Poway, Calif.: A Tight Community With San Diego at Its Doorstep


Arlene and Rob Tendick were living with their 1-year-old daughter in San Diego’s hip North Park neighborhood in 2015 when they decided they needed more space.

Ms. Tendick, a public affairs consultant, and Mr. Tendick, a physical therapist, loved the walkability of their neighborhood and its proximity to breweries and good restaurants. But sharing their 800-square-foot cottage with a toddler made for cramped quarters, and they faced a busy street, which meant their growing daughter couldn’t safely play outside.

“I think we had all of the reasons that every young couple has when they move to the ‘burbs,” Ms. Tendick said. “We wanted open space so Abby could play and run and explore, and we didn’t have that in North Park. And it was important for us to put down roots and be somewhere where she could grow up.”

Poway, Calif., a city in northeastern San Diego County with more than 50,000 residents, was the only community the couple, both 36, considered. Poway’s schools consistently outrank those in the neighboring San Diego Unified School District, which Ms. Tendick said was the primary draw. But it also has fishing, hiking and the trappings of a small town, despite being only a half-hour from downtown San Diego and minutes from major San Diego freeways. Abby is now 5 years old and in kindergarten, and the family has added a son, who is 1.

Moving to Poway, Ms. Tendick said, has offered them the best of both worlds: “We wanted to live in San Diego, but it was important for us to have this smaller community.”

The couple, first-time homeowners, settled on a 1,200-square-foot ranch-style home in Poway with three bedrooms and two baths, paying $453,000. They were following good friends who had settled in Poway a few months earlier from the bustling Little Italy neighborhood. Within a year, Ms. Tendick’s sister, Alyssa Roscoe, moved to the neighborhood with her husband. The three couples now have five young children among them.

“Poway feels a little bit like going back in time,” said Ms. Tendick. “When I was a kid I would play outside until the streetlights came on, and there are very few communities that are still like that, but Poway is. That feeling of nostalgia is still alive and well. You don’t feel like you’re in giant San Diego.”

Peter Harnish, 38, and his wife, Andrea Harnish, 41, moved to Poway in 2009 for many of the same reasons. “We didn’t have any children yet. We were freshly married and looking for our first home,” said Mr. Harnish, the chief executive of Well iQ, a health care digital feedback platform. “My wife was born and raised in San Diego, and she said, ‘O.K., if we’re going to have kids in the future, then we should be looking in Poway.’”

They paid $467,500 for a three-bedroom, two-bath house near Old Poway Park, where a turn-of-the-century railroad depot and several historic buildings have been preserved alongside newer restaurants and green space. In 2019, they sold that home for $655,000 and upgraded to a four-bedroom, three-bath house with high ceilings, a large backyard and a spacious master suite in Poway’s Bridlewood Lakeside neighborhood, for $925,000.

Leaving town was never really an option for the move, Mr. Harnish said: “The school system was the original reason we moved to Poway. And when we decided we wanted to stay, of course schooling played into it, but the community definitely did too.”

Poway sits east of Interstate 15 in northeast San Diego County. At its center is Old Poway Park, where you’ll find historic buildings including the Nelson House, built in the early 20th century, as well as a mock train depot and a functioning locomotive that still makes runs on Saturdays when the Poway Farmers Market sets up in the park.

Credit…John Francis Peters for The New York Times

Lake Poway, in the city’s northeast section, is a destination for hiking trails, fishing and boating. Commerce is clustered along Pomerado Road, a four-lane thoroughfare lined with churches, schools and strip malls, as well as the Palomar Medical Center Poway, a 107-bed hospital.

Prices in Poway’s housing market are holding steady. In 2019, there were 493 sales of single-family homes, at a median price of $782,500; in 2018 there were 501 such sales at a median price of $792,000, and in 2017 there were 564 such sales at a median price of $728,500, according to data from the San Diego Association of Realtors. Renters can find a two-bedroom apartment for about $1,600 a month, and those looking to lease a single-family home can expect to pay about $3,000 for a three-bedroom house.

Credit…John Francis Peters for The New York Times

On April 27, 2019, a man armed with an AR-15 rifle entered the Chabad of Poway, an Orthodox synagogue, and opened fire, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring three others, including the synagogue’s rabbi and an 8-year-old girl. The gunman, 20-year-old John T. Earnest, is set to go on trial in June.

It was an event, said Cynthia Elizondo, 53, a realtor and Poway resident of more than two decades, that traumatized the city. Residents, she said, responded exactly the way she expected they would.

Credit…John Francis Peters for The New York Times

Less than 72 hours after the shooting, she and more than 4,000 Poway residents packed into the gym at Poway High School for an emotional vigil. “It was a rally to show support, to show unity, and to tell the Jewish community here, ‘We’ve got your back,’” she said. “If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere.”

It wasn’t the first time Ms. Elizondo had seen the community in Poway mobilize. A breast cancer survivor, she said that when she was going through chemotherapy, friends and neighbors organized such an extensive meal train that she didn’t need to cook for months. “My community rallied around me,” she said.

Credit…John Francis Peters for The New York Times

Many young families choose Poway because of the Poway Unified School District, which operates 12 schools within Poway, as well as 26 additional schools in neighboring San Diego communities.

Elementary schools in Poway include Chapparal, Garden Road, Midland, Painted Rock, Pomerado, Tierra Bonita and Valley. During the 2018-19 school year, 76 percent of third-graders in the district met benchmarks for English language arts on the California Smarter Balanced Assessment test, compared with 56 percent in the San Diego Unified School District and 49 percent across California.

During the same year, 77 percent of third-graders in Poway Unified met benchmarks in math, compared with 60 percent districtwide and 50 percent statewide. (According to the California Department of Education, students with scores at or above benchmark levels on these tests are ready for higher-level coursework).

Most students in Poway will attend Poway High School, where during the 2017-18 school year, 92 percent of students who took the SAT exam met benchmarks for English, compared with 94 percent districtwide, 81 percent in the San Diego Unified School District, and 71 percent statewide; 82 percent of students met benchmarks for math, compared with 84 percent districtwide, 60 percent in the San Diego Unified School District, and 50 percent statewide. (For the SATs, the College Board defines students as “college ready” when their test scores meet a benchmark of 480 in English and 530 in math).

Poway residents can commute to several of San Diego’s major business hubs. Downtown and the beaches are both about 30 minutes away, though rush hour can add an additional 45 minutes; business parks in Mira Mesa and Sorrento Valley can be reached in about 20 minutes. Drivers commuting to the business hubs of Vista and Carlsbad face gridlock through much of North County San Diego and rides that can stretch over an hour.

Poway’s first residents were Native Americans from the Kumeyaay and Luiseño tribes, according to the City of Poway. White settlers began arriving in the late 1850s, and the town had 800 residents by 1887.

The first subdivision in Poway was opened in the 1950s by Poway Valley Homes, and the dam that created Lake Poway was built in 1971. The city incorporated in 1980.


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