Last week, a little bit more of a small North County coastal enclave known as Ponto disappeared. Once defined as the South Carlsbad area west of I-5 between Palomar Airport Road and the Batiquitos Lagoon, it has long been eyed by city planners for “improvements.”
For years, Carlsbad leaders have been embarrassed at the remaining rag-tag homes and businesses on Ponto Drive's ocean view, just off Coast Highway 101, across the street from the Carlsbad State Beach campground.
Last week, a large two-story cement structure, the longtime Roy's Auto Body, and the “Wood Not For Sale” storage lot (a 30-foot-high, 2000-square-foot pile of chopped firewood) were demolished. Part of Ponto Drive (a popular parking area for surfers) was also taken out. Grading is now under way for the eight-acre Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort and Spa, part of the City's Ponto Vision Plan that was fiercely fought by area residents.
At Hernandez Upholstery, Cynthia says her father has owned the shop for over 30 years, and they aren't planning to move anytime soon. “The rest [of the people on the street] aren't selling out,” says Cynthia. She points out the small home next to their business. “They were offered $1.5 million and a new home and still said 'no.'”
Down the street at 1748 Ponto Drive, the home's owner wanted to improve his rental property, but the City denied all expansion permits and would not allow him to hook up to the existing sewer line. All of the Ponto properties are forced to remain on septic tanks. The City wants the ten remaining structures — five businesses and five homes — gone. In the planning hearings, seizing the property through eminent domain was mentioned.
The city’s “Vision Plan” for the remaining ocean- and lagoon-view property (about five times larger than what Hilton will use up) includes mostly tourist-related businesses — hotels, restaurants, and shops.
To non-locals, the only identifying remnant of the town is found in one for the five remaining businesses — Ponto Self Storage, and the name of the state's South Carlsbad Beach parking lot known as “South Ponto.” Local surfers and fishermen also call the nearby jetty — the outlet for the Batiquitos Lagoon — the Ponto Jetty.
The death of Ponto started in the late 1970s, when the City of Carlsbad annexed everything south to La Costa Avenue. But even into the early 1980s, the Ponto area hosted hundreds of acres of flower and tomato fields, clearly visible to I-5 motorists.