Place Where You Live:

Belvedere, California

The first sound I hear when I wake up on the side of Belvedere Island is the numerous foghorns drifting up from the Bay. As the sky clears, the bright sun warms the breezy air. The small community set on the San Francisco Bay is a peaceful town. I drive my electric car downtown to the well-maintained public tennis courts, which are the social scene of the area. At noon I have lunch with my family at a local restaurant sitting over the ocean. Sailboats fill the bay daily, and they are an entertaining sight to watch on a warm day. Ferries to and from San Francisco dock in town, helping commuters create smaller carbon footprints. This is a town that you have no reason to leave; you can stay and enjoy “a day in paradise.”

About one hundred years ago Belvedere Island was a golf course for city men from across the bay to enjoy the lush green course as a place to play. But years passed by and the land was sold, and one at a time small cottages rose. The houses grew and now they are large but few. Sir Frances Drake fought against the Native Americans and won; just as the greater land conquered the island and made it one. It is connected to the main land by two roads, which go around a manmade lagoon. On a hot summer day, families who live on the lagoon use paddle boats and small sunfish sailboats to enjoy the shark-free salt water. Belvedere is an escape from the real world.

But there is a dark side to this picture-perfect town. When I was six years old, our neighbor on the right of my house accused my family of poisoning his cat and never spoke to us again. We did no such thing, but his irrational insistence created an uncomfortable invisible wall that we were no longer allowed to cross. He never spoke to us or even acknowledged our existence ever again, even though we saw him on the street almost every day. This lasted for more than a decade.

A few years later, my father decided to build a tree house for my sister and myself. We did not think that it was necessary to apply for a permit for a small structure in an oak tree only visible from our windows. But word got out and our neighbor on the left side went to the Belvedere city council to testify against the modest exposed tree house only meant for two young girls to play in. The councilmen were appalled that a neighbor would complain about such a thing and almost laughed at this woman for bringing up such a petty thing. And on top of that, afterwards she acted as if nothing had happened and as if she were our long lost best friend. This is a common image of Belvedere neighbors; you never know which ones will throw you under the bus, or which you will stay in contact with forever.

So even though Belvedere is a beautiful town that looks crisp, shiny and calm, there are many small flaws that can occasionally seep through the crust. There is a lot of old wealth here in Belvedere, and as in recent years newcomers have joined the community, there have been fiery conversations between the new and the old and who should have the final word. The correct distribution of power is a very difficult middle to find, and most of the time a third party must join in to settle the argument.

I love Belvedere even if it has some controversies; it is the type of town I hope my children will grow up in. Every evening I listen to the waves as I go to bed and thank my parents for picking this place I am proud to call my home.