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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Could fabled invasion be just that?

On this real life Monopoly board we call home, the game token no one wants any part of is the Californian. It’s the one thing on which the dog, the hat, the shoe and the iron agree: When you can’t buy a house and your neighbors plan to subdivide and build hotels, when the only affordable place to lay your weary head is the Short Line Railroad, the Californian gets the blame.

Rumor has it the Californian starts the game with three times the money of any local shoe. He’s played a higher-stakes game elsewhere and migrated here for retirement on our cheap streets.

There’s just enough evidence to make the rumors about Californians more than urban myth. Out-of-staters moving to Spokane County are required to trade in their driver’s licenses for Washington ones within 30 days of moving here. License records show as many Californians trading in their licenses as newcomers from Idaho and Oregon combined, said Randy Barcus, chief economist for Avista Corp.

When Spokanites talk of a rising tide of Californians flooding the local housing market, Barcus doesn’t balk. He does remind them that one in seven Americans lives in California.

“I think the perceptions that we have are pretty accurate,” Barcus said. “The cause, I think, is that there are so many (Californians) in the first place.”

Walk the board, however, and the swell of Californians cursed by locals turns into a mirage. In River Crossing, a Spokane Valley subdivision of shiny new homes, manicured lawns and tiny, shadeless trees, neighbors suspect that a newcomer is from California. She’s the tan, dishwater blonde with the Lexus in her driveway.

“I am not from California. I’m from Belarus,” said Polina Dudla.

Dudla suggests crossing the street and knocking on the door of an even newer couple in the neighborhood, but they are not home. If you strike out across the street, Dudla said, she has a sure place to find the untraceable horde.

“If you want to find Californians, go over by East Valley High School. I know there are Californians over there.”

But at East Valley, where the homes, like the ones in River Crossing, are in the $169,000 range, the neighbors are convinced people from the Golden State are too wealthy to live there. Liberty Lake, they suggest, where every house is within walking distance to a golf course, is the place to find Californians.

And there is a U-Haul with a giant mural of the Golden Gate Bridge parked behind a black metal fence of the Garden Ridge community in Liberty Lake. A shiny new SUV is parked in the driveway. The homes here cost $269,000 or more, but there are no Californians walking the streets.

“I moved here from Vancouver,” said Karen Meek. “I followed my kids. They moved here in March. I moved last week.”

But there are nicer homes to the east, always east in Spokane Valley, toward the Idaho state line where forested hills encircle tiny lakes with mostly private beachfront property. And there are homes right on the golf course.

Californians? No, said a man who stood in the doorway of a $300,000 home a quarter-mile east of Garden Ridge. He checks with his wife to make sure there are no Californians in their neighborhood, then points east.

East, the orange pins marking the holes on MeadowWood Golf Course can be seen between the opulent houses with towering columns of thin stone stacked like layer cake. The nicest homes have driveways of brick instead of concrete, and there are little blue ADT security signs poking from the lawn. The best homes have patios opening onto the ninth “best public golf course” in the state, according to Golf Digest. On the cheap side of the street, away from the golf course, the homes sell for $350,000, roughly 2.3 times the county average.

“Gosh, you know, I don’t think we do have any Californians. Probably if you put that in the newspaper, someone will tell me they are,” said Dawn Wilhelm, who moved to the neighborhood six years ago from Newman Lake. She’s originally from Walla Walla. “There’s a guy down there from Montana.”

Smiling wryly, Wilhelm suggests there must be some secret place for Californians. Undoubtedly, that place is better than anything accessed by public roads.

But it is back at Dudla’s neighborhood in River Crossing, where there is a modest SUV parked in the driveway across the street, that a Californian is found.

The woman, speaking cautiously in the doorway, confirms that all that glitters isn’t golden and she does not want to be named. She and her husband have moved to Spokane Valley for work and to buy a home. They rented in California.

She’s tired of hearing about how wealthy she is and how she is ruining everything. She is no different from half of the people living in Spokane, no different from the woman from Belarus, the one from Walla Walla, or Vancouver, or the man from Montana. For the past 20 years, U.S. Census figures have revealed that 50 percent of us are from someplace else.

We are all just looking for a chance to pass Go and collect $200.