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Is California Ruining Nevada?

Votanta Bumper Sticker/Amazon

There’s a T-shirt out there that says, “Don’t California My Nevada.” 

It sums up the fear that some have that Nevada will become more like our neighbor to the west if enough Californians move here. 

And move here, they have — almost 40,000 last year alone. 

The so-called California exodus has helped drive up housing prices and rents, especially in Reno and Las Vegas. 

And pundits have long argued it’s helped turn our state bluer during elections.

But have there been upsides to absorbing so many Californians? What does history say about the migration of people from elsewhere into the state? And what makes someone a Nevadan?



Why are people moving here?

Vivek Sah, real estate professor, UNLV: “We have proximity to California. So people who have families over there, they can go back and forth. We have a great airport, and of course, we have no state income tax. And if you add the fact that we are not burdened by any natural disasters, which California has been seeing in the last so many years, and every year, it keeps going up. You add all of those together, I think, we are primed to be a state that can benefit from the exodus from California. I think that’s a huge potential and an opportunity for us that we need to capitalize.”

Can 30,000 Californians moving here annually impact home prices?

Sah: “There is definitely that factor of people selling their homes. They’re coming from a state where they’re anchored to a high price. So, when they move over here it’s relatively cheaper. So, they sell their homes and that price arbitrage and pay cash and bid up the prices but I think there are other factors that we ignore, especially going back last year and what has happened. I think that there are supply chain issues, labor shortages and the price of lumber has gone up, land prices have gone up. So, there are supply constraints in the market that have led to that increase.”

Has there been a culture clash between the Californians and Nevadans?

Marynia Giren-Navarro, sociology professor, Truckee Meadows Community College: “I’ve definitely been observing a lot of the clashes in the, I want to say, last five or so years; [they] are definitely very visible. You mentioned ‘Californication’ — I heard another term… and that is 'commie-fornication,' bringing communism to Nevada. So, obviously, we know the left using the term Nazi as the ultimate form of insult and the right using the term ‘commie’ as an insult. This is a very strong term. The strongest one I have heard that definitely reflects that the local community here in Reno.”

We may hate the same thing that Californians hate, like plastic bags or straw waste, but when Californians move here they’re called ‘plastic straw-hating liberals.’ Why?

Giren-Navarro: “I think of the important things that differs Nevadans from Californians or other places in the United States has been summed up in an ad campaign… it used the song “Don’t Fence Me In.” I think it sums up a very important… Nevada value… and that is: do not tell me what to do. I think what Nevadans are afraid of when it comes to Californians moving here and imposing, let’s say, a plastic straw ban or any other green bills… is the fact that they’re pushed on us.”

Why were people moving to Nevada before it was even a state?

Michael Green, history professor, UNLV: “From the beginning people settling in Nevada had something to do with California – going or coming. In terms of the Comstock Lode, the capital for the big investments that would be made digging for the silver… really comes from the Bay Area, and people who made their money profiting from the Gold Rush. From the beginning, you’ve got Californians. I’m sure somebody in Virginia City in 1864 was saying, ‘Oh my God! The Californication is going on here!’”

Why are these complaints against Californians are so pronounced now?

Green: "Nevada is changing, I think, in significant ways – culturally, demographically – that resemble California and there’s no question California influences it. So, you do get – call it blowback, call it a response, a reaction – when there are these kinds of changes going on in society. California is a handy target."

What is a Nevadan?

Brian Paco Alvarez, cultural advocate: “We like our land, we like our guns, we like our gambling, we like our prostitution. We like being different from the rest of the country because we’ve pigeon-holed by the rest of the country for decades… When I travel abroad, I don’t tell people I’m from the United States, I tell people I’m from Las Vegas, and people ask, ‘Do you know Wayne Newton?!’ I get a great reaction, almost universally, when I tell people that.”

What influence of Californians do you see culturally?

Alvarez: All you have to do is walk down Main Street in the middle of the Arts District and see the change. The Arts District downtown is the only neighborhood in the city that is not like Las Vegas. When people around the world see us, they see the Strip. That is not Las Vegas. That’s not where the locals live. They live downtown. They live in the suburbs. They live in Henderson. They live in Boulder City or Mesquite. Ten years ago, it was a ghost town on Main Street and now look at it. It looks like Santa Monica. It’s amazing.  

Vivek Sah, real estate professor, UNLV;  Michael Green, associate professor of history, UNLV;  Brian Paco Alvarez, cultural advocate and anthropologist;  Marynia Giren-Navarro, sociology professor, Truckee Meadows Community College


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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.