City falls to 17th best place to live

The Mercury News Weekend - - LOCAL NEWS - SalPizarro Colum­nist

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.

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