How dangerous is East Palo Alto?
July 26, 2014 1:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm a single male in my late 20s, currently living elsewhere in the Bay Area. EPA has the following attractive features for me:
  • Quite is quite close to my new job
  • One of the few places in the Peninsula which I could reasonably afford to buy property (I don't want to be renting for the rest of my life).
  • Reasonable chance of strong appreciation in property prices over the next 15 years.
However, it also has a reputation as a dangerous city.

My natural inclination is to avoid EPA just on that reputation alone. However, Oakland is another such city with a bad reputation which isn't nearly as bad as people claim and that I'd personally be quite happy living in.

For those who know East Palo Alto well or ideally live there now, I'd love to get your thoughts.

posted by pzad to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's pretty safe except for the murders. Property values have not really recovered to pre-2008 levels, but maybe they will in the next 20 years.

These days I feel comfortable walking from my home in University Square to the Mi Pueblo, but no matter how much progress gets made in reducing gang violence, it's never completely gone.
posted by Phssthpok at 3:37 AM on July 26, 2014

Oakland is 78 square miles and has a lot of different neighborhoods which range in affluence and crime from poor and violent to rich and safe. East Palo Alto is 2 square miles.
posted by elmay at 4:53 AM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

I had a friend who lived in EPA. There were always casings around his house.

If you plan to buy and to stay there forever, find a place you like and do it. What's a little danger? But would you want to raise a family there? What if you changed jobs and wanted to move? Buying in a dodgy neighborhood is a risk.

For example, how much more will you pay in Homeowner's Insurance compared to some other area? Ask an insurance agent what the differences are in price. You may spend $250 a month just in insurance.

There are also conditions in California that make it HIGHLY undesirable to be a homeowner. Earthquakes, taxes, boom and bust cycles, all of these pose risks to the investment. For example, the deductible on earthquake insurance has historically been 30% of the value of the home. That's a lot of dough.

Home ownership now is not the same as it was even 10 years ago. Additionally, homes require maintenance, one new roof will wipe out 5 years of appreciation in value. You buy a home to live in it forever, and even then, it may still be more expensive than renting. If you even suspect that you won't put down roots, don't buy. Unless you have shit-tons of cash to throw at the problem should you need to move. (We paid $35k to get out of our house last year.)

My recommendation is to rent a place there for awhile to see if you can hang. Personally, I find it charmless. I lived in Oakland in the eighties, so I can deal with dodgy, EPA was NEVER a place I'd consider.

I'd rather rent in a neighborhood that I enjoyed and that I felt safe in, than own in a place that was ugly and dangerous.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:22 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

So the funniest EPA story I know is from a guy that I worked with that lived there. He was probably in a similar situation as you: young tech guy who moved there because it was close to his job and cheap.

One day he comes home and his place was broken into and a bunch of electronics and computers were stolen. He was bummed out, but it wasn't like the end of the world for him (being a pretty well off tech guy).

But he wasn't a complete shut-in. He knew people around the block and hung out with one particular group of neighbors a fair bit, a couple of Tongan guys that lived next door. He had some pretty great stories of pig roasts they would do every now and then.

These Tongan dudes knew the neighborhood much better than my friend did. So he mentioned the break in to them. Much to his surprise, they told him not to worry, they'd take care of it (??).

The next day, some kid comes and knocks on his door and returns almost everything that was stolen. My friend thanked him and that was it. He has no idea what happened behind the scenes, but there was clearly some backchannel shit going on. He thought is was all pretty hilarious, if somewhat worrying.

This happened back in 2008 or so.

(On another occasion he saw a group of guys pull up in front of his house and unload AKs into the house across the street. That was less funny.)
posted by ryanrs at 6:08 AM on July 26, 2014 [17 favorites]

I guess what I'm saying is that as an outsider to the neighborhood, expect your house and car to get messed with. You'll get robbed eventually.

But the drive-bys and murders happen between people who clearly know each other and have history. Assuming you are careful who you live with and rent from, you'll probably not get murdered (at least not intentionally).
posted by ryanrs at 6:11 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out a crime map of the area, or more data. It has about three times more violent crime than the U.S. average, and about 3-10 times more crime than nearby cities. Definitely try renting before you buy, if you decide that you think you would be comfortable with that much crime. Have you considered something like Fremont, which might not be a terrible commute? Could you possibly buy a condo near your job rather than a house?
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:27 AM on July 26, 2014

I totally get the appeal of being able to buy something, and EPA is certainly more affordable than neighboring towns. The thing about buying, though, is this: will you want to stay there forever? The places that are cheaper also tend to be places where it is harder for sellers to find buyers. If you are okay with the idea of renting it out when you want to go live somewhere else, maybe that's not a huge factor. Is having a family possibly in the cards for you at some point in the next decade? The school system there is...not great. Also, as a young single dude, you'll probably finding yourself going elsewhere for night life things.

That being said, EPA is better than it was 20 years ago, when it had a crazy high murder rate.
posted by ambrosia at 10:44 AM on July 26, 2014

People have been wondering about gentrification of EPA since "gentrification" became a concept, and it hasn't happened. Why? Because gentrification is an urban phenomenon and EPA is a suburb -- it offers none of the short term consolations or incentives that gentrifiers get while they what for the long-term end game of quiet, crime-free streets. The model for transforming an "island of poverty" suburb into the next Atherton or Hillsborough has yet to be written, and the Bay Area is not the place where you'd expect the political will to accomplish such a model easily.
posted by MattD at 11:27 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the feedback! At this point I think that renting and feeling safe is probably a better choice than buying in EPA and feeling paranoid (or even worse, being the victim of crime).
posted by pzad at 10:36 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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