Is Temecula Still Worth The Commute?
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Aired 6/4/12 on KPBS News.
High-priced gas and changing values have made the affordable homes of south Riverside County seem like they're even further away.
SAN DIEGO The trip to work takes more than an hour. But Nathaniel Buggs finds ways to pass the time while he heads south on Interstate 15.
“I may listen to sports talk radio or KOGO,” he said. “Or I’m making business calls… on my Bluetooth, of course. Can’t afford any tickets!”
Buggs is the interim president of the San Diego Workforce Partnership. But he also belongs to the legions of San Diego workers who commute from southern Riverside County.
A lot has changed about the San Diego home market in the past decade. But cities like Temecula and Murrieta are still bedroom communities for San Diego workers. The only question is how much longer the appetite for big homes, at the price of a long commute, will continue to thicken traffic on Interstate 15.
While the price of living in the Temecula area is the commute, there is a clear payback: Decent schools and spacious homes that you can buy for literally hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what you would find in San Diego.
Nathaniel Buggs moved to Murrieta, just north of Temecula, seven years ago.
“My wife made the decision. She felt the neighborhoods up here were good neighborhoods. And it was an opportunity to expand on the size of our home,” he said.
Buggs comes home to an isolated housing tract that juts like a thumb off of state Route 79. Though the highway was choked with traffic during rush hour, the residential streets were quiet and filled only with kids playing and riding bikes.
His home is expansive to be sure. Buggs and his family of five live in a house that’s 3,800 square feet, for which he paid a little over $500,000. He said the same home in San Diego County would have been at least $300,000 more.
Russ Valone, CEO of MarketPointe Realty Advisers, said what was true for Buggs seven years ago remains true today, and the home price difference that has driven San Diego workers to live in Riverside County is still a huge motivation.
“Let’s say you wanted to live in San Diego, and you wanted to live in northeast San Diego County,” said Valone. “You would pay well over $500,000 for a new home. If you go into west Riverside County, you can buy that same detached home for the mid-$200,000s.”
But the forces that have made the Temecula area a bedroom community for San Diego are showing signs of change. For one thing, the high cost of gas has substantially reduced the affordability of the commute.
And then there’s the effort to keep workers from leaving town.
Morris Myers is executive director of the Economic Development Corporation of Southwest California, which serves the Temecula area. He said about 68 percent of people in the region drive elsewhere when they go to work, the vast majority them heading south to San Diego.
Myers believes it’s in the interest of everyone to reduce the traffic on I-15 by creating jobs in south Riverside County.
“We’re not trying to take companies from San Diego County and bring them to Riverside County,” he said, “but to encourage them to develop satellite locations and satellite companies here, so their workers who are here don’t have to commute.”
The large employers in Temecula include Abbott Vascular, which makes stents, or International Rectifier, which makes computer chips. Valone said jobs follow rooftops, and the longer Temecula has a strong resident workforce, the more likely it is to stop being a bedroom community.
But there’s another factor at work here; changing values. Some Temecula residents talk of having a home so large there are some rooms they never use. Others add up the time they spend on road that they don’t spend with their families.
Russ Valone said that’s made an impression on younger people.
“When you start looking at the echo-boomers, they are the ones who saw the sacrifice, in family time, that was made by mom and dad to commute distances to work,” said Valone. “I don’t think they’re going to be as willing to do it.”
One family whose story illustrates that change of heart is the Coburns.
Native San Diegans, Roger Coburn and his wife Lisa Radnovic moved with their son Kyle to Hemet, just east of Temecula, when Roger’s construction planning job drew them there during the housing boom.
When the housing bust arrived, Roger’s job disappeared and he ended up doing something that’s also common in southwest Riverside County: making the even longer commute to Los Angeles.
“We just didn’t get to see him much,” said Lisa. “And when we did get to see him, he was tired. School conferences… I had to do all on my own. Sports, I had to do all on my own. And it just got to be hard on the family.”
But Roger found a job in San Diego. Eventually, the Coburns left their 2,500-square-foot house and moved back into the 1,000-square-foot house they still owned in University Heights.
The downsize brought some sacrifices. Roger had to give up his garage, a favorite haunt. But now he has a five-minute commute to work.
“What a difference,” he said. “To be able to come home at lunch. Maybe even turn on the TV and watch the news for minute, versus two, two-and-a-half hours of driving.”
Ultimately, it will be up to San Diego workers to decide whether the cost of the gas and the many hours on the freeway are too big a price to pay for a big house in Riverside County.