Perhaps not surprisingly, original owners were not common among the casualties. “When we bought, we eked out every last cent we could — I remember wishing for just $5000 more, to get a little bit bigger house. But at the time, lenders were not lending like crazy. You could only buy what you could afford. There weren’t any of these crazy shark loans, deferred-interest this and balloon-payment that.” As the market spiraled upward, she was tempted to cash in — who wouldn’t be? — but she’s not sorry she stayed put. “I used to sit in my house and look at the little chart that says how much your home has appreciated. I beat myself up, thinking that we could have bought a little more. But it’s only worth that if someone pays it. My house is my house, and that’s that. We scored big and we’re still here.”
And she’s glad to be here today. She admits she has yet to meet anybody new, but the event feels right. “I know the faces of people who live down here at the bottom of the street, but only because I see them coming home. A lot of us are working families; it’s not like the ’50s, where you had a wife who stayed home with the kids. You’re cordial, but I couldn’t tell you who everyone is.” Part of that, of course, is due to the sales-and-foreclosure turnover, but that phenomenon may be history here. The foreclosure wave has passed through, she says, “and it’s been pretty stable for the past year.” It’s a good time for a party like this.
Getting There and Settling In
The toll section of the 125 south, the part of the freeway that was going to save Otay Ranch from endless treks down Telegraph Canyon Road toward the 805, cuts through steep hillsides and over deep ravines as it curves away from the free section. There is little traffic as I head down between the bare, brown hillsides; at one point, I count five cars and a school bus. Now and then, I spy a single house atop a hillock; one or two look like small farms. The massive bank of FASTRAK sensors suspended over the freeway looks forlorn and superfluous — until I pass the H Street exit coming into Chula Vista. Then the march of houses is on; then the huge power station I passed a ways back starts to make sense. By the time I’m on East Palomar, I can understand the signs announcing a future rapid-transit corridor along a center island that is now thick with daffodils.
The landscaped roadways were a selling point for Gallardo, who bought the last house offered in phase one. “I’m always in front of a computer at work, and when I drive, I’ll notice the hiking trails” that snake up the hillsides rising from the street. “It’s a reaffirmation for me, every time I drive.” She contrasts it to various upscale North County neighborhoods that can be reached only by driving through industrial areas, or agricultural zones, or older, less pristine developments. “I don’t want to be scared, wondering, ‘My goodness, what kind of neighborhood am I in?’ I want to feel happy as I exit the freeway — all of a sudden, everything looks really nice. And it’s important for when I have guests from out of town. The planning of the community was perfect.”
Gallardo grew up in Santee, her husband Victor in west Chula Vista. They were newly married in 2001, “renting a town home in the Scripps Ranch area. We were down here visiting Victor’s parents, sitting in Café Tazza on H Street, and I picked up a newspaper while I was sipping on a mocha. There were all these colorful ads for new communities in Chula Vista. I never would have known they were here.”
At first, she hesitated. “When we would go to visit Victor’s parents, I would ask, ‘Are we safe?’ and he would laugh at me. All I ever heard about Chula Vista was the drive-by shootings. I always thought, ‘It’s a good thing I live in Santee, because there are no gang-related things.’ Victor would say, ‘Did you know that in old Chula Vista, the majority of residents are actually older white people?’ Now I’m, like, ‘Whoops! I fell for the stereotypes.’ As a matter of fact, I’ve seen more Asians and whites here than Hispanics.” (Gallardo is herself Hispanic.)
Stereotypes or no, she loved the newness. “They put in all these new parks, and all these new schools and facilities. My son’s ‘school,’ Kids Depot of Otay Ranch, is only a block away. I didn’t want a long commute with him; I see so many accidents, and I don’t want my son subjected to that. And they have webcams. It’s run more like a school than a day care. Everything is set up like a curriculum. At three years of age, he’s already got his own little personality. He knows the Pledge of Allegiance. He knows what the capital of the United States is. He’s very well prepared for the assessment test they do for kids entering kindergarten: colors, shapes, everything they test them for. And I can see the school he’ll be attending from my backyard.” She thinks that, with good parent participation, the new schools can rival those of Poway.
The newness, of course, extended to the house itself. “I loved the fact that it was completely brand new, and we would not have to worry about ‘Oh, what did the previous residents do to their home?’ I don’t want to sit on a toilet when I’m not quite sure who lived there before me.”
Unlike Crystal and Eric, Judy and Victor didn’t buy at first sight — they looked in neighborhoods further east as well. But Sutter Creek won out, thanks mostly to its larger backyard and the pressures of time. “If we’d waited any longer to jump in, we would have missed out. The phase-one houses were getting picked up so fast, and phase two would have been much more expensive. Every week, when we came back to see the model homes, there was another price hike.” They spent around $310,000 and got the middle model: four bedrooms, 2010 square feet. “We like the layout; the smaller model has only three bedrooms, and the larger model doesn’t really have a full front yard. You basically drive up to the front door and then swing into the garage.”