If you ask Al Lampell of Woodside why he's leaving the Bay Area after living here for 30 years, the first thing he'll say is: "I love the Bay Area!" Lampell had a successful career as an electrical engineer at various local startups, raised his children in Santa Clara and his son now works at a tech company in Cupertino. He happily built his family's life on the Peninsula, but it won't be where he lives out his retirement.
Instead, Lampell will be moving into a newly built condominium along with a group of like-minded people who plan to share a common house, a spa, and an orchard along with companionship and upkeep efforts. This unusual living situation, often referred to as cohousing or an intentional community, is growing nationwide. In Northern California cohousing has particular appeal: it allows Lampell and others to opt for a more affordable retirement while providing instant community. For Lampell, who was already interested in cohousing, intentional communities in the Bay were too pricey to be attractive. "It's just too expensive. It takes like a million dollars in the Bay Area to even join one of those groups," he said of the local cohousing communities.
Lampell's new home in the Fair Oaks EcoHousing community will cost a fraction of what he might have had to spend on the Peninsula. Most of the homes, which are expected to be completed this December, range in price from the low $395,274 to a high $680,440. At this more affordable rate, Lampell will live near 29 other residents who will have the option to eat dinner together every other night and share a library, pool, and outdoor spaces. He's ready for less traffic, less crowding, and a more affordable house, but Lampell isn't going to Fair Oaks to escape the Bay. He was just looking for a change—another adventure—and the Fair Oaks EcoHousing community had the tight-knit community he was looking for at a price he could afford.
Like all cohousing communities, Fair Oaks will foster social activity, but the 30 townhomes and apartments offer the same privacy as typical residences. "It gives you a way to be around people if you want to, but if you feel like just pulling yourself into your den for a while you have that option," says Linda Bryant, a future resident who spent the last 22 years in Berkeley. She, like Lampell, was drawn to cohousing as an opportunity to connect with neighbors while living in an environmentally friendly neighborhood designed by the homeowners themselves. Both Lampell and Bryant signed on to live in Fair Oaks after the architecture had been finalized, but they were able to weigh in on the division of shared responsibilities and other elements that will impact the way the community operates.
One thing all Fair Oaks EcoHousing residents agree on is that they'll be glad to have children around. Unlike some Bay Area complexes—like Oakland's Phoenix Commons and Mountain View's Mountain View Cohousing Community—Fair Oaks will be multi-generational. The quickly aging population has made cohousing an especially attractive option for recent retirees, but Fair Oaks residents are looking forward to having children in the complex, and the town is ripe with opportunities for adults and kids to spend time outdoors relaxing or exploring.
Bryant liked the area so much that she didn't even wait for the EcoHousing complex to be built. She moved into town two years ago and watched each unit go up piece by piece. "I was ready for a change and it's fun here," she says, explaining that Fair Oaks is just a few steps from an access point to the American River Trail—30 miles of purpose-built bike path stretching along the American River. On "Memorial Day there were so many rafts on the river you could hardly see the water," she says of the stretch near the complex.
With the river a stone's throw from their backyards and Sacramento just a short drive away, Bryant and Lampell will be joining the increasing number of locals who move to the Sacramento area each year. In fact, according to the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, Sacramento is the number one destination for people leaving the Bay Area. With 24,000 Bay Area residents moving there each year, the city takes in more of the Bay's expats than Denver, Seattle, Portland, and Phoenix combined. It may be the growing farm-to-table scene, or the dozens of local breweries, or the reinvigorated downtown, but those straining under Silicon Valley housing market have found refuge in the state's capital.
And just up the American River, Bryant, Lampell, and 28 other EcoHousing families will find the slower pace they're looking for in Fair Oaks, where the small-town friendliness and lack of traffic remind Lampell of the Santa Clara he moved to in the 70s. During his first visit to Fair Oaks three years ago, he met other future residents of the EcoHousing complex at a coffeehouse in the Old Town neighborhood.
As he ordered his coffee, chickens and roosters stared in and crowed at the customers. That was a typical sight, the other residents assured him—Fair Oaks has a flock of feral chickens downtown. "This is the funkiest place I've ever been; I want to live here," Lampell remembers thinking. But more than the chickens, it's the community that excites him. "It's the people," he said. "I like the idea of community living—I think that's the way things should go."
Fair Oaks EcoHousing will be hosting a seminar in the South Bay region for local residents who would like to learn more about homeownership opportunities.
Fair Oaks EcoHousing is a new community that combines private homes with extensive community facilities to create neighborhoods that address the needs of singles, working parents and seniors.