Despite What You’ve Read, This Is Not the Bay Area’s Richest City

The times they are a-changing up in Belvedere, as that very wealthy Marin County city may soon build its first affordable housing project in over 30 years, although predictably many of the locals are not letting it go on without a fight.

It’s surely not a coincidence that Belvedere sees so little diverse housing construction and is also one of the richest cities in not just the Bay Area but the entire state of California.

In fact, some outlets are referring to Belvedere as in fact the wealthiest city in the state. But wait, that can’t be right? Sure, that’s a ritzy burg, no question, but there are other Bay Area cities even more gilded. Where does this notion spring from?

Turns out in 2020, 24/7 Wall Street compiled a list of the richest cities in each state, putting Belvedere at the top of the heap in California with a median household income over $223,000.

So that’s well and good–except that’s not the highest median income in the state, nor even in the Bay Area.

(Atherton, aka the Usual Suspect)

How do we know that? Well, oddly enough, 24/7 Wall Street does not directly cite their source in that 2020 story. Probably they’re operating off of US Census data.

So fact-checking is a simple matter of just looking into the Bay Area’s other most exclusive cities–and wouldn’t you know it, the very first one we thought to check was Atherton, long the local resort of the deeply wealthy. According to the Census, the median Atherton household income is more than $250,000 annually.

Well, that was easy. This Atherton figure is based off of the 2015-2019 five-year estimates, which are generally more refined and specific than the annual American Community Survey estimates.

There are other regional cities with higher estimated median incomes as well, including Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Hillsborough, and Woodside–that is to say, pretty much all the places you’d expect.

(The (inf?)famous “Flintstone House” in HIllsborough.)

Unfortunately in many cases it’s hard to say just how rich these places are, since these estimates only measure household income up to a quarter million dollars annually; since not many cities need to go higher than that, more specific number crunching is not always a good use of labor.

Of course, Belvedere is still an unimaginably wealthy place to buy–or build–a home, so the fine details may not matter that much. Still, another lesson in the perils of reputation: “Oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.”

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