One of the giant flapping billboards has the gall to obscure half of the once-cheery Mission Beach Elementary School lettering still hanging onto one of the old buildings – the sign that once greeted elementary school kids when they got to school.
It’s a sad sight and one that makes you think – what went wrong in Mission Beach? Where did all the children go? Evidently there were once kids in Mission Beach – they built an elementary school and all – so where did they all go?
I think the answer is pretty evident if you walk down some of the courts in north MB in the off season, mid-week. There’s just no one around. It feels like a ghost town. It could be 75 degrees and sunny in February (and usually is) and it’s tumbleweeds. Then a few days later it’s some holiday and the alleys are choked with giant Suburbans and all the trash cans are overflowing with beer 30-packs.
So yeah, vacation rentals. A few agencies aggregate a bunch of absentee-owned properties and rent them out for a few days at a time to high-paying visitors. Nothing wrong with out-of-towners of course, they just want to hang out at the beach and bay awesomeness that is Mission Beach.
Who can blame them? But they are transient. They don’t do a damn thing to build community. They don’t get to know their neighbors, and they sure don’t enroll their kids in the local elementary school.
So in 1996, the school became sufficiently hollowed-out that SD Unified shut it down. And then in 2013 they sold it (over the objection of then-Mayor Bob Filner) for $18 million to some developers (McKellar-Ashbrook LLC, of La Jolla), who, naturally, plan to build a lot of condos. Which will then become… vacation rentals. And so it goes. Mission Beach inexorably becomes a giant ad-hoc hotel, and ceases to be a neighborhood. Is that really what anybody here wants?
The Manhattan Beach example
Other communities in Southern California have dealt with this issue of course. In Manhattan Beach, which has “walking streets” like Mission Beach’s courts, is full of families, with kids running willy-nilly and robust elementary schools.
Manhattan Beach has five elementary schools. They even have their own school district. Can’t we support even one?
When Manhattan Beach felt threatened by encroaching STVRs (that is, any rental under 30 days), they voted to ban them, as have Santa Monica and Hermosa Beach… and Tiburon and Sausalito and New York City, etc. You want to a place to stay for just a couple days? There are hotels for that.
Airbnb isn’t evil per se – I use it myself – but when STVRs comprise more than some reasonable single-digit percentage of dwellings, the gutting of neighborhoods really becomes an issue. I think there’s a balance to be had vis-a-vis STVRs, but what we have now ain’t it.
A line in the sand
All around PB, and in Crown Point in particular, you see the “Neighborhoods are for Neighbors” signs. These neighborhoods feel like their character is in jeopardy, and they are alarmed. I can see why. They don’t want PB to become binary like MB (empty or party!).
The sense of community is palpable and strong. Droves of parents walk up Fanuel Street every morning with their kids for drop-off at PBE. Part of Beryl shuts down every year for the 4th of July parade. Kids ride their scooters by all day on the sidewalks. It’s awesome, and it depends entirely on neighbors who have a stake in the community.
What about Mission Beach, where about 40 percent of houses are STVRs? All you see are signs promoting vacation rentals. It’s like the entire area has been sacrificed and given up for dead. It’s like there’s no community left to protect, so no one tries. It’s sad.
I partially blame John Spreckels and his 1,250-square-foot lots for making life hard on families, and I partially blame 1.1 FARs and parking requirements, but I mostly blame money, in the form of vacation rentals.
I love Mission Beach and I’d love nothing more than to see it become teeming with families again. For that to even have a chance, we need to put reasonable limits on STVRs. And enforcement!
City of San Diego data
Manhattan Beach Unified School District
Manhattan Beach bans short-term home rentals to preserve community character
Santa Monica Cracks Down On Airbnb, Bans 'Vacation Rentals' Under A Month
Tiburon bans short-term rentals, including Airbnb and VRBO
Vacationers incompatible with neighborhood quality of life