Waterfront homes in Silicon Valley: are there any concerns?

Beach view from Sunny Cove in Santa Cruz, CASometimes people relocating to Silicon Valley tell me that they’d like to move to an area with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Most of Silicon Valley is inland, though, separated from the ocean by the coastal mountains.

For those truly set on having a view of the Pacific, home can be found in the Santa Cruz area with lovely ocean and Monterey Bay views.  The compromise will likely be a long commute over Highway 17.  Or similarly, ocean lovers may settle close to Half Moon Bay or Pescadero, but will have to slog over the coastal hills on Hwy 35 each day to get to the Peninsula.  (Some lucky souls may find employment in Scotts Valley or along the coast, but most of the jobs are not in these places.)  If a faraway ocean view will work, perhaps making the Santa Cruz Mountains home may be the ideal fit.

If you want to live along the waterfront within Silicon Valley, there really are not a lot of neighborhoods from which to choose.  Most of the water views involve being near the San Francisco Bay.  There are a few rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes to be found as well, but enjoying lovely water views up close is not the easiest criteria to fill. Along the bay, though, it often comes down to Foster City and Redwood Shores, which we’ll discuss next.

Foster City and Redwood Shores (part of Redwood City)

East of Highway 101 on the San Francisco Peninsula (San Mateo County), Foster City and Redwood Shores jut into the San Francisco Bay.  These are probably the best known and most sought after areas along the water or with easy boating access to the bay.

Redwood Shores is part of Redwood City and at one time contained a dump. Beginning in 1968, it was home to Marine World, later called Marine World Africa USA, which in 1986 moved to Vallejo (and eventually changed its name so much that it is unrecognizable as being related to the original theme park).  There are some older houses, but many younger ones, in Redwood Shores, and recently it got its own elementary school, making life much easier for residents and kids.

Both Redwood Shores and Foster City are communities with primarily newer construction (on smaller lots) relative to the age of most neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Many home buyers are drawn to the area because they are very open, clean, and the water of course makes them scenic, too.  There are several nice parks. Schools serving Redwood Shores are highly regarded.

Both areas are built on landfill over the bay mud and are, of course, at a very low elevation. Some home buyers are concerned about homes sinking either over time or in the event of a significant earthquake.  Others worry about rising bay waters.

One significant area to watch for is moisture under the home due to the high water table.  When there’s a lot of moisture, there’s a risk of the reinforcing bars in the foundation rusting and in turn cracking the foundation.  This can be a very expensive problem to fix.  When considering these areas, hire excellent inspectors and look closely at the water issues for any property that you may want to buy.  If your property inspector suggests a drainage and foundation inspection, heed that advice.

Much of the peninsula does afford views of the bay from a distance.  The gentle hills in Belmont and San Carlos and the Emerald Hills area of Redwood City each have areas with wonderful vistas (not exclusively these areas, of course), but you’ll have to find them on a case by case basis.

The South Bay

In the south bay, in Santa Clara County, the bay moves toward the land via a number of tidal marshes.  Alviso, once a busy busy port and marina, has lost much of its appeal as the channels are no longer dredged and most of the marina is now overgrown with reeds or rushes. It is a wonderful place to visit, especially for lunch and then to enjoy a walk along the boardwalk to see the ghost town of a marina.  Below, see a photo that I took looking inland – all of those vertical pieces of wood are part of the overgrown dock! In many cases, the boats are now landlocked in the marshy growth and it would be a challenge to remove them at this point.

Alviso - Public Shore sign, marina overgrown with reeds

In the San Jose area, with a little elevation there can again be views of the San Francisco Bay in the distance.  In some of the pastoral sections of the east foothills, there are some lakes and ponds, fed by streams which are often seasonal but in some cases year round. (In one area, there are even eagles found in winter!)

In Los Gatos, a few homes have a prized view of beautiful Lake Vasona.  Just into the Santa Cruz Mountains, some lucky home owners enjoy a vista of Lexington Reservoir.  Along the same vein, Campbell is home to many percolation ponds, and they can be a pleasant sight too.  There are some between the Almaden and Cambrian areas of San Jose also (along Coleman Road and behind the old Almaden Winery neighborhood – some of those houses have great waterfront views).

The Silicon Valley area has many small creeks and a few rivers, and there are, in many areas, homes built near them.

What are the concerns with riverfront or creek front properties in Silicon Valley?

In some cases, there may be protected wildlife and in the area and therefore restrictions on landscaping, fencing etc. due to the habitat sensitivity issues.  Normally these are not big problems for the home owner.  For example, landscaping may need to be native plants, fencing might need to be wrought iron in cases such as the habitat for the California red legged frog which is protected here.

Some rivers in San Jose are polluted with mercury which is naturally occurring from the mines in the Almaden area (95120), mostly.  Those waterways are posted with signs advising not to fish there, nor drink the water etc.

Additionally, the areas where the bay used to be – the low-lying areas – as well as the creeks and rivers tend to be liquifaction zones.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, where there’s water there will be more wildlife: hawks and other birds, frogs, possum, skunks, raccoons, bats, snakes, rats, mice and all kinds of things – including deer, coyote, mountain lions and feral pigs in more rural areas.

Please also see:
Finding scenic places in which to live in Silicon Valley
How to choose where to live in Silicon Valley or Santa Clara County

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Mary Pope-Handy
Sereno Group
214 Los Gatos-Saratoga Rd.
Los Gatos CA 95030
[Silicon Valley, California, USA]
mary (at) popehandy.com
CA BRE # 01153805

CIPS - Certified International Property Specialist
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Helping nice folks to buy and sell homes in Silicon Valley since 1993. Mary Pope-Handy, Realtor, Silicon Valley
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