Her son, Lionel, is still under a year old, so Kayla Ellis is glad she has had the chance to step back from her hairdressing work and spend some time as a stay-at-home mom.
But even if she went back to work part time, the Santa Rosa mother, 23, figures all of her pay would go right into child care, anyway.
Her husband's job as a Dish Network technician pays well, Ellis said during an outing with Lionel at their neighborhood park. But still, "I struggle big time," she said. "It's just expensive to live here."
Santa Rosa's comparatively high cost-of-living isn't exactly news. But is it enough to warrant recognition as a horrible place to have a child — seventh worst in the country?
That's what they would have you believe at the Daily Beast — an online news source founded by Tina Brown, who also is editor of Newsweek and former editor of New Yorker and Vanity Fair — which recently placed Santa Rosa among the "15Worst Cities to Have a Baby."
The Beast combined cost estimates for baby's first year with median household incomes in 40 metropolitan statistical areas around the nation to help develop its rankings, taking into account four additional factors for each city: the number of obstetric/gynecology practitioners, percentage of population under 5 years old, average commute time and the number of playgrounds per 10,000 people.
New York City earned first — or, really, worst — place, followed by Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Hagerstown, Md., and Worcester, Mass., in the five spots at the top, aka the bottom.
It gave Santa Rosa slightly more favorable treatment than Miami but suggested that Modesto, while bad, was not as unappealing as Santa Rosa, "the city designed for living."
The Beast used $32,000 as the estimated cost of a baby's first year, including increased energy use and the cost of an additional bedroom, as calculated by Redfin, a real estate web site. That's about 52 percent of the average household's income, according to the Daily Beast.
Public airing of the list — which includes San Francisco, Boston, Portland and Chicago — has opened the door to local debate that has critics bashing Santa Rosa for everything from gangs and graffiti to schools that some contend don't make the grade.
"It's awful," said Brandi Ramos, who has a 1-year-old and a baby on the way. She says the presence of gangs, prostitution, drugs and graffiti near and around her south Santa Rosa neighborhood has her rethinking how long she'll stay.
But defense of the city has been spirited, as well, with many citing the limited criteria used to determine which cities were included on the list and the failure of its creators to consider a host of factors that draw folks to the area.
"It's more than just about money when you're raising your kids," said Santa Rosa attorney Jenica Hutchison. "It's about community ... and we really love our community here and the ability to travel to the beach within half an hour and to the snow. You get life experiences from that."
Kat Hollowell, publicity chairwoman for the Santa Rosa Mother's Club and mother of a 2-year-old and 4-month-old, said parenting groups in the area offer valuable support to those raising some of the 4,593 babies the county says were born in the city last year.