This title is the first line of the feature article “Surf City Now Stress City”, published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Once known as a sleepy beach community, Santa Cruz, CA was associated with its main attraction, the Beach and Boardwalk, where Roller Coasters and arcades took precedence over any notice of corporate culture or commuter traffic. This is my home town where I have spent most of my life. I thought I would retire here; but the future of the residents in this community remains fragile and uncertain.
The familiar roar of the surf plays like background music as couples stroll hand-in-hand along the stretch of sandy shores. A large senior community coexists alongside the college students attending the local University, nestled in a picturesque landscape of Redwood trees. Surfers perch attentively on the horizon, their feet dangling in the water as they wait for the next perfect wave, their only schedule of concern being the tide level. Artists abound in this liberal, eclectic community, where political awareness is mainstream.
With this face of tranquility, one wouldn’t notice the welling frustration and anxiety of local residents who are faced with a mega-dose of impact from the struggling economy. It has always been known and the topic of many conversations that wages were out of line with the cost of living in this County. You could drive “over the hill” as it is referred to (Silicon Valley), and receive a hefty increase in salary, which caused this commute to be a popular option for many residents.
Sperling’s Best Places Guide now ranks Santa Cruz as one of the most stressed-out cities in the nation. It was ranked 13th of 114 medium sized metropolitan areas to the surprise of those living in the midst of the stress-center. Some of the supporting statistics quoted were:
- Average one-way commuter time: 27.8 compare to the average 22 minutes
- Ranks close to the top for “troublesome mental health”
- Unemployment rate: 6.1 compared to average of 5.4
(EDD reports the figure is actually 7.5 categorized as labor force group / seeking employment. I think it may be considerably higher)
- Violent crimes per capita: slightly above average (See this post)
- Divorce rate: 11 % compared to an average 10%
- High suicide rate: 11.8 per 100,000
Additional statistics report:
- Salary averages: 15% (or more) lower than San Jose 40 miles away (CA EDD)
- Rated the 2nd most expensive place to live in the nation (Community Assessment)
64.7 percent of residents spend more than half their salary on housing
The commute gridlock of larger cities has been realized locally with the main transportation route coming to a standstill twice a day like clockwork.
So why would anyone want to live in Santa Cruz? The reputation of a stress-free environment still lingers paradoxically among the statistics that dispute it. A TV newscaster reported on the story with a commentary on the ludicrous nature of stress in Santa Cruz. Residents were shown expounding the joys of the stress-free environment of this area.
Is Santa Cruz about denial? There is a new age spirit, rooted in the peace and love movement of the 60s. This open, accepting nature of acceptance is coupled with the edge that political activism breeds. This conflict in values is inherent in the population of groups that define it, descriptively termed as: punk rockers, techno-geek computer gurus, soccer moms, homeless citizens, corporate workers, farmers, Abercromby & Fitcher’s, wealthy-summer-beach-house owners, and struggling minimum-wage service and agricultural field workers. Diversity is the word and the concentration is dense in a relatively small area. We live together with common social interaction. Our kids go to the same schools, we attend the same social events and shop at the same stores.
Yet the distinction is made in the workplace and the ability to find affordable housing, which is not an option in Santa Cruz. It is shown in the struggle to meet basic needs by a large part of the population. That is where much of the stress comes from. If you do have a job, you are driven to work harder to keep it with the competition of supply and demand and the “privilege” of having a job “on this side of the hill”, after companies have left in droves for a venue with a lower overhead. But we put on our happy faces as we greet our neighbors. Our inner dialogue says, “Never let them see you sweat.”
Having been a resident from the time that this was a sleepy resort community, I have witnessed this evolution unfold. I have struggled to stay here despite the undercurrents that breed insecurity and anxiety because I have found no place like it. I have lived elsewhere but came back because it’s my home I choose to stay for as long as possible. Santa Cruz is a contradiction in logic. We can’t survive but we don’t want to leave. It’s a love-hate relationship and life is a roller coaster of survival strategies. That relationship can cause a bit of stress. Wouldn’t you say?
About the author
Kathy Coulston is an author, artist, and entrepreneur, with 15 years experience in corporate marketing communications and graphic design. Her writing works include helpful articles and tutorials, personal life stories of humorous evolution, and business collateral content.