Those who follow the local residential real estate market are all to familiar with the description of homes for sale which reads, “Concord gem on large lot located on Walnut Creek border in prestigious Northgate School District.” These magical words are code used by brokers to entice buyers to purchase property for the highest value for the sellers they are representing. How could it be so different on one side of that border or the other?
This perception of Walnut Creek being a superior place than neighboring Concord for families to reside has been part of local culture before I migrated to the area over thirty years ago. Upon further review of census data, there are hard economic facts to back this contention up. However, as with all demographic information, much depends on one’s perspective to determine where the best place to live might be.
Per the statistics table nearby, it is apparent on the basis of gross income, property values, average education and a host of other data, Walnut Creek has overwhelming economic advantages compared with its larger neighbor. Along with this, Northgate High School test scores are far superior to Concord and Pleasant Hill institutions. All are part of the Mt. Diablo School District (MDSD). More than anything this is indicative of the importance placed on education by families that attend these schools than swallowing Northgate brand Kool-Aid.
It is no wonder that several years ago when an unincorporated area surrounding the Pleasant Hill Bart Station had to decide in a special election conducted by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), between Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, and Concord , Walnut Creek was the overwhelming choice. It’s the money stupid logic that indicates higher property values are almost always where people prefer to call home.
Ethnic diversity is another matter. Walnut Creek is almost 80% Caucasian while Concord is around 65%. By more than 20%, those of Hispanic heritage live in Contra Costa’s largest city. This means more markets, restaurants, and business’s have their roots South of the Border. The demographics of this group and others in Concord tend to be blue collar thus have lower per capita incomes than Walnut Creek where more business owners and professional people reside.
This has lead to major differences between communities in terms of what services are offered in the market place. Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany, Burberry and Coach stores dominate the shopping scene around Broadway Plaza. While Concord can counter with part of Sun Valley Mall, it is obvious where most of the upper crust designer label stores are located.
With this being said, there are many of us (present company included) who prefer to shop in Concord’s less expensive businesses where our designer labels includes the Kirkland Brand.
The same goes for restaurants up to a point. It used to be Concord’s eating establishments were primarily franchises and fast food places while upscale gourmet establishments were located in downtown Walnut Creek.
This food quality gap has been reduced in recent years as much better faire has become available in Concord, especially around Todos Santos Square and the strip malls along Clayton Road. Recently, consumers have found in many cases getting more bang for their buck in Concord than Walnut Creek for similar dining experiences.
Buying groceries has also become more competitive in recent years. Walnut Creek is proudly the home of such high end stores as Lunardi’s, Sprouts, and Whole Foods to augment Safeway and Lucky’s. Concord counters with the same middle class markets but now offers more ethnic choices with the likes of Ranch 99, Los Montanos, and Seafood City to name a few. And lets not forget Trader Joe’s which can be found everywhere.
Now that food, shelter and clothing has been covered, we can now turn to the quality of life that is offered to residents in the area. Walnut Creek has a solid cultural foundation in the arts with the Lesher Center to offer citizenry. Concord lags behind in this area but over the years its Pavilion has been equally successful in providing a venue for the entire region to enjoy. Although more cultural facilities are needed in the years to come, both cities currently tend to compliment one another in this area.
Aside from contrasting demographic profiles, Concord and Walnut Creek offer different life styles to their residents. Most notable is the rural nature of Concord with abundant free parking versus the congestion of downtown Walnut Creek which more resembles an urban environment. This may change in the near future if Concord adapts the policies of the recently approved One Plan Bay Area that favors high density housing and less reliance on autos in the Todos Santos area.
A major part of this equation is recreational facilities and parks for the public to enjoy. Walnut Creek has a great connection bordering Mt. Diablo on Oak Grove Road. Concord counters with the largest number of neighborhood parks along with soccer, softball, and baseball facilities which are among the best in the Bay Area. This is one reason the city proudly carries the label “where families come first.”
Being almost twice as large a city as Walnut Creek, Concord has extensive expansion plans with the development of the Naval Weapons Station and potential new development in the downtown area between Todos Santos Plaza and the Concord BART station. Concord has a large tax base to provide services of all types to its residents not easily available in surrounding communities. This may prove important in years to come.
When all the pluses and minuses of living in Walnut Creek, Concord, Martinez, Lafayette, and other close by communities are factored, it is probably best not to consider them as competitors to the town one lives in. All have different attributes and weaknesses. A better way to view the equation is to look at cities as contrasting entities that `makes the Diablo Valley a great place to live.