The city of Oceanside was at one point referred to as 'Ocean-slime.' But now, new resorts and trendy restaurants are filling its downtown and home prices are rising at a more rapid rate than other coastal cities.
Some residents say those changes are gentrifying Oceanside and killing the last affordable coastal city in San Diego County.
Oceanside has long been a unique city for its affordability, said Zach Cordner, who curated the ‘Oceanside Unfiltered’ exhibit at the Oceanside Museum of Art. The exhibit aims to showcase a candid view of Oceanside’s places and individuals that often go unnoticed.
“This show really shows how there's layers in our city that form what we are," he said. "It's not just about surfing, not just about the piers. It's all the different fabrics of the community coming together to weave what Oceanside is, which is this multicultural melting pot.“
Pictures of lowriders, Folklorico dancers, small barrios, and portraits of people experiencing homelessness are some of the images that make up an exhibit.
“The main differences are the cultural differences, the ethnic differences,“ he said. “It's a lot of white people south of here...it's just how it is.”
Oceanside is about 36% Hispanic or Latino, while Carlsbad and Encinitas are each 14%, according to the latest census data.
Cordner said the differences aren’t just ethnic.
“Oceanside I think for the longest time has had the stereotype that it's a rough city,“ he said. “There’s gangs, there's homeless, prostitution, all sorts of things.”
But how did Oceanside get that rough stereotype?
Kristi Hawthorne, president of the Oceanside Historical Society, said the city is becoming what it was always planned to be: a resort city.
“With a name like Oceanside, it says it all," she said. "It was established in 1883 by Andrew Jackson Meyers and his sole purpose for developing his town of Oceanside was to bring people to it."
One of the reasons Oceanside stayed cheaper and received negative stereotypes has to do with malls, Hawthorne said.
In the 1960s, the introduction of malls changed many downtowns across the country and removed stores from Oceanside’s downtown.
“When our downtown changed and all of our department stores, shoe stores, clothes stores, they all went to the mall, what was left in Oceanside was nothing. We had a lot of vacancies,” she said.
Vacant storefronts and lots spread and Oceanside became known as 'Ocean-slime.'
“When the car dealerships moved to Car Country Carlsbad, what were we left with was empty lots or it went to used car lots," she said. "We were once this mecca of shopping and car buying with a high tax revenue."
Becoming a resort city
Now, the city is seeing a lot of change — two new beachfront resorts opened their doors less than a year ago, and trendy restaurants and cafes are filling downtown.
Oceanside’s nickname of ‘Ocean-slime’ is fading away, and Hawthorne said it’s showing signs it will live up to its original potential as a resort city.
“In 1887 we actually got a resort hotel. It was called the South Pacific Hotel," she said. "It was a four-story hotel that was right on the bluff about where the Wyndham property is now. It was built solely to attract new land buyers, visitors and vacationers."
“Now they're starting to explore a new seaside destination in Oceanside, what's new and what's next,” he said. ”This is the new hip part of Southern California that prior hasn't really been explored.”
Fairchild said the new resorts are projected to bring in $3.4 million in tax revenue when stabilized.
As tourism and events pick up, the resorts will have more job opportunities and boost the local economy, he said.
Aaron and Roger "Roddy" Browning, the owners of the Flying Pig Pub and Kitchen said they moved their restaurant to the downtown area because of the boom that's happening there.
“We have a lot of catching up to do and this change is good for that because it's stimulating people coming to Oceanside,” Roddy said.
But Roddy said some local residents are not excited about the growth.
“We have a lot of regulars that are not extremely excited about it because they want to keep Oceanside the way Oceanside was,” he said. ”As much as we loved it as well, I think it's important to recognize that change is going to happen with or without you.”
But he hopes the very locals that saved his business during the pandemic will get involved in City Council meetings to preserve some of Oceanside’s originality.
“I think it's important that we keep it a locals town,” Roddy said. “We will embrace the tourism, but nobody wants this to turn into just a tourist destination completely. That's going to take all the soul and flavor out of Oceanside, that's not what we want.”
Home prices rising
Oceanside’s abandoned downtown made the city's real estate cheaper—a place where a blue-collar working family could afford a home near the beach.
Ten years ago, the average price for a home in Oceanside was $313,000, while the average price in Carlsbad was $559,000 and $709,000 in Encinitas, according to data from Zillow, an online real estate company.
But now Oceanside’s real estate prices are spiking. Zillow data shows home values in Oceanside almost tripled in the past decade, a far faster rate than in neighboring coastal cities.
The average home now costs more than $700,000, beyond what many working families can afford.
One of those families is the Sanchezes. Nataly Sanchez lives with her parents, brother, and two kids in Oceanside's Libby Lake neighborhood.
“It's a two-bedroom house, one bath, so it's a little difficult, but with prices soaring and everything it's hard to purchase a bigger house,” she said.
They’ve lived in the same house for 25 years.
Sanchez was looking to purchase her own home in Oceanside, but the only homes within her budget were in Temecula.
“We’re rooted here, we don't want to move from here," she said. "But at this point, it's kind of like, should we move over there because it's what we could afford?”
She said Oceanside is gentrifying and locals and neighborhoods like the one she lives in are being forgotten.
“All the funding has been going to tourism. They forget about all these little neighborhoods," Sanchez said. "They’re developing new housing, but they’re developing housing that minorities or people that have been here in Oceanside can't afford."
But Hawthorne said the rising home prices isn't gentrification — it’s something everyone is seeing.
“That's happening everywhere, not just Oceanside,“ she said. “The home prices that continue at this point in time to skyrocket are skyrocketing all over Southern California and San Diego County. It's not because new development is happening that Oceanside property values are skyrocketing. They were going to skyrocket with this economy that's happening right now, unfortunately.”
Home values have increased everywhere — but not as fast of a rate as in Oceanside.
Sanchez can feel that plainly.
She is helping community members be more active in City Council meetings and speak up in an effort to be heard.
Cornder said he will continue to document the changes in Oceanside. The changes could hurt some communities, he said.
“There'll be pockets I think that can weather the storm, but I think overall all the different neighborhoods of Oceanside, prices are going to go up and locals are going to get squeezed out,“ he said. “It's a fact and it's sad."
Anger over high gas prices has spurred lawmakers in Sacramento to come up with some way to ease the burden. Plus, as Oceanside transforms from its “Ocean-slime” image, residents say gentrification is killing the last affordable coastal city in San Diego County.
Dueling proposals from Democrats and Republicans in the California legislature aim to provide relief from soaring gas prices. Meanwhile, funding is on the way for mental health treatment for San Diego’s health care workers.