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Sunnyvale’s Raynor Park: one more island of affordability, gone

News for 06.05.16
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SUNNYVALE — For decades, the Raynor Park neighborhood was an island of modest living in Silicon Valley. Almost rural in flavor, it was developed on old orchard land after World War II: an affordable community for returning GIs and other new homeowners who snapped up its little flat-topped bungalows, situated on oversized lots with plenty of fruit trees.

No more. Just over a half-mile from Apple’s “spaceship” campus under construction in Cupertino, Raynor Park — like neighborhoods throughout the Bay Area — is a community in transition. It’s one more island of affordability that’s going poof amid the housing crunch brought on by the tech boom.

“You say it’s near Apple, people want it,” said Sereno Group real estate agent Kevin Swartz, pointing out a 1,050-square-foot bungalow that sold for $1.2 million, the neighborhood’s cheapest sale of 2015. “The people that are coming in here, they’re techies and doctors. That’s it. Otherwise, you can’t afford it.”

Last month, the Trulia real estate website reported that million-dollar homes are the new norm for much of the Bay Area. Crunching data from scores of neighborhoods, Trulia included Raynor Park as one dramatic example of the trend: From 2012 to 2016, its share of homes valued at $1 million or more rose from 19 percent to 94.4 percent.

“I’d say 100 percent,” Swartz said while driving around the neighborhood, where nondescript bungalows — increasingly torn down by developers and private buyers — are sandwiched between Mediterranean-style McMansions. He passed a weedy front yard where someone had parked a pickup truck; the two-story house next door, with an immaculate garden, showed off a freshly washed Tesla in the driveway.

“It’s less and less like a community and more and more where people live when they’re not at their 90-hour tech jobs,” said Laura Richardson, a systems engineer who raised her two daughters in the Raynor Park house she bought in 1987 for $275,000. “But it’s happening everywhere. There are very few neighborhoods that feel like Mayberry these days.”

Even with its escalating prices, Raynor Park is the most affordable neighborhood in Sunnyvale’s sought-after 94087 ZIP code.

Two of its public schools — Laurelwood Elementary and Peterson Middle School — are well-ranked. And its proximity to Apple’s new campus makes it “a jackpot,” said Karishma Arora, a physician in San Jose. Sensing “an investment opportunity,” she and her husband, an engineer, bought a 1,200-square-foot ranch house in 2013 for $850,000. They made it their home for three years with their young son, then sold it in February for $1.41 million.

Arora had anticipated healthy appreciation, but not that much: “Had I known, I would’ve bought two.”

While living in her Raynor Park house, she added, “We were constantly approached by real estate people. We would get fliers, knocks on the door: ‘Hey, are you interested in selling? We have all-cash buyers.’ So I think they’re going to be all wiped out, those little shacks. And it’ll be all two-story expensive houses.”

Those little houses — old-time residents refer to them as “flattops” — were built starting in the late 1940s. The neighborhood was a homey place then, full of chicken coops and well-loved gardens. Its street names recall its founders: Bryant Way was named for original landowners Clarence and Clara Bryant. Ramon and Navarro drives were named for Hollywood actor Ramon Navarro, one of Clara Bryant’s favorite leading men of the ’20s and ’30s.

The very name Raynor Park — originally spelled Ray-Nor, with a hyphen — is a contraction of “Raymond” and “Eleanor,” two of the Bryants’ children.

Close to bustling El Camino Real, with its shopping and restaurants, Raynor Park’s rapid transformation — all those McMansions — is a shock to old-timers such as Warren Campbell, a retired aircraft mechanic whose handcrafted mailboxes dot the neighborhood.

“Years ago, everyone had a flattop,” he said. “Now they tear them all down and put up something new for a million-and-a-half dollars. It’s a shame when I see these flattops torn down. The beams inside — they’re all two-by-six heart redwood. I hate to see all that redwood gone, because I could use it for my mailboxes.”

Such changes aside, the neighborhood remains relatively quiet and even boasts expanses of open land.

It adjoins Full Circle Farm, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable food systems that sits on 11 acres leased from the Santa Clara Unified School District. With a community garden and its stable of alpacas and mini-horses, the farm is a favorite destination for local schoolchildren. Across the street is the city of Sunnyvale’s eponymous Raynor Park, with ballfields and a community activity center on close to 15 acres.

“To me, the park means memories, where I took my kids when they were small,” said Irene Castro, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1961. That’s the year she and her husband, Henry, bought their house for $13,400. “And we didn’t make a down payment, and we didn’t have credit. Those were different times.”

A past president of the Raynor Park Neighborhood Association, she worries about the city’s pending $14 million sale of 3.5 acres of the park, including the community center, to the private Stratford School, which plans to open a campus there in the fall. For Castro, the sale — which follows years of public debate and a lawsuit by residents against the city — is indicative of the neighborhood’s gentrification.

“Years ago, you had a problem, you called your neighbor,” she said. “Now your neighbor comes home, closes the garage door, you don’t see them.”

One recent afternoon, she and her husband were schmoozing in their driveway with Campbell, who lives one block over, and his daughter, Julie Lindgren, who spent much of her youth in Raynor Park.

The subject of conversation?

What else? Housing prices.

“My wife’s folks bought the house for $6,700 in 1950,” said Campbell, who worked as a mechanic with the U.S. Navy and United Airlines, “and my daughter just went online and found that it’s worth $1.4 million.”

“We just can’t believe it,” said Lindgren, who can’t afford Silicon Valley prices and now lives with her husband in Modesto. “Just since Apple, my father’s place has gone up like $400,000. It’s crazy. It just keeps going up and up.”

Will Campbell cash out?

He hasn’t any plans: “Where else can I live any cheaper? Under Prop. 13, my taxes are a little over $1,000 a year. I couldn’t afford to move anyplace else.”

Irene Castro chuckled.

She and Henry have three sons who left the neighborhood years ago and all own homes elsewhere in the South Bay: “They didn’t want a flattop,” she explained. “They wanted something fancier. Now they want to move back, but they can’t afford it.”