Departing residents cite crime, traffic, politics among factors in exiting the state.
VICTORVILLE, Calif. — Billy Joel’s classic tune “Movin’ Out” could be an appropriate theme song for the many individuals in the High Desert and California who have packed up and relocated to places like Oregon, Michigan, Arizona, Texas and Idaho.
The Golden State continues to rank No. 1 as the state that has waved goodbye to more residents, about 143,000 last year, than welcomed those who have moved here, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.
And despite the state losing 3.5 million people to other states from 2010 to 2015, many demographic experts said there is no mass exodus from California.
But this story is not so much about the amount of Californians leaving but about why so many longtime High Desert residents have moved out of the Victor Valley.
Mike and Velvet Ambuski, from Hesperia, are among those who have relocated because they wanted to live in an area with less crime, better jobs, friendlier people, improved services, less traffic and a more politically conservative atmosphere.
The Ambuskis began their relocation road trip two weeks ago when they drove from California to Velvet’s home state of Michigan, a move Mike Ambuski calls “one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
A former employee at Rancho Motor Company in Victorville, Ambuski, 40, began his new job Monday as parts manager at a Chevy dealership in Ithaca, just a few miles from the home of Velvet’s mother.
“California is just getting too expensive, and the crime in the High Desert is getting worse by the day,” He said. “I think the last straw for us is when (Gov.) Jerry Brown came out with his new fuel taxes and car registration fees.”
A California native who is experiencing his first winter in Michigan, Ambuski said he’s amazed by the culture of Michigan, where “people are nice,” “no one looks at you weird when you wave to them” and everyone is quick to help their neighbor.
“The weather hasn’t been that bad,” he said Thursday, while the high temperature of the day hovered near 20 degrees. “As long as the wind doesn’t blow, we’re good.”
Realtor Karen Sanchez, whose parents recently moved to Texas because the political climate in California “infringed on their personal rights,” said there is a “steady flow” of people moving out and moving into the High Desert and California.
“Prop. 47 made a huge impact in our area, and people are feeling uncomfortable and unsafe because crime is going up,” Sanchez said. “It’s unsettling to hear that someone was murdered last night, but in reality, this is still a very safe area compared to many places in California.”
Passed by California voters in November 2014, Prop. 47 reduces certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors. It also requires misdemeanor sentencing for petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging/writing bad checks when the amount involved is $950 or less.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said in 2017 that violent crime had risen over 20 percent in the High Desert since just a year earlier, the Daily Press reported.
With 33 murders last year in the High Desert, the area’s homicide rate jumped by 11 from the previous year, with Victorville seeing nearly half the homicides, with 15 reported. The city’s total equaled the combined number of homicides reported in the city in 2015 and 2016.
McKenzie and Christine Weisman, of Victorville, decided to move back to their home state of Oregon after living in the High Desert for years.
“I came back to be with my mother, who is not doing well, just about the same time McKenzie’s company had an opening for him here,” Christine Weisman said. “Kenzie is working at the new Winco that is located between both our parents. We also live in Beaverton, where we had our son, Luke, buried.”
Before leaving, Christine Weisman said the couple had multiple conversations about moving because of the “worsening crime” in the Victor Valley, adding that, “You can only tell your scared kids so many times that gunshots are fireworks.
“It seemed like the sheriff’s helicopter was always flying over our house, with the bullhorn blaring some kind of announcement,” Weisman said. “I think the only things I miss are my friends and the sun.”
Weisman’s said she was “surprised and blessed” when she received a call from a fellow mother who asked her about the “760 area code” on a birthday party invitation her daughter had received.
“I called her back and found out her and her husband both attended Hesperia Christian School,” Weisman said. “We go to the same church with them, our kids go to the same school and we hang out all the time. Crazy how they knew exactly why we wanted to leave the High Desert.”
A retired sheriff’s deputy who wished to remain anonymous told the Daily Press “the increase in crime” in the Victor Valley was one of the main reasons he and his wife moved out of the High Desert.
“My wife couldn’t even go shopping at Winco without being accosted,” he said. “Something has to change when you don’t feel safe in public.”
Another “major trend” is parents moving out of the High Desert to be with their adult children and grandchildren, said Sanchez, who listed several couples who have left their own empty nests.
After 47 years of living in Apple Valley, David Rinne, 55, said he decided to move to Salem, Oregon, the land of streams, pine trees, canyons, wildlife and 10-minute wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Despite revealing that his heart will “always be in the High Desert,” Rinne said he’s heartbroken by the “growing news reports” of shootings, vandalism, theft and crime in the Victor Valley.
“It’s much safer here and people are more respectful and not so wound up,” Rinne said. “People give you a break in traffic, seeing a doctor doesn’t require a lot of waiting, the scenery is beautiful and car registration for any vehicle is set at $86 for two years. It really is a blessing to be here.”
A retired contractor who painted “thousands of homes and businesses” over the decades, Rinne said he hung up his sprayer and brushes when he became disabled. This allowed him and his wife, Mary, the “freedom” to move north when their son Dustin, 29, and his fiance, Brittany, moved to Oregon and had their daughter, Kaidynce.
“Dustin is a certified welder, and he moved to his fiance’s home state about three years ago because there weren’t any good-paying jobs in the High Desert,” Rinne said. “There was nothing holding Mary and I back, so we decided to make the move, too. My wife was also determined to be with the new grandbaby.”
Rinne is one of several former residents who said they saved money in their move by selling most of their belongings and purchasing a large storage trailer for under $3,000.
“We took what we needed, loaded our cars onto to the trailer and headed out,” Rinne said. “I think we saved about $1,000 even after we bought new furnishings.”
Rinne said his son, David Jr., 35, and his family are eyeing a move from the High Desert to Idaho for work in the aeronautics industry, adding that his son is “just plain tired of the High Desert.”
“I miss the rock climbing, the weather, our dirt bikes, the proximity to the mountains, the beach and down the hill, but the High Desert just isn’t what it used to be. And I don’t believe it was designed to hold so many people,” David Rinne said. “I’m just glad Dustin, his fiance, our granddaughter and the Lord paved the way for all us to move out of California.”
Several people told Sanchez the passing of Prop. 64 (legalizing recreational marijuana use), the state’s acceptance of cannabis business and California’s liberal leanings are forcing people to pack up and “vote with their feet.
“I’ve had dozens of people tell me they’d leave if they could,” Sanchez said. “We still have people moving here, but the High Desert is experiencing a huge cultural shift.”
Rene Ray De La Cruz is a reporter for the Victorville (Calif.) Daily Press.