Southern California has a split personality

Southern California is known for its beaches, beautiful weather and  Hollywood glamour. But living in SoCal comes at a price.  (AP Photo/ASP, Daniel Smorigo)
Southern California is known for its beaches, beautiful weather and Hollywood glamour. But living in SoCal comes at a price. (AP Photo/ASP, Daniel Smorigo)

The longer I’ve lived in Southern California the more I realize we’re a tale of two regions.

On the one side, we have the Southern California that’s depicted in movies and on TV. That’s a land where beautiful girls are always cavorting on the beach, people are casually driving to swanky Hollywood parties and everyone is healthy, vibrant and successful.

It’s a nice vision — and I guess some parts of it are true.

When you go to the beach you will often find beautiful girls walking into the surf or swimming. And I’m sure there are some people who do, in fact, make their way to swanky Hollywood parties with some level of regularity.

But me?

I’ve been to maybe one or two of those events in the whole 30-plus years I’ve lived in Southern California and I felt extremely out of place both times. This brings me to the other depiction of Southern California. Actually, it’s not a depiction because it’s grounded in the reality most of us are living every day of the week.

This Southern California is the land where gas prices are perpetually higher than the national average, freeways are clogged, housing prices are often off the charts and conditions are basically overcrowded.

Let’s start with gas prices.

On Friday, the national average for a gallon of gasoline was $2.34, while in California it was $2.98 a gallon. Los Angeles County was higher yet at $3.01 a gallon. This is old news for most of us. We have simply learned to tolerate this kind of discrepancy and basically chalk it up to part of the “Southern California experience.”

Next we come to the freeways, everyone’s favorite subject. Transportation analytics firm Inrix revealed in a recent survey that Los Angeles leads the world in traffic jams. And get this: Drivers here spend an average of 104 hours a year mired in traffic congestion.

Now I want to back up a second. This survey shows that L.A. leads not Southern California, not the state, not the U.S., but the world in traffic jams. That’s a pretty impressive distinction. And I’m sure it will play well on someone’s resume, assuming that the prospective employer asks,” So tell me — how good are you at dealing with traffic jams?”

I’ve been in my share of traffic congestion and fortunately the really bad backups only occur when there’s an accident. Still, I often find myself mired in slow traffic that never seems to be tied to anything in particular.

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Maybe it’s traffic gremlins.

Housing prices are another factor that makes the Southern California experience challenging. The California Association of Realtors reported recently that the median price for an existing single-family home in Los Angeles County was $566,240 in July. That was up 3.3 percent from the previous month and up more than 10 percent from a year earlier.

If you jump over the Orange County the numbers are significantly higher. The median housing price there was $785,000. That was down 1.3 percent from June but up nearly 7 percent from July 2016.

I doubt if many millennials are going to be buying homes there anytime soon.

By this point, you’re probably assuming that I hate living in Southern California. But I don’t. There are lots of things I really like about this region. The beautiful hiking and biking areas, the mountains, the ocean, world-class music venues ... the list goes on.

But everything I love about Southern California is tempered by the realities we all face in living here. If you can get through the day with minimal traffic that’s a good day. And the weather here is great most of the time, despite the brutal heat wave we inland folks recently endured.

And my favorite time of the year? That would be winter, when the air is crisp, the mountains are green and you just feel alive.

I guess that’s my sales pitch.

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About the Author

Kevin Smith

Reach the author at Kevin.Smith@sgvn.com or follow Kevin on Twitter: @SGVNBiz.