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Emigrant Has His Own Slant on Getting Away From Big-City Bustle

July 16, 1989|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

Almost half of all Los Angeles County residents are so disenchanted with the strains of big-city life, a recent Times poll showed, that they have considered moving within the past year.

Bill Seavey wants to show them the door.

The 42-year-old founder of Emigrants, a Pasadena-based relocation service, makes it his business to help people flee the crime, smog, traffic and skyrocketing home prices of Southern California for cheaper and greener pastures.

His company's name is a bulky acronym for Endangered Metropolitan Inhabitants/Growth Opponents Resettling in Arcadian Neighborhoods, Towns and Suburbs. Arcadia refers not to the San Gabriel Valley community, but to an ancient Greek region that has come to symbolize a simpler, rustic life.

For $45 a year, the 75 clients he has landed since founding the service in February get a copy of his quarterly newsletter called "Greener Pastures Gazette" and are invited to join him in a monthly rap session to commiserate over urban woes.

"So many people are living frantic lives, chasing their own tails . . . barely hanging on," said Seavey, who lives with his wife and 9-year-old son in Sierra Madre. "The urban environment has become very brutish for some people."

Seavey, a former social worker who has a degree in journalism from the University of Iowa, says he does not advocate specific communities for relocation nor is he interested in having everyone escape metropolitan Los Angeles.

Instead, he says he's merely responding to a social reality, trying to offer solutions and ease stress for Angelenos, 60% of whom believe the quality of life here has changed for the worse over the past 15 years, according to the same Times poll.

"I want people to realize their life goals, to be able to focus on their inner needs and to do it within an environment that is healthy," said Seavey, who also teaches a course, "Find Your Personal Eden," at the Institute for Contemporary Concepts in West Los Angeles. "I'm just here to help them make the jump."

Increasing numbers of residents, according to state population records, are in fact taking the leap.

The number of driver's license address changes, one of the few statistics demographers can use to determine the number of people leaving an area, show a growing exodus from metropolitan Los Angeles, said Elizabeth Hoag, research manager for the state Department of Finance.

Almost 198,000 drivers moved away from Los Angeles County in 1985. More than 204,000 left in 1986. The following year 210,000 left. And last year the number was 255,000.

In the same period, however, there was a net increase in the county's population, mostly due to a high birth rate and the yearly arrival of about 130,000 foreign immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

The bulk of people leaving are white families, the elderly and middle-class blacks, Hoag said.

Shuffling In and Out

"I kind of have this picture in my mind of thousands of people from outside the United States shuffling into Los Angeles and thousands of people who were born here or who moved here a long time ago shuffling out," she said.

It's the kind of picture that Seavey has, too, although he cautions that forming a service called Emigrants had nothing to do with race.

"Sure, there's some white flight out there," he said. "But I'm not here to judge the prejudices of my clients. I'm just here to provide information."

The people he provides information to include Diane, a former clothing designer in her 40s who lives in Sierra Madre on income from personal investments. Diane, who is single, said she would like to find a more pristine environment where she could pursue her love of landscape painting.

"I have a nice yard and everything, but it's really hard to find a place around here where you can get a view of the trees and the hills," she said. "I've been thinking about Santa Fe. . . . Being able to see the sky and the weather conditions would really increase my sensory joy."

Another client is Susan, a 49-year-old psychologist in West Los Angeles who says excessive pollution has caused health problems for her. She is concerned, however, that a smog-free community might also lack some of the big-city culture she needs to feel comfortable.

"If you want a place with clean air, it might turn out to be a fairly unsophisticated, redneck community," she said. "That could be a problem. You want to make sure you have a certain number of like-minded people around you."

And there's Ellis, 42, a former distribution executive for a Los Angeles newspaper who is living in a Hollywood apartment off the profit from the sale of his house. After being robbed and having his car broken into, he never leaves home without a canister of tear-gas spray, he said.

Fear of Crime

"There's an absolute epidemic of crime here," he said. "I'm looking for a forgotten area, a place like Appalachia or something, a place that people don't even think or read about."

Seavey, a Pasadena native, became interested in relocation trends while living in central Oregon for several years. He said he has mailed information about moving to rural areas to as many as 30,000 people since 1983.

But few of those people, Seavey said, have kept in touch with him, so he does not know how effective his advice has been.

"I'm sure I've helped people move," he said. "But I don't get glowing letters back saying: Thanks, we're having a wonderful time in our new environment."

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