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PAUL BOUTIN — Greetings from Atherton, the billonaire bedroom community hidden between Woodside, Menlo Park and Redwood City. Despite its A-list of high-rolling residents including Google CEO Eric Schmidt and brokerage king Charles Schwab, Atherton keeps such a low profile that many Valley residents still haven't heard of it.

Rich and powerful people live everywhere in the Bay Area, but Atherton is the select address for tech power brokers. There's no there here — for those who deal in dreamers and telephone screamers all day, it's a place to come home to peace and quiet.

Town zoning laws passed in the 1920's prohibit Atherton real estate from being subdivided into parcels smaller than one acre — about 200 feet x 200 feet — with few exceptions. Hillside areas are limited even further, as little as one home every five acres. Structures higher than 34 feet are banned outright. The town's general plan still aims "to preserve the Town's character as a scenic, rural, thickly-wooded, residential area with abundant open space."

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[Above: Green Acres, yours for only $16M.]

Eighty years later, the results are in:

  • Population: 7,914
  • Average home price: Over $3 million.
  • Median household income: $240,000
  • Schools with top ratings in science.
  • Police protection to weep for. Check out the online form to have your house watched while you're on vacation.
  • Restaurants and shopping: You drive to Menlo for that stuff.

An Atherton address says you're successful, yet low-profile about it. But how do you get in before you hit the big time? A Chronicle reporter who made the pilgrimage to Web 2.0 overlord Mike Arrington stumbled onto the formula:

Oddly enough, while the house is in affluent and leafy Atherton, it's a fairly nondescript one-story place with barely any artwork on the walls, Ikea furniture, tables cluttered with tech gear he is reviewing and an inefficient heating system that leaves it freezing. Even space heaters and a Duraflame log in the fireplace have no discernible effect.

Yep, Mike was renting. Like wannabe poets who move to North Beach, aspiring tech moguls learn that a half-empty rental in Atherton beats a castle in Cupertino. That's why the town is home to both the super-rich and the house-poor who want to be like them. Next time you see a middle-aged man in Dockers tilt back the last of a Petit Syrah at Savvy Cellar in Redwood City, toddle out to his 2000 Accord at the curb, and pilot it carefully south down El Camino, you needn't wonder where he's going. He's already arrived.