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The Long Commute

California's Central Valley

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WHEN San Diego suburbanites Bryon and Christine Moore were expecting their first child, their need to survive on one income led them out of the big city and away from the coast.

They sold their 850-sq.-ft. home (two-bedroom, one bath, no garage) for $139,900 and bought a 1,400 sq. ft. (3 bedroom, two bath, 2-car garage) for $128,000 in the Central Valley community of Modesto. The air is cleaner, streets less congested, neighbors friendlier.

But there is one catch.

"I leave for work [between] 5:30 and 6:30 a.m.," says Mr. Moore, a paramedic who now works in the San Francisco Bay area, 90 minutes away. Moore's situation is far from unique.

Since 1980, more than 100,000 new residents elbowed into Modesto (1990 population, 180,000). Before the recession hit, fully one-third were commuters to other job markets. The newcomers are known as "equity refugees those priced out of housing in urban and coastal areas and moving inland, with or without their jobs.

"The people are coming over and filling up subdivisions," says area state Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D), noting that the average home price in the Santa Clara/San Jose area is twice that of Modesto (median price $137,400). California Rtes. 205 and 580 connecting valley and bay show the wear and tear from 6 to 8 a.m. and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

"They'd rather save $1,000 in mortgage payments a month and put up with two hours of traffic morning and night," says Senator McCorquodale. Moore says he sacrificed proximity to several relatives but gained peace of mind.

"I'm 10 minutes away from duck hunting and fishing, 90 minutes from the bay and two hours from Yosemite [national park]," Moore says.

Christine Moore likes the bigger house, lower crime rates, and lack of homeless populations that were ubiquitous in San Diego.

Is all this worth the price of a 90-minute commute? Moore says yes: "In southern California, 90 minutes only gets you 15 miles. Here it gets you across the state."

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