City falls to 17th best place to live
Last year, U.S. News & World Report touted San Jose as the thirdbest place to live in the country. So it was a healthy shock to see that this in this year’s rankings, the capital of Silicon Valley had plummeted to No. 17. Seventeen? Really? Given that all these types of rankings must be taken with a shaker of salt, it’s not really the placement that bugs me. Any list that ranks New Orleans as the 111th best place to live clearly has its priorities well out of whack. Let’s face it, San Jose would have been thrilled with being No. 17 about a decade ago. We would have put it on billboards and ordered new stationery. For reasons I’ll get to, being 17th might be generous.
No, it’s the precipitous drop from No. 3 to 17 that surprisesme. That’s a 14-spot fall in 365 days. Were things that much worse than last year? San Francisco fell, too, but just by four spots from 16th to 20th, which is, you know, lower than 17th. San Jose remains the top ranked city in California by U.S. News. (Boston fared even worse, dropping from eighth to 25th, but that’s easily explained in three words: Tom Brady Fail.)
So I went fishing on Facebook for some answers. Where had San Jose gone astray?
Many people took the question more seriously than it was intended and replied with the issues we’ve all become familiar with: Housing prices exploding due to over-inflated “values”; traffic forcing people to spend a third of their waking hours on dilapidated roads stuffed with better looking cars; our increasing homeless population exacerbated by
— wait for it — the crazy housing market.
These all are challenges that make San Jose an increasingly difficult place to live — as I said, 17th could be considered generous. But as bad as our housing and traffic problems are right now, they’ve been around for years. Housing prices weren’t that much better last year, and if traffic wasn’t a constant issue, my colleague Gary Richards wouldn’t have been answering your questions as Mr. Roadshow for the past quarter century.
But what happened in the past year that made San Jose so much less desirable? U.S. News’ methodology ranks cities based on job market, quality of life, desirability and value. San Jose’s big negative was — no surprise — “value” because the price of housing and other necessities outstrips the median income in the San Jose metro area. I’d argue that was still pretty bad last year when San Jose was No. 3.
Was “Winchester” that terrible of a movie? But San Jose also was the location of “The Good Doctor,” and that was a bona fide hit for ABC. And sure, the Sharks under-performed in the playoffs — exiting in the first round last season and the second round this time — but that kinda lives up to their rep, bless their big teal hearts.
I wondered if it could be that BART is closer to reality, which would potentially link San Jose to exotic places like Pittsburg and Daly City. Did they realize that 300 days of sunshine a year is actually too many? Or was it because U.S News and World Report’s best states ranking said California has the worst quality of life in the nation? But San Jose can’t be that bad. After all, “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd hosted a California gubernatorial debate in the historic and gorgeous California Theatre Tuesday — and that was in San Jose and not in, say, Fayetteville, Ark. (ranked No. 5).
Back on Facebook, Shiloh Ballard of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition chimed in with a reasonable thought: “Schurra’s closed.” And Red Ladder Theatre’s Karen Al- tree Piemme added: “No more San Jose Tofu.” No more Time Deli, either, or The Place, which had the longest bar in town. And Mighty Mike McGee — who, it should be noted, is the Santa Clara County Poet Laureate — hit on an unshakable truth: “It’s because EVERYONE serves orange sauce now.”
That’s it! San Jose is losing its unique character. Not to mention its history — again, “Winchester” didn’t score us any points there. But Adega, the great Portuguese restaurant on Alum Rock Avenue, earned San Jose’s first Michelin star last year. Doesn’t that at least count as a wash, U.S. News & World Report?
Maybe last year’s No. 3 ranking was just a rounding error and this was the make-up call. I finally was heartened to see Chris Esparza, an event producer who has opened and closed more enterprises in San Jose than anyone I know, take the optimistic position: “But if you look at the average, we are in the top 10!!!”
Get the billboards ready.
The SAP Center sits across from downtown San Jose, rising to the east of Highway 87 in this aerial view taken in 2015.