There's a cost that comes with living in a town with more yoga studios than food pantries.
Pleasanton is mostly home to affluent, well-off or comfortably middle-class families, but a small contingent of the population is parents who live below the poverty line and struggle to stay in town so they can send their children to the high-achieving Pleasanton public school district.
Those that do so spend the majority of their income on rent in order to keep their kids in the district and in a city that is among the safer municipalities of the Bay Area -- Pleasanton has only had two homicides since 2012.
But that peace of mind comes at a price when traditional services such as food pantries, rent-controlled housing and low-income medical care are in short supply due to a perceived lack of demand and a real lack of funding.
"They're kind of hidden in the wealth that's around here. When you think of Pleasanton and this area, you wouldn't think that a clinic like ours would be bursting at the seams," said Dr. Divya Raj, a chief medical officer at Axis Community Health in downtown Pleasanton, which provides low-cost medical services. "But we do have a lot of patients."
"Right now, I basically spend all I have in my retirement to be able to keep them in an apartment with two bedrooms so they can have their own bedroom," said Miguel Ornelas, a Pleasanton Unified School District parent who scrapes together his family's meager income to afford their apartment. "If you have family, you want to do what's best for them."
Pleasanton Unified parent liaison Rosa Torre said the district has been slowly losing some of their low-income families as parents are priced out of their homes. Ultimately, she said, their children are the ones who suffer.
"They go to Modesto; they go to Tracy. The lucky ones, they go to Livermore where they can afford rent," she said. "There's not the same support that we have here."
The Tri-Valley has other resources, such as hot meals, food pantries and legal services, but they are typically only provided by one or two organizations.
Most services of this nature are available in Hayward, San Leandro and Oakland, but Pleasanton has only one large hot-meal service organization, and the closest food bank is in Livermore.
Open Heart Kitchen provides hot meals across the city, and Tri-Valley Haven offers food at its food pantry in Livermore, plus two mobile food pantries on the first Wednesday of the month in Pleasanton.
Tri-Valley Haven has seen a decrease in families coming to its food pantry in recent years. Over the organization's 2012-13 fiscal year, 1,838 families came to the pantry, while 1,457 used those services in fiscal year 2014-15, according to Tri-Valley Haven.
Spojmie Nasiri, a Pleasanton immigration lawyer who provides discounted services, said it can be difficult for her clients to travel to Oakland or other communities for services -- some rely on buses for transportation, and some have to ration gas to get to work.
"I'm always shocked that so many people come in from Pleasanton and Livermore," she said. "There's no relief for them."
A place to call home
Stephanie Kelly, a case manager at Axis Community Health, said she often points low-income Pleasanton residents toward below-market rate apartments. But when it comes to getting into those apartments, the need far outweighs the available options.
"It's absolutely horrendous. There's nothing here. There are a few websites I use to search for housing, but honestly the closest we're looking at is Tracy or Modesto," she said. "Either the waiting lists for that are closed or if they're open, they're like two or three years long. There's just so many people."
And for Pleasanton Unified parents who are banking on keeping their Pleasanton address so their kids can attend high-achieving public schools, that means they're often left paying market rate.
Many families rent out spare bedrooms to strangers, and these parents -- some of whom can't find full-time jobs because they are undereducated or undocumented -- cobble together several part-time jobs in housekeeping, food service, landscaping or construction to make ends meet.
"The need for affordable units is obviously great throughout the Tri-Valley and the Bay Area in general. I think the demand and the need is greater than any city in the Bay Area is able to provide. I get calls and walk-ins every day looking for affordable housing resources," city housing specialist Fran Reisner said.
Per state requirements, Pleasanton has to maintain the zoning for properties from now until 2022 to allow for the construction of at least 2,067 total below-market rate units citywide. There are no state requirements that mandate how many below-market units are to be built each year, city associate planner Jennifer Hagen said.
The city currently has about 1,020 of those units, plus about 420 that are being built. Reisner said the city requires any new developments to include affordable housing units or face a fee, which is used by the city for affordable housing projects.
Out of the city's roughly two-dozen apartment complexes, five offer below-market rate housing that isn't specifically for elderly, disabled or special-needs individuals.
Among those five complexes, 305 apartments are rented at below market rate.
An additional 565 units are spread out across the city for below-market rate apartments for seniors, and a few organizations such as REACH offer 22 units for special-needs and disabled adults. In addition, 10 developments offer 131 homes that can be bought for lower than market rate with first-time buyer programs with a mortgage based upon monthly income.
About 10 apartment complexes accept Section 8 vouchers, which are federal rental subsidies, but the demand for those vouchers is so high that they are often quickly depleted, and the available apartments fill up fast.
Kelly said she had a case where one woman waited seven years to get a Section 8 voucher to use in Livermore. She said 45,000 people applied for a recent countywide Section 8 lottery for 5,000 vouchers.
A regular, market rate one-bedroom apartment rents for roughly $1,770 to $2,050 a month in Pleasanton, while a below-market-rate one-bedroom unit may rent for $1,100 to $1,440 monthly. Rental prices for low-income units are ultimately based upon the applicant's average monthly income.
Civic Square Apartments on Bernal Avenue doesn't keep a wait list, opting for a "first come, first served" approach when a below-market-rate unit is available.
Other complexes do keep wait lists which are filled with hundreds of families. Kensington Apartments in southwest Pleasanton has a waitlist of about 100 people for each type of apartment (one-, two- and three-bedroom) and Park Hacienda on Owens Drive has between 200 and 300 people on its wait list, office managers at the apartment complexes said.
At Anton Hacienda, a new apartment complex on West Las Positas Boulevard which opened in July, more than 400 people put their names in a lottery for 35 below-market rate units, according to property manager Michelle Bensusen.
"I've applied, but I've been on the list for a couple of years," said Ornelas, who pays $2,300 a month for a two-bedroom apartment while he waits for a spot in The Promenade apartment complex to open up. "By law, they're supposed to have a certain amount of apartments, but it's just not enough."
Access to health
In her small clinic exam room, Raj hears the sort of stories that will keep a person up a night.
Her patients at Axis Community Health on Railroad Avenue in downtown Pleasanton have lost family members to violence, some have escaped countries enveloped in war and a few were once CEOs but lost everything and live out of their cars.
Some are mothers and fathers like Gabina Sanchez, a Pleasanton Unified mother who sees an Axis doctor because she can't afford anything else. Almost all of the income that comes from her part-time jobs goes toward rent and groceries.
"The stories you hear on a regular basis from a lot of our patients is that of struggle. They're just trying to keep their head up on a daily basis and keep food on the table and a place to stay through the night," Raj said. "We have a high demand of patients, and we don't have enough space, which results in not everyone being able to be seen as quickly. ... A lot of them have not seen a doctor in years."
Liz Perez-Howe, chief of clinic services at Axis, said situations at home often affect patients' health. The clinic offers caseworkers who help guide patients through the maze of applications for housing, food stamps and other services.
"That's just the reality of who we serve. In order to get them on a path of complete wholeness, we can't ignore these factors. They can't regulate their diabetes if they have no food at home," she said.
Sacrificing for school
When it comes to school -- the very reason some Pleasanton Unified parents work long hours and save every penny -- being poor can set some students back.
Students who don't have a natural talent for certain subjects can't afford after-school tutoring, and some families don't have computers at home for online research.
Erica, an undocumented resident who asked her last name not be used, said her children usually do well in school, but it's tough when one is struggling. She knows homework help is crucial, but she also has to work many nights. And besides, she didn't get a full education as a child in Mexico, so calculus and French conjugations are too much to ask of her.
Statistically, low-income students don't score as well or graduate as often as students from economically stable households. In 2014, the district's overall graduation rate was 95.7%, while the graduation rate for socio-economically disadvantaged students was 77%, according to district data.
When it comes to getting ready for college, only 31.8% of the district's socio-economically disadvantaged students had completed the courses necessary to get into Cal State or UC schools, according to 2014 district data, while the overall district statistic was 65.6%.
Pleasanton Unified keeps a staff of caseworkers, who are called parent liaisons, who work with individual families to make sure they're getting the resources they need.
Torre said the district runs several programs -- some aimed at behavior intervention, some focused on homework support -- to help low-income parents fill the gap in students' education that would otherwise be filled by private tutoring or counseling.
Parents like Sanchez say the kindness and empathy shown by individual teachers are what keep them going on the hard days. When her 11-year-old son struggled with math, a few of his current and former teachers took time to help him.
"He doesn't want to go to any other school," Sanchez said.
Torre said while many of the children she works with have known no other home but Pleasanton, a few were born in Mexico and moved here as young children.
She said she remembers a 10-year-old telling her how grateful he was to be in the city. "He said, 'I can study. I can live in peace. I can feel safe.'"
"He was a good student. He was excited," she said, remembering the spark in that boy's eyes. "When you see that light, you don't know what is going to happen, but that possibility is amazing."
"There are some people who say it (poverty) doesn't exist here, but it does," she said. "It's here. It's next door, and they need us."
Editor's note: This story is the second in a three-part series, "Sacrificing for Success," about low-income residents in Pleasanton who sacrifice to keep their children in the Pleasanton Unified School District.