How deep is the groundwater?

Valley Water depth to first groundwaterValley Water depth to first groundwater

Valley Water depth to first groundwater in Santa Clara County

In most of Santa Clara County, home owners do not own the right to drill a well and pump groundwater under their property. That will be clarified in the preliminary title report (similarly, oil and mineral rights are usually not sold with residential neighborhood parcels here). The depth of the water may be of interest, though, as a high water table may have possible risks.

High Water Table Risks

In come cases there could be problems with springs under the home. When that happens, the groundwater may percolate up under the house during times of heavy rains, causing water in the crawl space and possibly creating foundation damage later.

Another risk is underground water moving environmental hazards to your property. A plume of water could potentially move toxins released at a leaking underground storage tank (“LUST” site) to your property’s area, where you may be responsible for the cleanup! (For info on the leaking underground storage tanks, you’d want to read the JCP or similar report for natural and environmental hazards. That will tell you if there are any LUST sites within 1 mile of the property.)

Does your home, or the one you want to buy in the Santa Clara Valley, have a high water table? One way to learn is to check out the interactive map on the Valley Water website.  Much or most of Campbell seems to have first groundwater at a depth of 50 to 100 feet. Much of the low-lying areas of San Jose and Santa Clara have water at a mere 0 – 10′!

The interactive map that I saw includes most, but not all, of the valley. Enjoy checking it out!

Santa Clara County Depth to First Groundwater



Related Reading:

Historic Homes, Willow Glen, Foundations and Red Flags

Why are the hardwood floors cupping?




Neighborhoods and homes of Silicon Valley

Whether you call it the San Jose area, Santa Clara County, Silicon Valley, The South Bay, or even the old moniker of “The Valley of Heart’s Delight”, there is a lot to love about living here. I’ve put together a gallery with a taste of the residential communities in and near San Jose, including Almaden, Willow Glen, Cambrian, Evergreen, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Campbell, Cupertino, Santa Clara and more. Sit back and enjoy the photos!



San Jose: an introduction

If you are new to the area or relocating to Silicon Valley, you may find the sprawling, diverse city of San Jose a little confusing at first, so today I want to do a broad overview of the area.  San Jose covers about half of Santa Clara County, includes over a million people, with many school districts, and has lots of distinct areas.  Much of it was filled with orchards 100 years ago and was a significant portion of the area then known as The Valley of Heart’s Delight.


Public Schools in San Jose

Since many people coming to San Jose are interested in the public schools, I want to note that the city boundaries are not the same as school district boundaries.  Nor do the school boundaries follow zip codes.  The lines were drawn before most of the valley was incorporated into cities or towns, so that’s why it is the way it is – old boundaries, many dating from the 1800s. The Union School District serves students in the Cambrian area of San Jose as well as residents of the eastern end of Los Gatos, for example.  The biggest school district in SJ is San Jose Unified.  To see all of the school districts in the county, visit the Santa Clara County Office of Education site.  (A good place to check school scores is

Districts or Larger Areas within San Jose

Let’s start with a map I created with the major areas identified (this may not be precise but it’s close).


San Jose Districts or Areas map



Silicon Valley real estate topics written about here

magnifierEvery once in awhile, someone will object to content that I’ve chosen to include in this website, mostly something I’ve spent time researching that involves an unpleasant angle of living here in Silicon Valley. Luckily complaints are exceedingly rare! But the question may arise of “why is she writing about THAT?” The answer is simple: it’s what I’m encountering in my real estate practice, it’s something I’ve been spending time on with my buyers or sellers.

High voltage electrical power lines and towers

Recently I wrote about high voltage power lines that run through Los Gatos, Cambrian, and Almaden and their relationship to public schools.  Why there? Why that topic?   Because that’s where many of my home buyer clients are buying, as these are all wonderful areas, and this is a topic that has been raised repeatedly by them.

  • one client wanted to be “at least four houses away” from any high voltage lines
  • another wasn’t sure how far to be, but said 1/10 of a mile was too close
  • another eliminated all public schools with high voltage power lines adjacent or within a block away (and chose to live in Willow Glen instead)
  • and another wanted to live at least a full mile from the lines

When something comes up again and again, I think it’s fair to raise it in this blog, because it is relevant to consumers, even though I know it will step on some toes. I don’t have an answer as to whether you should or shouldn’t buy a home within any particular distance of the towers or lines (or a mine, flood plain or anything else).  Every house has pros and cons.  I would say that if you get the EMFs tested, you might be surprised that the emissions are higher in front of your microwave than they are near the lines, so I do encourage home buyers and home sellers near the wires to get the facts and to see the numbers from a reputable source.    If you’re buying with FHA backed financing, of course you will need to be aware of the high voltage electrical tower fall zone – if for some reason the tower fell in an earquake, the FHA folks want to make sure your new home won’t be in its path.

Not every home buyer cares at all about the lines, the towers, or even a substation.    For home sellers near any of them, it’s important to understand that it is a potential home buyer concern, and that could translate to a lower sale price (depending on the market).  For home buyers, even if there’s no real concern for health and safety, it is important to appreciate that if you are super close, it could be a resale issue in the future.  All of these make it a topic worth discussing, not to be alarmist, but to be discussing what concerns real estate consumers today.

Natural hazards: mercury, asbestos, earthquake faults, liquifecation zones, unstable soils, flood plains and other scary things

Another topic that I covered recently, which also may have bothered some readers of this blog, is mercury mines in the west valley areas.  In the past I’ve written about other natural hazard zones too. (more…)

Where are the mercury mines near Los Gatos, Cambrian and Almaden?

San Jose’s New Almaden Quicksilver Mine is well known and needs no introduction.  But did you know that there are many other mercury or quicksilver mines in the area? Several are nearby, just south of the Guadalupe Creek, but others are surprisingly far flung, both in Santa Clara County and throughout California.  My home buyer clients are sometimes concerned about purchasing real estate close to a natural or environmental hazard, so a few times this issue has come up: where are the mercury mines?

Quicksilver Legend for Santa Clara CountyFirst, a disclaimer that there are oodles of unmapped mines of all kinds dotting the San Francisco Bay Area, the delta, and beyond.  Approximately 31% of all mines in California are on private land.  So it may not be possible to know where each and every mine is.  However, mercury mines were big business during the gold rush and the civil war, so they may not have been so secretly guarded as a gold mine.

Today I went hunting for information on the location of mercury mines and found an online map of Santa Clara County with incredible details on not only quicksilver, but many other fascinating things: types of rock, miderals (copper), soil types, earthquake faults and so on.  This map is not all that easy to read as it requires blowing it up to well past 100% to actually decipher the numbers and geographical markers, but for the patient, it’s a gold mine – so to speak!

To see the WHOLE MAP, please click on the following link, which is a bid pdf file:

Geologic Map of Santa Clara County, California, Showing Mines and Mineral Deposits

I blew up part of it, saved it, and annotated it with just the names of the mercury mines closest to Los Gatos and Cambrian.  This is not comprehensive, of course – but I often get the question of “how close are the mines” to either Los Gatos or Cambrian, hence this focus.


Mercury mines near Los Gatos and Cambrian


Related reading on mercury

Mercury Contamination from Historic Gold Mining in Califoria (pdf from USGS)

The Legacy of Mercury Pollution in California’s Bay Area


Related reading for real estate in Almaden, Cambrian, and Los Gatos:

Hacienda Cemetery and Memorial Park in New Almaden

Almaden Valley area of San Jose (on

What Are the Advantages of Buying a Home in Almaden Valley?

Where are the high voltage power lines in Los Gatos? (Live in Los Gatos blog)

Selling a home in one of San Jose’s Almaden Valley neighborhoods? Understand home buyer concerns in 95120

List of Los Gatos neighborhoods (Live in Los Gatos blog)

San Jose – Cambrian Park (an introduction with market stats and homes for sale also, on




Valley of Heart’s Delight

Fruit tree in bloomThe Valley of Heart’s Delight (or Valley of Hearts Delight) is the old moniker or nickname for the Santa Clara Valley, which loosely follows the boundaries of Santa Clara County, the largest city of which is San Jose with one million residents today.  This area, together with much of San Mateo County to the north, is better known in recent times as Silicon Valley.  Agriculture gave way to high tech, bio tech, and a whole lot of people and homes.

When the first non-native people came to this area, the native people, the Ohlone, were hunter-gatherers who lived in temporary homes which could be moved with the seasons and weather changes.  The newcomers wanted to “settle” the land, plant crops, raise cattle and sheep, and pretty much transport everything from the “old world” to the new, including, of course, religion.  The California Missions and the Presedios for military sprang up throughout Alta California, to the detriment of the Ohlone people here and tribes elsewhere, in many cases.  That said, there were also some good things that happened, so I do not want to paint this whole period as 100% bad.

Eventually logging (Saratoga was a logging town) and wheat became a hugely important crop as it was necessary to feed those immigrating here for gold and a new life.  The redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains were often felled for construction in San Francisco, with the logs or wood making their way north via boats docked at Alviso.  Mercury, or quicksilver, was discovered south of San Jose and the New Almaden Mine (and Guadalupe Mine) extracted it for use in munitions for the Civil War and to get gold out of the rock into which it was embedded.

When the transcontinental railroad broke through in 1869, however, it was easy and relatively cheap to bring wheat from the Midwest.  Meanwhile, fruit, nut trees, vineyards and and vegetables were thriving here: prunes, grapes, citrus of all kinds, cherries, apricots, walnuts, almonds and many more filled the Santa Clara Valley.  Prohibition (1919 1933) was hard for the grape farmers and vintners, and many of the wineries ended in ruin.  Some continued as they could make sacramental wine, and some smaller ones made it through, too, for either table grapes or for “personal use” wine only.

The valley was so beautiful that there were tour companies which would organized drives or rides to view the blossoms, hopefully at their peak. The Blossom Time Tour Company had it finely tuned to viewing the trees at the height of their blooming, which varied by crop. One tour began in Cupertino, ran through part of Saratoga and Monte Sereno, into Los Gatos over “Blossom Hill” (the tip of which is crossed on Blossom Hill Road close to Union Avenue), down Union Avenue through Cambrian Park, through part of Campbell and back into Cupertino where it had begun.

After World War II, the region saw a huge expansion and many orchards were leveled to create subdivisions in Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, San Jose, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Campbell, Saratoga and throughout the area.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t done well in most cases and we have “urban sprawl” with many tract homes and not enough parks in some areas.  With younger neighborhoods, like you find in Almaden and Milpitas, the park situation is a little better, and of course there are beautiful old parks dotting the valley – just not enough in some areas.

Today you will continue to find orchards, though smaller, generally.  Saratoga has its Heritage Orchard at the corner of Fruitvale and Saratoga Avenue.  Some newer neighborhoods, like Heritage Grove, include some fruit trees as part of the community.  More commonly, though, you’ll find that most houses seem to have at least one fruit tree – often a lemon – if not many.  Grapes are popular again, too.  Local fruit can be found in great abundance in the “south county”, too – a quick trip to Morgan Hill and Gilroy, especially, will give you a taste of the local past.

To read more:

The Valley of Heart’s Delight Video Providing a Peek into the Agricultural Past of Silicon Valley

The Valley of Heart’s Delight, Silicon Valley’s Old Nickname

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San Jose’s Japantown: living history

Buddhist Temple in Japantown

The Buddhist Temple in San Jose’s Japantown – one of only 3 Japantowns in the US

San Jose’s Japantown is not just a neighborhood, but a community with a strong history. Only three Japantowns still exist in the US, and San Jose’s Japantown is the only one that remains in its original location. Issei (first generation immigrants) were drawn to the Santa Clara Valley in the late 1800s for agriculture, and somewhere between 1890 and 1900 they founded Japantown, also called Nihonmachi, next to the site of San Jose’s second Chinatown, known as Heinlenville, which no longer stands. It became a cultural center, safe from the hostile anti-immigrant attitudes of the time.  Stores sold familiar products, there were restaurants, boarding houses, social clubs and sports, a bath house, and work and recreation for the Japanese pioneers. As with other groups, the first immigrants from Japan were mostly male, so this “bachelor society” also entertained in gambling houses and brothels.


So you want to buy a Silicon Valley home on the water?

Homes on the water

Some Silicon Valley home buyers request views of a particular type: valley, mountain, golf course, forest, and sometimes water views or even water front property.  A couple of important questions arise:

  • Where can these types of homes be found?
  • Are there any special concerns with purchasing a home (or renting one) adjacent to water in Silicon Valley?

Please check out the lengthy article on my Move 2 Silicon Valley blog:




San Francisco and San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara areas named as among the most dynamic in the world

San Francisco and the San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara metro areas were named named as among the most dynamic in the world in a study from Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm, as reported in MSN real estate news recently.  Silicon Valley is a bit of an amorphous thing, with loose boundaries which seem to be as much a state of mind as a geographical location.  Even so, The Valley has been inching northward through the Peninsula into San Francisco in recent years, so it is no surprise that with our current tech boom, both areas made the list.  I think it would be a mistake to think that the San Francisco Peninsula isn’t included generally since it’s book-ended by these areas.

Where else is named?

  1. San Francisco
  2. London
  3. Dubai
  4. Shanghai
  5. Wuhan (China)
  6. New York
  7. Austin
  8. Hong Kong
  9. San Jose (metro area: includes Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, and presumably nearby)
  10. Singapore

Get the whole story here:–the-most-dynamic-cities-of-2014




One of the happiest places in the U.S.: the San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara metro area – Silicon Valley!

State of American Well Being - San Jose - Sunnyvale - Santa Clara ranks 5th in U.S.MSN real estate tends to feature real estate news in bite-sized slide shares with images (and links for home buyers to search properties listed for sale on A new study, more complicated and comprehensive than would normally be published for consumers to digest,was summarized there from Gallup and Healthways Well-Being Index, known as The American State of Well Being study, a poll of 178,000 people in 2013 across the country.  The distilled info is broken down by state, metro area or city and also by congressional district.  San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara (the metro area in Santa Clara County, what we would call Silicon Valley) came in quite strong!   MSN picked it up, condensed the info and provided a list displaying a sample of homes for sale in the  10 happiest cities in the U.S., which you can read online here.

Not surprisingly for residents of The Golden State, California landed three of the ten spots.  Cites or areas named as where people are the happiest ones in the United States are:

  1. Provo, Utah
  2. Boulder, Colorado
  3. Fort Collins, Colorado
  4. Honolulu, Hawaii
  5. San Jose, California
  6. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  7. Naples, Florida
  8. San Luis Obispo, California
  9. San Francisco, California
  10. Lincoln, Nebraska

Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County and the San Jose area still are “The Valley of Heart’s Delight“, at least that’s how it seems when the locals are polled!

Because the San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara area is a “metro” area, it would seem to include these nearby towns and cities:  Los Altos, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, Cupertino, Mountain View, Campbell, Los Altos Hills and other parts of Santa Clara County.  Congrats to the whole South Bay region!

To learn more about this study and its results, please click on the Gallup-Healthways link above.