”

Regionally, Buford — who oversees the Phoenix as well as Casa Grande, Quartzsite, Yuma, Blythe, and El Centro-Imperial County areas — said some people in the southwest have been moving to areas like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the State of Idaho but many of Yuma and El Centro area moves have been within our same regions as he thinks “a lot of people are just bettering their lives and maybe getting something a little nicer.”

“Initially in March and April, I think we were down because people didn't really want to do anything with the lockdowns and such,” Buford said, “but I think as people get educated on how to keep themselves safe, — and we've spent a lot of time and effort to keep our team members and our customers safe, I mean that's job one — I would say (southwest area U-Haul is) returning to normal at a very fast pace.”

Buford said the appeal of U-Haul being do-it-yourself and therefore contactless has boosted truck rentals in 2020.

“Your mother or brother could literally use a cellphone, rent a truck, and move to Riverside County or Phoenix without really making any contact. So, we're the safest company to move with in a COVID-19 world,” he said. “I think that puts a lot of people at ease.”

While some experts told The Sac Bee this data should “focus public attention on problems with housing costs and the State’s business climate” as a red flag for California policy-makers, other former Californians — including locals who have recently moved out of the Imperial Valley — said their reasons for moving were greater opportunities for their family, their careers, and no state taxes in other areas.

Former Brawley resident Jennifer Sandoval said her six-person family moved to Las Vegas on November 27, 2020 due in large part to her 9-year-old son Eli being accepted to train under former Olympian and former Cal Poly Mustang wrestler-turned-coach Chase Pami.

Sandoval said while she and her husband had talked about moving to Vegas for years due to frequent, fun visits since 2008, their son’s wrestling opportunity was what made them finally make the move.

Sandoval said her family has saved a lot of money due to the pay increase at her new job and no state taxes in Nevada compared to living check-to-check in California.

She said her family knows many fellow former-Californians who have moved to Arizona and Idaho in addition to Nevada, including former Imperial Valleyites who now also live in the Las Vegas area.

“It’s the same common answer that you’re going to get (as to why move out): More opportunity, California is getting too expensive, the crazy laws that keep passing down there — it’s just not the same California that we once knew,” Sandoval said.

“I think for us middle-class, we have to struggle,” she said.

Yet for the most part, as Buford alluded to, moving out of the El Centro area and out of California has not been too drastic compared to other parts of California, according to local U-Haul data.

According to data provided by U-Haul corporate, there were 54.6 percent departures out of the El Centro (Imperial Valley) area in 2020 and 45.4 percent arrivals to the Valley. Arrivals of one-way U-Haul trucks dropped 17 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, while one-way departures dropped 10 percent.

The top-10 cities one-way trucks were dispatched out of El Centro were San Diego (ranked first), Yuma, Chula Vista, Las Vegas (fourth), Phoenix, Indio, El Cajon, Los Angeles, Glendale, and Cathedral City (10th). The top-10 cities El Centro received one-way trucks were from San Diego, Yuma, Chula Vista, Las Vegas (fourth), El Cajon, Phoenix, National City, Cathedral City, Moreno Valley, and Escondido.

Texas, a widely-known Californian landing spot for the past few years, made U-Haul's list with Tyler at 10th and Conroe at 24th but top-ranked growth cities were all in Florida with North Port, Kissimmee, and Port St. Lucie as the top 3, respectively.

In 2019, 650,000 Californian residents moved out compared to 480,000 new Californians moving in, according to San Diego's CBS 8.


Roman has worked for multiple local news and non-profit orgs including IV Press and VW Mag, IVROP, St. JP2 Radio and is also with The Southern Cross. An El Centro native, he graduated from Marywood U in Scranton, Pennsylvania. rflores@thedesertreview.com

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