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For Anne and I, we're constantly finding new reasons why we love living on Alameda, California. Honestly, Alameda maybe one of the best kept secrets of the entire bay area and honestly under looked. Nonetheless, we know this tiny island of ours isn't for everyone. Here are a couple of points one should consider before relocating, including the downsides, of living in Alameda.
1. Alameda is a Large Suburb, Not an Exciting City or Quite Suburb
While Alameda has some big city problems, rent control being the biggest issue for our island, Alameda is considered a large suburban city. For a year, we had a recent college graduate living upstairs, but she found that Alameda was far from the city life she imagined when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. After her lease was up, she was on her way to the city of San Francisco.
The summer before Anne and I moved to Alameda, we actually lived in the Sunset District of San Francisco. What we couldn't get over was how convenient it was. We lived incredibly close to restaurants, grocery stores, and parks. We also loved how just a few blocks away, there would be another neighborhood with its own pocket of restaurants and stores. It almost feels like one could spend their whole lives in San Francisco and never visit every little neighborhood.
Alameda, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward. There are two main streets, Park St. and Webster Ave., with restaurants and bars and four main shopping plazas with supermarkets, restaurants, and general shopping. There will be more in the future with the expansion of the old Naval base, but the city planning of Alameda is fairly straight forward.
At the same time, Alameda is not a quaint little suburb like cities further east, such as Danville or Alamo. For the most part, we don't have beautiful manicured front yards and sprawling backyards. Probably the biggest distinction is that we have some real crime on Alameda.
I was surprised to read a police report about prostitution on the island. I believe in 2016 we had two or three bank robberies. Within a week, DUIs, vandalism, assault, and break-ins are extremely common on the Alameda Police Blotter. Unfortunately, this is the reality of Alameda, California, despite how safe it generally feels, but maybe that's just relative. Compared to Oakland and most of San Francisco, Alameda feels safer, but is far from being a safe little town.
A new and very concerning trend is pedestrians being hit by vehicles. From September to November 2019, 7 children were hit by vehicles. At the beginning of 2020, Alameda had 2 fatalities from pedestrians being hit by vehicles. Most recently, Alameda County Supervisor, Wilma Chan, was killed at a crosswalk at Shoreline Dr. and Grand Ave November 4th, 2021. "More people are killed and injured by people driving in Alameda than any other type of illegal activity,” according to Alameda City Councilperson John Knox White.
Just today (2/17/2022), my mom was crossing the street at the crosswalk in front of Kaiser in Alameda and a person in a car yelled at her because they said she wasn't looking and they still didn't even stop. Yep, the person literally committing a moving offense yelled at my 72 years old mother.
On Jan 22, 2022 Alameda Police, with support from other local police, wrote 109 tickets in one day. That doesn't include the number of drivers stopped without being ticketed and of course only includes traffic violations witnessed by law enforcement.
From a personal experience, I can tell you that when we moved to Alameda around 2015, it was the year I truly started hated driving because of how terrible & rude the drivers are in this area. It's not all drivers, but there's just enough inconsiderate, objectively criminal (according to traffic laws), drivers to make driving around Alameda/Oakland versus suburbs like Orinda and beyond much more pleasant. I even ended up selling our car, hoping to depend on public transportation or ride share, but then we ended up having our first baby and found having a car at the house essential.
3. Commute Time
If you work near Downtown San Francisco, especially along The Embarcadero, then Alameda is a fairly good location because of the San Francisco Ferry, though a round-trip will cost $10.80 with a Clipper Card, which is twice the cost of taking BART from stations around Oakland. The SF Ferry ride is a 20 minute ride, but when considering driving to the ferry terminal, finding parking, waiting and walking, I'm sure the door-to-door is 45 minutes to 1 hour if you work in Downtown.
For those relocating outside of the Bay Area and not familiar with the geography, if you're working in the Silicon Valley, then commuting from Alameda is probably not advisable. We use to host an Airbnb space and we've literally had guests who live in San Jose who simply stayed because they didn't want to drive back at night.
If you're working out towards Walnut Creek or Pleasanton, then the benefit of Alameda is the reverse commute, except for the 880 freeway which has traffic in both directions during commuting hours. Oddly enough, I've met several Kaiser Permanente doctors working in Walnut Creek or Pleasanton who commute from Alameda or are looking for houses here. The commute time, by car, is probably similar to Downtown San Francisco, which I estimate to be around 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Both High Schools on Alameda rank in the top 10 percentile according to US New & Reports High School Ranking, but Alameda High School does rank significantly better at 1,104 nationally, while Encinal Junior/Senior High ranks 2,389 nationally. In other words, Alameda High School's rank places it in the top 4.4% of all U.S. high schools, while Encinal Junior/Senior High School sits in the top 9.6% nationwide. The student body of both high schools are so diverse, not only ethnically but also economically, and really the results are so impressive that it really makes Alameda extremely special. While there are certainly high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area that rank higher, in many ways those schools don't really represent anything but people of privilege. While Alameda, we're ranking in the top 10% in the country with a student body that truly represents California and I think that's something to be proud about.
Alameda California Map Print SHOP HERE
If you hate diversity, then stay away from Alameda, California. Just like the City of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, the majority of citizens on Alameda will speak out against discrimination of any kind.
One big issue we've seen in the Bay Area are people migrating from more conservative parts of the state/country trying to impose their values on a very historically liberal area. As you can guess, these people tend to end up on viral news stories and, for lack for a better phrase, ran out of town.
For example, some people may believe that being "gay friendly" means simply means supporting same sex marriage, but when it comes to showing public displays of affection, it should be kept in private. Meanwhile, in the San Francisco and Alameda, being LBGTQ Friendly means that they should have all the same rights as any heterosexual couple, which means being able to have public displays of affection and not having to behave like they are some kind of second-class citizen.
In more quantitative terms, in the 2016 General Election, 83% of Alameda voter's were for Clinton, 11% for Donald Trump, and 3.2% for Jill Stein representing the Green Party. We've had cases of anti-islam and racist events, especially after Trump's election win, but the City of Alameda and its citizens have always stood behind the victims of such events.
During the George Floyd protests, Alameda had its own, although much smaller, peaceful protest. On the other hand, while the City of Alameda is approximately 50% White, 30% Asian, 12% Hispanic or Latino, and 7% Black or African American, there is plenty of "self-segregation" that occurs. I would bet that most White residents don't actually socialize with minorities and vice-versa. But honestly, that's true of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, etc. So, while Alameda is much better than many places in the USA and in the Bay Area, the reality is still what it is.
On a side note, we were contacted by an extremely prestigious, world renowned design company in San Francisco. After researching the company, it turned out literally all 12 upper management were Caucasian, with literally no ethnic minorities in those positions. If you look at the demographic makeup of the SF Bay Area, that should be statistically impossible. There were plenty of minorities in "lower" positions, but not top management. I mentioned this to my brother who's in the corporate world and he's told me that's pretty much the case everywhere in the Bay Area. Anyway, just a little point about "lifting the veil" on the Bay Area and its form of Liberalism. Especially when it comes to money and schools, it's kind of a farce.
But, as I mentioned with the schools, maybe that's changing as we speak.
6. Local Politics
Alameda local politics is "something else." I will not say much about it, but a quick google search of the city counsel members, as well as the former Mayor, will probably cause some emotional response if you care about local politics. All I can say is that greed, corruption, etc exists no matter how "liberal" and quaint a city may seem, but it's also not any worse than any Republican lead areas.
7. Earthquakes & Liquefaction
As one of the few households in California to actual buy earthquake insurance, as well as retrofit our house, I can attest that this is a very serious consideration buyers and potential residents have to think about. According to the USGC, a large part of Alameda is expected to liquefy in an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude. Who knows what the prediction is for anything above that.
That's because a lot of the structures on the island are built on Artificial Fill over Estuarine Mud. Yep, mud. There's no good way to put it. Then there's part of the island that is built on top of Dune Sand. Still not great, but the USGC predicts that less than one percent of that land will liquefy in 7.1 magnitude while 73% of the land in the "mud" will liquefy.
Also according to the USGC, the chance of an earthquake 6.7 magnitude or greater in the San Francisco Bay Area in the next 24 years is greater than 99%. I remember hearing that the chances of dying in the next big earthquake is not big, but the chances of going bankrupt is enormous.
As I alluded to, the price of earthquake insurance is extremely expensive on Alameda, especially with all the new liquefaction data. With our original policy, the premium per year would be $4,300! But, we're scaling it back to the bare minimum and hopefully that gets it down to closer to $2,000-2,500/year and that's still with a 25% deductible, which is the highest one can select. I'm just hoping that a SBA Disaster Loan will cover the deductible since we don't even remotely have enough savings in that amount. Nonetheless, that's the plan. Like I said, take the earthquake scenario, especially if you're buying, very seriously.
8. Wildfire Season & Air Quality
Large California wildfires have become the norm because of climate change, poor forest management, downed power lines, and basically a super pissed off mother nature throwing lightning in basically drought conditions. We had a record setting 30 consecutive "spare the air" days, which are days that are unhealthy and residents are asked to reduce air pollution.
Fortunately, in Alameda, the danger of an actual wildfire tearing through our city like it did in Paradise, CA is basically zero. In reality, we could use more trees on the island. The only thing that truly effects life on the island is the resulting air quality from wildfires sometimes hundreds of miles away.
This new era of Northern California wildfires started for us in 2017. In a sick sense of irony, that was when the entire San Francisco Bay Area started learning about N95 masks and how those were the only masks that actually protected your lungs from the poor air quality. In a way, it gave a lot of Bay Area residents a head start when COVID-19 hit the USA, especially those, like us, who had a stash to prepare for wildfire season. Not a big stash, but better than nothing.
I'm sure there will be some years where we'll get a reprieve, but climate scientists at UC Berkeley and Stanford both agree that it's only going to get worse in the future and that 2020 will actually be considered a good year.
Especially during COVID-19, where getting a real N95 is nearly impossible, deciding if you'd like to relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area really means considering the possibility that at least one month out of the year you'll be trapped indoors and if do go outside for prolonged exposure, then you'll be possibly permanently damaging you and especially your children's lungs. But, other parts of countries are experiencing other climate disasters, so it's basically trying to choose the one you can best live with and honestly the SF Bay Area might have the best option since the severity of wildfire season really changes year to year.
9. COVID-19 Response
If there's one thing the pandemic taught us, it's that a city/county/state response to the pandemic is a reflection of that city/county/state belief system. The city and county of Alameda has the strictest masking and vaccine mandate in the entire country and I'm personally happy for it, especially with an unvaccinated newborn. The city is supporting restaurants pretty strongly with outdoor dining and pick-up "infrastructure." I would even argue that some restaurants have even more seating now than they did before the pandemic.
Anecdotally, there's hasn't been more restaurant closures than before the pandemic. Before the pandemic, there were plenty of restaurants shuttering and a new one to take over right away. The rate of change seems pretty much exactly the same as before.
As you can guess, one can't compare entertainment options of the Alameda, Oakland, Berkeley area to San Francisco, but it's a huge leap compared to the Tri-Valley (Walnut Creek area), Peninsula or even the South Bay. San Jose may be one of the most boring big cities in the world.
Before the Golden State Warrior and Oakland Raiders move, one could argue that Alameda was one of the most convenient cities for sports entertainment. With both those teams out of Oakland and the majority of concerts that were held at the Oracle Arena now at the Chase Center in San Francisco, big ticket entertainment options have taken a big hit for the East Bay.
Fortunately, we still have the Oakland Athletics and, if you're comfortable planning at the last minute, it's one of the most affordable professional sporting event one can attend in the Bay Area. Anne and I sat first row behind the visitors dugout for $40 total. That was exceptionally lucky, but we get $15-20 seats regularly, which is pretty much the same price as an opening night movie ticket. It's about 15-20 minutes drive to the ballpark and then a 10 minute walk from the "secret" free parking lot.
I really don't know how one could live so close to Oakland Coliseum and be a San Francisco Giants fan, but there is a special ferry on game days that goes from Alameda Main Street Terminal directly to the ballpark, whatever it's called now. Just remember you have to buy online ahead of time, rather than showing up at the pier.
I have only been to the Chase Center once, but getting to the Chase Center from Alameda isn't particularly fast, convenient, or cheap compared to the Oakland Coliseum/Oracle Arena.
As a pretty big music fanatic, the Fox Theater, only 15 minutes drive from Central Alameda, is absolutely amazing. I would say most shows are more "mainstream indie," if that actually makes sense. I've seen a handful of shows there in just the last two years and, with last minute tickets, it's as cheap and casual as going to see a movie. For larger shows at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, we drive or Uber to East Oakland BART and BART into the city, generally within 40 minutes.
While driving into the city during nights is pretty fast, 20-25 minutes, it's always the parking that'll eat up all your time during events. Places like the Mission District, one can circle for parking for 30 minutes or more looking for street parking. But if you're going to a quieter neighborhood for dinner, then it's not too bad coming in from Alameda, especially on a week night.
Having mentioned movies a couple of times, Alameda has probably one of the nicest historical movie theaters anywhere. There's another historic theater at the top of Lake Merritt in Oakland and my wife, Anne, felt silk because of the smell of the upholstery. I guess that place is a bit too historic. In additional to the historic theater, there are 7 additional screens in the "cineplex." I've actually never been there on a weekend, but $5.50 all days tuesdays is a huge bargain with "freeish" parking; they give you a 3 hour voucher for a future visit. There's no IMAX or reclining seats, but it's a great movie theater for the size of our community.
In terms of dinning options, the variety is pretty strong, especially for Asian cuisine. We have the main culprits, pizza, hamburgers, chain fast-foods (even an In-N-Out and a Wienerschnitzel), sandwich shops, Italian, Mexican, "American," breakfast diners, Chinese, and Japanese. But on top of that, we have Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Lao, Cambodian, Mediterranean, Poke, Korean, Lithuanian, etc. Not only that, but we have Japanese places that just serve Ramen, Chinese places that just serve hand-pulled noodles, Mexican places that are popular for their soups and sandwiches, Vietnamese places that just serve seafood boils, and more. There are a handful of restaurant that are extremely popular in Oakland that decided to expand to Alameda before opening up in other parts of the Bay Area.
That's just Alameda, if we include Oakland and Emeryville, then your options are hugely expanded. Similar to San Francisco, it would take a huge effort to get through all the restaurants in Oakland and Berkeley neighborhoods.
Oh yeah, let's not forget about Crown Memorial State Beach. While it's a beach facing the bay, unlike San Francisco where you're getting majestic Pacific Ocean view, it's a pretty great spot. On hot weekends, you're getting "out-of-towners" from all over the East Bay, but on weekdays, it's pretty much all for Alameda residents and loyalists. Washington Park is the main park with a really popular dog park, baseball field, and tennis courts, but Alameda has plenty of other smaller neighborhood parks that are pretty quiet, clean, and safe.