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Welcome to Seattle--Now Go Home : California Emigres Meet New Hostility in Idyllic Northwest

August 24, 1989|ANN JAPENGA

SEATTLE — Mt. Rainier wears a permanent skirt of smog. Developers are turning the Seattle suburbs into a replica of Orange County.

And every time there's a multivehicle smashup on the Evergreen floating bridge, commuters trapped in their cars reach the same silent conclusion: It's the Californians!

The natives have held their tongues about these matters until recently, because Seattle residents are famous for their good manners.

But now, casting politeness aside, Seattle has become the first city to rebel against the Great California Yuppie Migration.

Californians who have used their recent real estate windfalls as tickets out of the increasingly claustrophobic Southland have been called equity exiles, equity emigres and equity refugees. But now, they'd better prepare to be called equity aliens.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have joined the California-to-Seattle migration in recent weeks has wandered smack into a barrage of accusations that "sun-bleached barbarians" are polluting the once-pristine Emerald City.

Words like plague and scourge have been applied freely to immigrants like Jim Friswold, who moved his family north from Yorba Linda last month. Friswold predicts the California-bashing "will get worse before it gets better."

The snubs, reminiscent of the early '70s "Don't Californicate Oregon" campaign, reached another transplant before she even left her California home. After reading about a Seattle newspaper columnist's campaign aimed at keeping out Californians, Neota Bradley almost canceled her move, even though her husband had already arranged a job transfer from San Francisco.

Bradley ultimately moved, but she took precautionary measures, such as having her California license plates replaced with Washington plates immediately upon arrival.

Relocation specialist Mindy Sitton of Coldwell Banker in Seattle said she has talked at length with potential immigrants about the new anti-California attitude here.

"It's scaring a lot of people," she said.

Even tourists from California apparently feel they need to take steps to stave off persecution. A Seattle newspaper columnist reported seeing this hand-lettered sign in the back of a van bearing California plates: "Just Visiting. Don't Worry."

Seattle, of course, is not the only place receiving disaffected Angelenos trailing U-Hauls. California migrants are relocating nationwide. But it sometimes seems as if there's a direct pipeline from Los Angeles and the Bay Area to the burgeoning new communities on Seattle's Eastside--towns like Bellevue and Kirkland.

What Seattle has going for it are: jobs--unemployment here is at a 20-year low; mountain and water views galore; and just enough trendy, high-tech familiarity to make the place comfortable for Californians.

In contrast, a transplant who chooses Spokane or Walla Walla, for instance, is unlikely to find espresso served in convenience stores.

Just how many California emigres have relocated in Seattle is a matter of wild speculation in the Northwest.

Based on Internal Revenue Service data, state office of financial management statistics say 22% of all newcomers to Seattle are from the Golden State; that figure has remained steady since 1975.

But some newspaper accounts have declared the California-to-Seattle exodus a flood, based on figures from moving companies and other sources.

Real estate agents report that as many as 90% of their recent sales are to Californians, who see as a real bargain the King County August median home price of $99,000 (which agents say will get a buyer a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,500-square-foot house in a modest middle-class neighborhood).

It's fair to say that, even if an equal number of immigrants are coming to Seattle from states other than California, the Californians may be having a bigger impact with their conspicuous real estate wealth and equally conspicuous life styles.

The first wave of immigrants, especially, seemed to alienate natives with shows of excess. They came waving cash, flashing tans and generally crowing about having caught the golden ring.

Now, the conquering hero stance is out, humility and discretion are in. The new immigrants don't talk about money if they can help it.

Bradley said she and her husband, John, make a point of saying they have made a decision to own only one car: a 17-year-old VW square-back.

When people say to her, "I suppose you find our city cheap," she emphatically declares that she does not. She adds for good measure: "I wear blue jeans from Montgomery Ward and we go out for pizza maybe once a week. I think we'll fit in real well."

Groveling for acceptance is a price the Bradleys are willing to pay in exchange for their new-found views of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains from their $180,000 West Seattle home. At night, the well-lit car ferries churning across the sound look like floating candelabra, Bradley said.

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