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The “best cities in America” rankings are often nonsense

Posted by John T. Reed on

The San Ramon, CA public library is open Saturdays and Sundays. Why is that significant? It means the municipal government has a lot of money.

Best city in CA for finding a job

My local paper today said WalletHub says San Ramon is the best city in CA for finding a job. Since CA has for years been the best state for finding a job (I assume), that’s saying something.

In October, Safewise said San Ramon was the third safest city in CA and the second safest in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In September, WalletHub said San Ramon was the best place to raise a family in the Bay Area and the second best in CA.

Been there

San Ramon is two towns south of where I live. I coached football there for six years. All three of my sons played youth football there. My oldest son went to middle school there and actually attended the high school in 8th grade to take geometry with 10th graders. My middle son went to the high school there for his senior year. We shop there, eat there, see doctors there. Know it well.

RIch businesses there, not rich residents

Why is San Ramon government so rich? Not because the people who live there are rich. Median family income was $129,062 which is more than double the national average but no great shakes for this area. And there are no high priced-homes there.

Median home price there is $1M, which is not high for here. My town of Alamo is $1.7M and the town between Alamo and San Ramon is Danville with a median value of $1.2 M. Highest prices are a market indicator of who’s best and the market is more honest than some ivory tower weighted ranking.

But San Ramon DOES have Bishop Ranch. That is a huge office park with huge HQ offices of Toyota, AT&T, GE Digital, 24-hour Fitness, Chevron, Robert Half. I surmise the taxes paid by that park are the source of the town’s government wealth. The top executives who WORK there almost certainly do not LIVE there.

The best public high schools here are Miramonte (my oldest son), San Ramon Valley (in Danville, my middle son went there for two and a half years), Monte Vista (my youngest son went there), Acalanes, and Northgate. The San Ramon high school is named California High (because the San Ramon name was already taken), and their test scores are lower. The top home price areas generally coincide with the top test scores.

Not on the freeway

Why is it so safe? I do not know. I used to lived in Rheem which had the second lowest crime rate in the Bay Area. Why? We were not next to the freeway. Indeed, there were two roads into Rheem, both low-speed limit mountain roads with switchbacks. Criminals like EZ in EZ out highways. 

San Ramon has the EZ stuff. I-680 roars through it; so do several other local roads including a frontage road along the Interstate. I suspect the word “safest” is defined differently from the phrase “lowest crime.” I am skeptical about it being safe.

Regarding best place to raise a family... It seems a relatively young city with lots of households with K-12 kids. The more expensive towns probably have an older average age of the homeowners. Because of all their municipal money to keep the library open, they also have lots of parks and schools, police. But I think you have to give the raise-a-family award to the best school districts. San Ramon is just above average, not the best.

What ain’t they got? BART, a main street, or any soul. The big, popular in terms of number of users, commuter train is BART. My wife went to work on it in SF for decades. But it sort of forks out of Oakland going north, east, and south. San Ramon is southeast of Oakland putting it between two prongs of the fork. Residents of San Ramon have to drive south to Dublin or north to Walnut Creek to take BART.

Not incorporated until 1983

San Ramon apparently was one of the last farm areas to be developed here. It was not incorporated until 1983. It has been said that LA is a hundred suburbs in search of a city. San Ramon is a dozen shopping centers in search of a main street. They have been whining about that for years. They finally “fixed” it with a shopping center called—aspirationally—City Center. 

Ha! Nice try. But just building another shopping center and calling it City Center does not make it city center. I went there. It looks like a four-sided Pentagon: forbidding, facing inward to a courtyard that cannot be seen from the outside. It is mainly vacant stores. Reminds me of the similarly, perennially failed Blackhawk Shopping Center in Danville that also faces inward like a mall.

Nowhere to have a parade

In contrast, adjacent Danville has a main street with century-old houses that have been converted to stores, old-time storefronts, the old train station. The annual local 4th of July Parade is there and that downtown is perfect for that parade. There is NOWHERE to have a parade in San Ramon. 

When Sully Sullenberger, who lived in San Ramon, was honored, they had to do it on the lawn of the Danville Public Library, which was previously where my oldest son tried out for youth football and got cut (he was later an Ivy League tailback), where he and I had our most fun baseball season (I coached, he played), and where his wedding ceremony was held. The San Ramon library is in a shopping center and has no lawn.

The lack of a main street is a big part of the no-soul problem. What is San Ramon famous for? Nothing. What are San Ramon people like? Generic, vanilla, bland. When you create a city on orchard land long after society moved to the suburbs, long after lots of people have graduated from urban planning programs, you get a hodge podge of strip shopping centers, parks, and cul de sac residential housing developments of one and two story houses; few apartments. There is no skyline, no center, no identity. It is a place that only a city-planner could love. If San Ramon were a car, it would be a loaded Taurus.

Resigned to mediocrity

One big problem I had there as a coach was a defeatist attitude about athletics. Cal High was never a contender until a football coach named Tony Sanchez arrived in the 2000s I think. He is now the head coach at UNLV I think. I do not recall Cal High doing that great since he left.

My San Ramon youth football teams were affluent white with maybe one or two blacks. The San Ramon parents said we can’t beat the black teams from Oakland, Richmond, and Berkeley because they are almost all black and the fastest players are faster than our fastest players (true, but not dispositive) and they are tougher because they grew up on the mean streets of those cities and our kids are coddled and sheltered. The latter was bull. The inner city teams had a drastic lack of fathers and money. Their coaches had to go around town begging for money for the team. Our players had fathers. (One of them was black and later the long-time mayor of San Ramon. He never made any such comments.)

My youth team (which my oldest son was on) got killed by those inner city teams before I became a coach or coordinator there. After I became a coordinator, we routinely beat Richmond and Berkeley. I never beat Oakland, but the first year I was a defensive coordinator on the youth team, Oakland scored a TD on the first play of the game. The score near the end of the game was still 6-0. They were unable to run for the extra point. They managed another TD when our subs had to go in at the end of the fourth quarter.

After the game, the Oakland coaches came out for the handshake exclaiming, “Who’s the defensive coordinator?” They were pointed to me and came to me saying, “Man, last year, we-mercy ruled you 35-0 at half time, but now you’re right there! If your offense was even average, you would have beaten us today. Nobody holds us to six points for three and three-fourths quarters!”

San Ramon people had a “Yeah, we’re mediocre” mindset. They did not fire coaches or others who turned in mediocre performances. They thought it was par for San Ramon. 

If you coach teams to losing seasons in Orinda, Danville, De La Salle Catholic High School in Concord, and some other places, your ass is grass as a coach. That is where the CEOs and entrepreneurs and professionals live. They expect to win in life and they expect their town and local schools and youth teams to win. San Ramon is where the nameless, faceless, middle manager bureaucrats LIVE, while being where the movers and shakers only WORK.

A few years back, some national magazine named Concord, CA (two towns north of me) the “Best Place in America to Retire.” The whole Bay Area laughed out loud at that. To me, Concord seems like a Latino gang area. It is where day laborers hang out in the McDonalds parking lot. Gangs did a shootout in the local enclosed mall once. But some young magazine committee of urban planners using ivory tower criteria named it the best retirement city. I hope they retire there. Idiots.

Beware of these rankings. Go visit the area and ask the locals. If you are going to buy a home there, rent one for six months or a year first. 

Eleven months ago, I ended my 32-year national real estate investment newsletter. My readers hoped I would occasionally write some real estate articles here. Voila!


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