Eight years ago at 6:30 in the morning, if you surfed the beach breaks closest to downtown Oceanside, you’d see the underworld scurrying home like cockroaches getting back to the rocks. The crystal meth/prostitute element has been largely squeezed out for two reasons. For one, prices of homes west of I-5 have exploded. My house has tripled in value in the past decade. Brand-new townhomes near Coast Highway start at $719,000, a startling change from two years ago. The other reason may have to do with Oceanside cops and their overzealous activity: in September homeless kids testified before the city council that police arrested and beat them just for being homeless.
I was born and raised in Oceanside and have had an office on Coast Highway for three years. My parents went to Oceanside High with children of Japanese-American farmers from the San Luis Rey Valley who were interned during World War II. Some of those families now sell produce at the downtown farmer’s market Thursday mornings.
While housing values have skyrocketed, Oceanside’s economy seems mired in a swamp of small-minded politics and semper fi inertia. Some businesses complain that the chamber of commerce is more interested in local politics and collecting handouts from the city than in promoting business. Downtown Oceanside is still dominated by check-cashing joints, used-car lots, and military dry cleaners. The ubiquity of the Alberto’s and Robertito’s is underscored by the taco shop named ’To’s. Four months ago a city council majority agreed to pay developer Doug Manchester $2.2 million not to build an oceanfront hotel complex that had been nixed by the California Coastal Commission. Our city council also paid $1 million-plus for an all-nude, 18-and-up Playgirl club, with hopes that the building would be leased by a high-end restaurant. One year later the building still sits vacant.
But resourceful businesspeople have popped up to bring in their own concept of a new Oceanside. Two doors from me, an out-of-business hubcap store is being replaced by a surfboard shop. A recording studio has moved in. A Cuban restaurant has opened one block away, and six blocks down an attorney/businessman is attempting to bring live music to his Hill Street Café (Coast Highway was called Hill Street until ten years ago). A shop with hip-hop gear thrives, as do two stores with secondhand clothing for the hip.
At 60 years old, the Coronet full-service newsstand was one of the oldest businesses in Oceanside when it closed last August. (It opened three months after Camp Pendleton.) Longtime Oceanside businessman and native Jamaican Ras Charles, who bought the shop, already ran two reggae-oriented stores next to it: a Caribbean food store and a clothing/gift shop. His third Coast Highway business will be called Yard Records, dedicated to reggae, world beat, and gospel music. Its opening runs counter to the closing of music retail stores countywide.
The two largest downtown movie theaters tell two different stories. The Star is used occasionally for talent shows and plays. The Crest Theater, a couple of blocks away (and which my grandfather helped build), has been occupied by a populist religious group that has also taken over adjacent offices and storefronts.
But many of my neighbors know that Oceanside is about contrast. As the city council swears it wants upscale nightlife attractions, the bowling alley prospers. And as housing prices boom, Coast Highway remains home to two RV-trailer parks and three mobile-home parks. The joke is that one of those — Miramar, at the north end of Tremont — offers its renters a better ocean view than any new multimillion-dollar high-rise ever will.