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The Riehl World: What a Difference Five Miles Makes

Comparing My Two North County Hometowns


By Richard Riehl

A year and a half ago, Karen and I moved to San Marcos from Carlsbad. We didn’t move because we were unhappy there. We moved to the Château Lake San Marcos, an “Independent Living, Active Adult Community,” because we discovered aging in place was not for us.

Twenty years ago, we moved from Terre Haute, Indiana to Carlsbad, when I accepted a job at four-year-old Cal State San Marcos. We chose to live in Carlsbad entirely because of its location. After eight years in the Midwest, these two west coasters were eager to return to a home on the ocean’s edge.

We no longer live so close to the ocean, but we’re happy here on the shore of a beautiful lake. Out of belated curiosity, and free of buyer’s remorse, I’ve now set out do what most others do when looking for a new home: compare locations.

I began with a search with the help of Neighborhood Scout, https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ a site that allows users to compare location characteristics that are important to them.

Here’s what I discovered, from 2018 census figures, about my new hometown, population, 96,000 compared to my old one, population 115,000.

One of every three Marcosians is a college graduate. More than half of Carlsbadians are.

The median household income in San Marcos is $70,000, compared to $103,000 in Carlsbad.

In San Marcos 12% of residents have incomes below the poverty line. It’s 6% in Carlsbad.

45% of San Marcos residents are white, compared to 72% in Carlsbad.

In San Marcos 62% of residents speak English at home, compared to 83% in Carlsbad.

24% of San Marcos residents were foreign-born, compared to 14% in Carlsbad.

The median home value in San Marcos is $481,000. In Carlsbad it’s $961,000.

The overall crime rate in San Marcos means the city is safer than 48% of all US cities. Carlsbad’s higher crime rate means it’s safer than only 29%.

The violent crime rate in San Marcos is the same as Carlsbad’s, at two per 1,000 residents.

In San Marcos there are 12 property crimes per 1,000 residents. In Carlsbad there are 20.

The chances for becoming a victim of a property crime in San Marcos are 1 in 81, compared to 1 in 40 in Carlsbad.

Household incomes and home values show San Marcos is the less affluent community. But what explains the substantially lower property crime rate?

A paper published in 2016 by two University of Central Oklahoma researchers, Neil Metz and Mariya Burdina, Neighbourhood income inequality and property crime, may have the answer.

The results of the study indicated, as the income gap with one’s poorest neighbor increases, property crime in one’s own block group increases. We also found that the poorest block group relative to its neighbors tends to have lower property crime rates.

The University of Central Oklahoma study compared neighborhood blocks within Nashville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; and Tucson, Arizona, unlike the Neighborhood Scout comparisons of North County’s neighboring cities.

But what if we do a “thought problem,” as my mathematician friend often suggests. What if San Marcos and Carlsbad were to merge into San Carlsmarcosbad, population 211,000? Would there be a link between the crime rates and income inequality in West San Carlsmarcosbad, and its poorest neighbor, East San Carlsmarcosbad?

You do the math.

The Riehl World