Atherton Is America’s Richest Town for the Third Year Running

The average 2017 income in 94027 is $450,696.

234 Polhemus Ave., Atherton (Shutterstock)

The other day, Slate published one of those horrible “What It’s Like to Live on X” stories wherein extremely wealthy people purport that they are actually middle-class folks whose lives are totally ordinary. Like the even worse example from last summer about the anxiety-riddled millennial intern and her allowance, “What a Mom of Two Spends on Her Kids During a Week in the Bay Area” does two things. It makes anyone who makes way, way less than that swell with hate for a full five minutes, and it illustrates just how painfully unimaginative and dull rich people can be — complete with the requisite disavowal of “monthslong European vacations” as the emblem of real wealth.

That couple lived in San Jose on $393,000 per year, which almost sounds like no big deal, except that it’s more than six times the median household income in the United States, which is about $60,000. However, even earning that much won’t put you into the California One Percent, because a household would need to haul in $514,000 to vault past that level.

If you did make that much money, you might consider living in Atherton, the Silicon Valley town that Bloomberg crowned the richest in America for the third year in a row. With an average income of $450,696, it leaves second-place Scarsdale, N.Y. in the dust in spite of it rising from third place in 2018 to displace the Colorado community of Cherry Hills Village. Nearby Peninsula cities of Los Altos Hills and Hillsborough ranked fourth and fifth, while the Marin hamlet of Kentfield was No. 21 on the list. Note: The figures for these rankings and the California-One-Percent-threshold are not an apples-to-apples comparison, since medians are very different from averages. By way of illustration, the average of the five numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 1,000 is right around 200 while the median is only 3. Plus personal income and household income aren’t the same thing, either.

Still, there’s no denying that Atherton, population 7,238, is well-to-do. Facebook executives like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg live there, as do many V.C.s and also Lindsey Buckingham, formerly of Fleetwood Mac. Shirley Temple and Ty Cobb used to live there, too. Most lots are an acre or bigger in size, and Bloomberg quotes Mayor Bill Widmer voicing this gem of banal understatement:

“We value a semi-rural environment,” said Widmer, who moved to Atherton in 1996. “There are few sidewalks and many places don’t have streetlights.” 

And what would crowing about your affluence be without a little snooping at real estate? Zillow says 18 homes are for sale in Atherton at the moment. The priciest of the lot seems to be this $27,500,000 contemporary cuboid fantasy on Faxon Road, which was just built and includes a Tesla Power Wall. Then there’s this spectacularly bland 13,400-square-foot McMansion with five bedrooms and eight baths and a charmless Lowe’s patio furniture set that’s on the market for only $18,808,000 (estimated mortgage $73,641 per month). That’s certainly enough money to send someone living on $393,000 a year to Safeway twice a week just to make ends meet.

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