Thanksgiving weekend found plenty of San Diegans less than thankful for housing conditions in their communities.
Saturday (November 25th) saw Ocean Beach play host to a short-term vacation rental "walk of shame" sponsored by the online publication OB Rag and Save San Diego Neighborhoods. About 80 people gathered to march down Abbott Street, stopping frequently as buildings that had been converted from long-term housing to permanent vacation rentals were pointed out.
"All the people here were evicted and they started renovations. These used to be apartments renting for between $1450 and $1850 a month, affordable housing for community members," said Rag publisher Frank Gormlie, standing outside four two-bedroom units at 2101-2107 Abbott that sold to an out-of-town investor for $1.3 million in April.
Loud renters in O.B. (corner of Abbott and Voltaire)
"There were residents here forced out of the community," said Gormlie. "If there's no one left to care about the community, there's no community left."
In Mission Beach, where a new development was recently approved on the site of the community's shuttered elementary school, the few remaining residents feel much closer to the tipping point.
"It's plenty scary what we're hearing about what's happening here in Ocean Beach, but it could get worse," warned Gary Wonacott, president of the Mission Beach Town Council. "When I moved to Mission Beach, we had between 2 and 4 percent of our housing being used as permanent vacation rentals. Now we're at 45 percent.
"The court I live on used to have no short-term rentals — now we have four, and two more for sale being advertised as ‘ideal for conversion.’”
Protesters expressed dismay that, for too long, their calls for action have fallen on deaf ears.
"The Pacific Beach Planning Group in 2007 asked our councilmember at the time, Kevin Faulconer, to address the issue of our neighborhoods being run over by short-term vacation rentals," said Brian Curry, that organization's past president. "Nothing has happened except continued expansion."
The groups are rallying opponents of short-term vacation rentals in advance of a city-council meeting to discuss the issue at 10 a.m. on December 12. Due to an anticipated overflow crowd, the meeting has been moved from council chambers to Golden Hall next door.
On Sunday (November 26th), more than three dozen protesters gathered at a Linda Vista apartment complex on behalf of tenants who say complaints of uninhabitable dwellings and, more recently, unreasonable rent hikes have gone ignored by ownership.
As the group San Diego Tenants United had threatened a month earlier, protests moved away from the complex and were instead staged outside the Point Loma home of Kevin Mathy, listed as the management contact for Village Apartments ownership.
"He's not coming to meetings, he's been neglecting everything that we've tried to do to contact him so far," said Erin Bodhi, a Tenants United organizer. "The two times he's been in the office in Linda Vista he avoids conversations with us; he'll close the door and stay away. So we're here to say, 'Okay, we'll bring the conversation to you.'"
As the tenants' group approached the Catalina Boulevard residence, two vehicles arrived driven by a man and a woman. After quickly conferring, the man entered the garage and quickly closed the door while the woman stood for a moment on her phone before walking down the neighboring home's driveway and crawling through bushes to access the house being picketed. She emerged the same way a few minutes later, rushed to a van parked on the street, and drove away.
"Greed cannot be more important than human beings," reads part of a letter that was delivered to an unanswered front door and read through a bullhorn. "We are okay with a rent increase but not a gouging increase. Our incomes do not rise at the same rate. You know that."
The group has resisted recent rent increases of 40 percent or more coming in the wake of recent exterior improvements to the Linda Vista property; tenants have sought a deal capping rent hikes at 2 percent annually.
While protesters continued with chants including, "This black mold is getting old!" several neighbors and passersby came out or stopped to observe the scene. None claimed to know the Mathy family, but one man who identified himself only as a longtime resident noted that they may have been new to the neighborhood: he said that a kitchen fire at the house last year had led to extensive remodeling (public records indicate the home was last sold in 2011). He and at least one other neighbor mistakenly assumed that the protest might be related to disgruntled contractors on that job.
"We view it as a spiritual imperative for us to stand with the vulnerable people in our neighborhood; we see this as an extension of our Sunday church gathering, because one cannot worship God and then ignore the young men and women in our neighborhood who are literally getting sick from the conditions at places like [Village Apartments]," offered pastor Noel Musicha of Ebenezer Church in Linda Vista, which brought several volunteers to the rally.
"God created enough for everyone's need, but perhaps not enough for everyone's greed. So we're asking to be human again."