Thursday, March 14, 2024





        Rents are higher in Silicon Valley and the rest of the San Francisco Bay area than anywhere else in California, but the generally higher salaries in that region nevertheless give tenants there more disposable income than anywhere else in this state, even the far lower-priced Central Valley.


        That’s the surprising conclusion of a study by the RentCafe website, which tracks income vs. expenses for renters everywhere in America.


        The survey’s surprising conclusion: If you’re a renter, chances are you can live better in Sunnyvale, just north of San Jose, than anywhere else in California.


        Even with prices for necessities like utilities, food, health care and transportation consistently higher than just about all other California locations, the typical Sunnyvale renter, ensconced in the heart of Silicon Valley, spends a smaller fraction of income on the basics than counterparts everywhere else in California.


        Yes, rents are sky high in Sunnyvale, once considered a very ordinary San Francisco Peninsula suburb. The typical monthly cost of an apartment or house there is $3,013, RentCafe reports. But the average renter’s household income tops $145,000 a year, about $35,000 more than in San Francisco, where rents are higher, at $3,297 – or $39,200 per year. Utilities in Sunnyvale, taken as a fairly typical Silicon Valley ‘burb, are also lower, by about $1.000 per year than in San Francisco. But health care costs a bit more, at an average of $516 per month in Sunnyvale, compared with $489 in San Francisco.


Los Angeles renters could be excused for eating their hearts out at hearing those salary and expense figures and the disposal incomes that go with them. In fact, if the Bay Area numbers were completely typical, it’s safe to guess there would have been no California exodus over the last few years, as it would have been just as comfortable to stay put.


     But the typical Los Angeles renter draws annual pay about $87,000 less than their Sunnyvale counterpart, in part because of the disparity between high tech pay levels and those in other jobs.


        So where rent eats only about 25 percent of the average Sunnyvale renter’s income, the typical Los Angeles rent of $2,745, or almost $33,000 per year, takes 56 percent of the average income. Even with utilities averaging a couple thousand dollars a year less and healthcare and transportation costs far lower than in the Silicon Valley, the Los Angeles renter winds up with much less disposable income than counterparts on the Peninsula.


        Meanwhile, tenants in the Central Valley, Fresno, Modesto and Bakersfield stand out for having far lower average rent, food, transportation and healthcare costs than their coastal counterparts, but their average salaries, all in the mid-to-high 40 thousands, are so much lower that the reduced costs don’t help much.


        Overall, Stockton has the lowest utility costs among major California cities, but among the lower salary levels. Fresno has the lowest food and transportation costs, while Los Angeles and San Diego are at or near the top in food and transportation expenses and near the middle in salaries.


        The Orange County city of Anaheim stands near average in all these costs among California urban centers. With a typical monthly rent of $2,331, or nearly $28,000 per year, and income of about $66,000, the typical Anaheim renter should be able to handle expenses like utilities, food, healthcare and transportation and still have some disposable income left.


        But nothing like levels enjoyed in the Silicon Valley. Which makes it somewhat surprising that much of the population leaving California over the last five years, with a total of about 3 million emigrants, were from the Bay Area.


        That trend is now slowing, and much of the population loss was made up for with births and legal immigration. But it’s still a lesson that in long-distance moves, money has not been only factor pushing people out of California, even if it is the biggest part of the picture.


        With much of the exodus coming during the peak pandemic years of 2000-2002, the bottom line is that most emigrants were folks who began to seek more space once it became clear they could work outside offices and not worry about having to make long commutes.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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