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Getting plucked in the Golden State: Doug McIntyre

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Which comes first, the chicken or the nest egg?

It’s not exactly breaking news that living in California is pricey. According to Bloomberg, the median price for a house in the Golden State requires a pile of gold, topping $600,000, more than twice the national average. Four of the country’s five most expensive residential markets are in California: Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego. Los Angeles is seventh.

Two weeks ago, I told you about my $999 electric bill. Today, I’m here to report on my $647.88 chicken.

Yes, it’s a Costco chicken. The chicken itself retails for the incredible price of only $4.99, cooked no less! And that’s where they get you.

The birds are buried in the deepest recesses of Costco’s cavernous stores, forcing the hen-hungry multitudes to navigate aisle after aisle of bright, shiny-things. By the time The Wife and I arrive at the chicken coop, our dumpster-sized shopping barge is already filled to the gunnels with a mountain of First World abundance: organic shelled hemp seeds, Bridgestone tires, reflective bicycle helmets, a ceiling fan, a case of bone-support formula Ensure, a Molecule air-engineered mattress, a two-pack of 27-ounce jars of almond butter, hearing aids, prescription eye glasses and shingles vaccines priced so low even anti-vaxxers can’t resist!

All this stuff and we hadn’t even gotten to the bargain birds.

The Wife positioned herself within grabbing distance of the empty stainless-steel chicken chute. She was surrounded by a scum of other poultry patrons waiting for the first bird to slide down the fowl funnel. When the chickens arrived, elbows and fists flew as shoppers snatched up the roasters like jet-lagged travelers grabbing for their bags at LAX. Buying a chicken at Costco can be a contact sport. So too is finding affordable housing in California.

For the seventh year in a row, California lost more residents than we gained. 87,000 left for Texas. 70,000 for Arizona. 55,000 for the state of Washington. A recent UC Berkeley poll says 52 percent of registered voters in California are considering leaving. The top two reasons? Cost of living and high taxes, which are really one and the same. Leave it to Berkeley to make a distinction.

Still, these depressing numbers are offset by another set of numbers that get less attention, an influx of high-wage earners.

Stanford University’s “Millionaire Migration in California� study shows California has become a magnet for high-wage earners from other states, with more people earning $125,000 and up arriving rather than leaving. As crazy as the cost of housing has become in California, try finding a place, especially in the big population centers. Not a dream home. I mean any place.

There is no housing equivalent of a $4.99 Costco chicken in California. While house-hunters search for the elusive bargain, they’re likely to suffer the same sticker-shock we did after buying a “discount� chicken.

Why does Costco sell chicken at such a low cost? Easy. It draws in suckers … er, customers … like The Wife and me who shell out hundreds of dollars on other stuff while scoring a discount dinner. That’s a pretty good business plan. Subsidizing hundreds of thousands of units of low-cost housing isn’t.

It’s not possible to build cheap housing on expensive land, especially when politicians have one eye on labor unions and the other on developers who fund their campaigns. Only with enormous subsidies — which means taxpayers’ money — can cities, counties or the state build low-cost housing. If the current $600,000-plus per-unit cost of HHH homeless housing currently under construction in Los Angeles is any indication, it won’t just be the lure of cheap chickens that pluck us.

Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.

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