For Anne and I, we're constantly finding new reasons why we love living on Alameda, California, but 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 is a safe haven, 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. It has resulted in more visible police presence around Alameda, but it's hard to say how long that will last. (Update: the shelter-in-place due to COVID-19 seems to have made this a non-issue for the time being)
But, it is also worth noting that the Alameda Police Department is currently embroiled in its own scandal, which you can read about here.
According to NeighborhoodScout.com, Alameda has a crime index of 24 out of 100, 100 being the safest. In comparison, Oakland has a crime index of 1, San Francisco a 2, and Danville a 57.
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 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.
Public schools on Alameda are truly a hit and miss. For example, according to US New & Report High School Ranking, Alameda High is ranked #129 in California, #28 in the San Francisco Bay Area Metro, and #908 in the USA. With about 24,121 Public Secondary Schools in the USA, Alameda High is in the top 4% of all public high schools, which is statistically outstanding.
Unfortunately for Anne and I, if we ever have kids, then they would end up in Encinal High School. Encinal High is ranked #394 in California, #58 in the San Francisco Bay Area Metro, and #2666 in the USA. Encinal's College Readiness Rank is 3,012 vs Alameda High's 732, which is truly the story of Alameda as a city; A Tale of Two Cities.
If you have or plan on having children, then you have the potential to being in a great school system, average school school, or below average school system. The only place on Alameda, which almost isn't Alameda, that have both great elementary to high school is Bay Farm Island. Otherwise, if you're on the actual island, then you have the potential of your kids going to a great elementary, average middle school, and then below average high school or vice versa.
One of the nicest areas on the island with some of the most expensive houses, The Gold Coast, is a prime example of this. Houses in the neighborhood start at a little over $1mm, but regularly reach nearly $3mm, but is still allocated to Encinal High. So, while the neighborhood has one of the best elementary schools on the island, the high school is still Encinal. For that reason, if you talk to parents in the neighborhood, then they will say they send their children to private school. After all, they generally can afford it.
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.
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.
Right now, during the George Floyd protests happening globally, 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.
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.
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 these last five years 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're just coming out of 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.
While we did get a nice break in 2019, the 2020 wildfire season made up for that in a huge way. While the wildfires in 2017 and 2018 started in October and November, this year's fires started on August 28, 2020. There's a decent chance that wildfire season is going to continue for the next couple of months.
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.
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.
I like to to think that one of the best parts of Alameda is Anne Wesley. We craft made-to-order, handmade, personalized leather gifts right in our workshop on Alameda. While we ship worldwide, we always welcome San Francisco Bay Area Locals to come pick-up their gifts from our lovely 1881 Italianate Victorian Home.