West Coast Exodus: Idaho becomes an ‘expat’ community for families fleeing these states

West Coast Exodus: Idaho becomes an ‘expat’ community for families fleeing these states

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This story is the first in a series examining the mass migration of West Coast residents to Idaho.

SANDPOINT, Idaho — Taylor grinned at his parents as he rolled away on his push bike, the gravel crunching under the wheels. The three-and-a-half-year-old was on her way to play with friends who live a few houses away at the end of their quiet cul-de-sac in North Idaho.

“He can just take off on his bike and it’s so safe,” said Ashley Manning, his mother. “Everyone just pays attention to him.”

“It was the best experience,” she added.

It’s a scenario she can’t imagine playing out in their old neighborhood in Portland, Oregon.

Manning, her husband Nick Kostenborder and then-nine-month-old Taylor packed up and moved east in 2021. That same year, families from Seattle and San Diego also arrived on their way near Sandpoint.

“It’s kind of a weird little expat group that we all encountered here,” Kostenborder said.

Boy rides a push bike on a dirt road

Taylor, 3, rides his push bike to a friend’s house on April 26, 2024, near Sandpoint, Idaho. He and his parents moved to small-town Idaho in 2021, seeking freedoms that they felt Portland no longer offered. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)


Gem State growth

Idaho’s population increased by more than 12% between 2018 and 2023, making it one of the fastest growing states in the country. Most of the growth is due to people moving in; local real estate agent Trent Grandstaff estimates that 98% of his clients come from outside Idaho.

Although they come from all over the country and even the world, the West Coast dominates immigration.

“California, Washington and Oregon – those are the top three states that people are coming from,” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond told Fox News Digital.

In Sandpoint, a small city that saw its population grow by nearly 13% between 2020 and 2022, Mayor Jeremy Grimm said many new residents he speaks to are looking for a community and government that is more “in line with their political philosophies’.

“It’s mostly big cities … or just outside of big cities where they go, ‘I don’t like what’s going on. I don’t want my guns taken away. Take me to Idaho,'” said Grandstaff. .

Number of movers over California, Oregon and Washington

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey, Idaho has seen the most inbound movements from California, Washington and Oregon, respectively. (Ramiro Vargas/Fox News Digital)


The rapid growth is not without disadvantages. Home prices have soared, new developments are sprouting in open fields and previously forested areas, and there are more cars on the roads.

“When people grow up in a wide-open space like this, they get used to having room to move around,” said Bonner County Commissioner Luke Omodt. “And we struggle with the fact that there are other people who want to share the same beauty that we do.”

What drives people away from their home states?

Cost limit took Oregon’s natural beauty for granted as a child growing up on the outskirts of Salem.

“It’s one of the best places on earth,” he said, recalling the times he and his friends jumped off low bridges into the Santiam River or water skied on Detroit Lake.

He grew up conservative listening to Rush Limbaugh in his father’s work truck. As an adult, he drifted toward libertarianism, moving to Portland and playing drums in a series of bands. He didn’t mind his political views being considered fringe in the blue stronghold because he felt like he was “participating in the marketplace of ideas.”

“When the lockdowns happened, the market was closed,” he said. ‘If you want to (transfer) children or whatever, you can say that all you want. But if you question the lockdowns or the mask mandates, you will be banned.”


With a baby on the way in the summer of 2020 — which coincided with protests and riots that lasted more than 100 consecutive nights — Kostenborder said his eyes were opened to other issues in the City of Roses.

“If I had had a child, I probably would have noticed it a few years earlier,” he said. “You’re worried about someone other than yourself. So you start to notice threats more. For example, it’s no longer charming to let the homeless person sleep in front of the supermarket. Now it’s like, okay, this could actually be dangerous .”

Portlanders have ranked homelessness and crime in numerous surveys as the top issues facing the region. They have also become increasingly pessimistic about the direction of their city: according to DHM Research, only 21% say the city was on the right track by 2023, compared to more than 70% in the 1990s.

“That’s really, really bad historically,” said John Horvick, senior vice president of DHM Research. “Now you walk around town, go to church, talk to your friends at the bar and pretty much everyone has a negative feeling about things. It’s a whole different world.”

Oregon’s strict pandemic restrictions and mask mandates — which would last until spring 2022 — were the final straw for Manning and Kostenborder.

“The main goal was for (Taylor) to have a normal childhood,” Kostenborder said. “We want him to go to church. We want him to go to the park and play with friends. We don’t want our child to spend the first two years of his life without seeing human faces. We won’t take that chance.”

So in April 2021, they sold their newly renovated home in Northeast Portland and moved to Sandpoint.

Cost limit for family photos

Nick Kostenborder and Ashley Manning said they didn’t think their son could have a normal childhood in Oregon. They visited North Idaho in the fall of 2020 and moved to Sandpoint a few months later. (Thanks to Nick Kostenborder)


Bryan Zielinski and his wife considered moving from the Seattle area to Idaho for about six years. He was the general manager of one of the largest independent gun shops in western Washington, a place where it’s not easy to be a conservative.

“Everything is political,” Zielinski said. “Whether it’s the car you drive, where you work. You wear a mask, you don’t wear a mask.”

Zielinski said a victim culture was also growing in the Evergreen State.

“So much so that you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone without getting the term ‘fascist’ or ‘racist’ or whatever thrown at you just by trying to state your opinion or what you believed as fact,” said he. .

He had a front-row seat as Washington’s restrictions on firearms accelerated. Lawmakers banned the sale of magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds in 2022. The following spring, they banned the sale or import of “assault weapons” — mainly semiautomatic rifles — and many of the parts used to build them.

Between COVID restrictions, education policies and new gun laws, the political climate in Washington was “reaching a crescendo,” Zielinski said.

This June will mark one year since his family moved to Idaho, and just over four months since he opened North Idaho Arms in Post Falls.

Man holds AR-15 in gun shop

Bryan Zielinski grew up in Washington state and previously managed a large gun store in the Seattle area. He and his family left the Evergreen State in 2023 and just opened North Idaho Arms in Post Falls, Idaho. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)


He has been back to Washington a few times since moving.

“Everything is honking, people screaming, homeless people, tents everywhere,” he said. “It’s terrible.”

The migration trend is expected to continue

Local real estate agents like Grandstaff and Seth Horst don’t see an end to the migration anytime soon, despite rising home prices and interest rates.

“We get calls every day from people interested in moving here,” Horst said. “They’re willing to do anything, it seems, to find a place for their children where they can raise them safely. And I think that’s kind of a trend that’s going to continue for a while.”

Horst understands that urge well: After working as an officer in the California Highway Patrol for about fourteen years, his family bought a house sight unseen in Coeur d’Alene in the fall of 2020, sold their home in Chico, and moved near the end of the year. Now he is co-owner Your North Idaho Agent, a real estate team made up of former first responders, said April was the busiest month yet.

“My wife was really pushing, ‘Hey, we have to get out of here because California doesn’t feel safe anymore,’” he recalls. “We felt like we were losing a lot of our freedoms in terms of medical freedom and choosing where our kids went to school, what happened at school, things like that.”

Real estate agent Seth Horst

Seth Horst and his family moved from Chico, California, to Coeur d’Alene Idaho in September 2020. Now he co-owns Your North Idaho Agent and runs a podcast and YouTube channel called Residing in North Idaho. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)


The family briefly thought of Bend, Oregon, but when they got there, they immediately noticed the tents and dilapidated RVs.

“The homeless population looked exactly like California,” Horst said.

“I’m not mean, but I just don’t want to raise my family like that,” he said.

A friend suggested the family visit Coeur d’Alene, a town Horst had previously imagined as “some podunk town.” Instead, he discovered a vibrant downtown area nestled on the shores of Idaho’s second-largest lake. He remembers walking to the water’s edge and staring in awe at the trees and hills.

“I knew right away,” he said. “This is where we need to be.”

Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.