Cooperative Living in San Diego

Updated: Dec 9, 2019

Cooperative living has been well documented throughout the world. In many areas where the weather is harsh, such as in northern Sweden, families have found that cooperative living in some cases is necessary for survival, but once engrained into the culture, becomes an integral part of daily life. There are also situations where cooperative living is implemented as more of an artificial process, such as described in Cooperative communities: Why we should have a stake in where we live, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, Jul 1, 2018. (

It only takes one STR on a block in Pacific Beach, or La Jolla, or Ocean Beach to inflame the neighbors. But in these communities where STRs are less than ten percent of the total dwelling units, it is difficult to see the STRs disrupting the cooperative living, although to some degree, it happens in every neighborhood where there are STRs. In Mission Beach with a much greater percentages of STRs, the impact is much greater on cooperative living and unfortunately is an ideal community for a case study.

In areas like Mission Beach, the proximity of residents to one another has in many cases led to an environment where cooperative living has developed over the decades. Cooperative living in Mission Beach has manifested itself in many ways. On key national holidays, the difficulties associated with leaving and returning to the beach area has encouraged neighborhood holiday parties and other activities. There are neighborhood car pools to places of work and schools. An approaching storm brings out many residents to assess how they might help their neighbors with sand bags. When a crime is discovered, the word goes out immediately to neighbors to keep an eye out. Healthier residents help with garbage cans, or call for a repair person for neighbors who are bed ridden. You will frequently see residents sweeping up his or her entire court, or in some cases, erasing unwanted graffiti. And all to often, residents are there to help comfort a recent widow or widower. Neighbors help out each other with their specialties, such plumbing, carpeting, lawyering, and engineering.

Mission Beach has a very diverse, eclectic population, most well educated, including surfers, students, professionals and retirees. There is a tendency for neighbors and residents to look out for each other. There are too numerous examples of a husband or wife passing a way, but with neighbors providing important support, visiting the new widow or widower, encouraging the neighbors to join the community in different local activities.

Of course, the students who have populated the Mission Beach community for the nine months of the school year have been a mixed bag. Some of the students have moved into Mission Beach and assumed a position of entitlement, while others have communicated and expressed interest in learning more about his or her neighbors.

Like many communities in San Diego, there is a segment of any group of neighbors who move on, such as-students, and others who become permanent fixtures. During the last ten years in Mission Beach, we have seen a major change in the community demographics, with fewer students and more short term renters. For any number of reasons, the number of students has decreased so that they were once very visible in the community, too much at times, where as now as a group, they are barely noticeable. In some cases, the students have been replaced by traveling nurses, whose duration in the community can range from one to six months. Many of the traveling nurses tend to work late night hours, thus resulting in a positive, yet limited involvement with neighbors and the community.

The evolution of short term, meaning less than 30 day rentals, in the beach areas has gone through several distinct changes:

1. Vacation homes in the 1950’s through the 1960’s, which were only occupied part of the year, mostly in the summer time and holidays, by families and friends of the owners.

2. Summer – winter rentals in the 1970’s through the 2,000’s, when students and or professional occupied properties for nine months, and the properties were vacation rented for usually seven days as a minimum during the summer months.

a. These rentals were virtually all on the ocean and bay boardwalks and included about 400 properties

b. The rentals became part of the Mission Beach culture

3. Short term rentals beginning in the mid-2000’s

a. The number of short term rentals increased to about 800 properties in Mission Beach by the year 2010 as evidenced by the number of TOT certificates that had been purchased by STR owners in Mission Beach at that time.

b. The introduction of the platforms, AirBnB and others in 2008, which resulted in the greatest increase in STRs in Mission Beach from 2008 to 2014. Since 2014, the number of STRs in Mission Beach has increased, but at a far slower rate.

c. In July of 2018 and 2019, the number of STR listings in Mission Beach reached its peak of about 1950, or 57 percent of the total number of dwelling units in Mission Beach.

4. The largest increase in STRs in Mission Beach from 2005 to the present has come from a proliferation of the STRs into the courts. At fifty plus percent of total dwelling units, STRs are virtually on all of the courts, although there are some courts with more than others. Especially on courts with more STRs, there has been a loss of the cooperative community spirit, as one might expect.

In testimony to the City Council, I stated that for the past few years, there are so many STRs on our court that it has become difficult to organize a progressive Christmas dinner. We have a common area for our garbage cans with our neighbor to the east. We have shared garbage cans and on trash pickup days have taken turns putting the cans out for pickup. But no longer since we have a STR next to us. The visitors have not a clue that this is their job. The owners or managers never show up. While this is a small inconvenience, it is symptomatic of the larger problem. Instead of collaborating with neighbors, there is resentment that grows over time. The owner now arranges for a gardner to show up with a leaf blower. Not only is this device a noise nuisance, but some of the leaves end up in our yard and these devices are more polluting than a diesel truck.

With neighbors, you can build up chips by doing them a favors, but with absentee landlords, this is not possible. The only time they hear from you, it is a problem. With visitors coming and going in just a few days, it is not possible to develop relationships. In time, communications break down and any cooperative living is lost.

This was observed in triplicate at the Mission Beach Town Council (MBTC) and continues to date. The vacation rental management companies in Mission Beach ignored the town council until July of 2018 after the City Council passed primary only. They suddenly saw the town council as an ongoing threat to their businesses. They set out to increase their control of the town council, first at the November of 2018 elections. They gained further control at the November 2019 elections. They have done this using the Save Mission Beach website owned and operated by Blaine Smith, owner of 710 Beach Rentals. He was able to attract a substantial following from both residents and non-residents of Mission Beach. And when the time came, he sent out a STR preferred slate for all of the positions with more than one candidate, when one of the candidates was more pro-STR. Blaine also called out his followers for the STR committee proposed STR regulations.

Typically 30-40 residents show up for these key votes. Blaine on the other hand is able to pull out from 60-80 voters, sufficient to always overwhelm the residents. There is little chance that residents will ever be able to overcome the pro-STR followers on the Save MB website. As a result, the residents must find another way. And the best way seems to be the development of a residents council, which requires Mission Beach residency to be eligible for membership in the MBRC.

There must be space allowed for minority positions on town and residence councils, but for an organization to represent and promote cooperative living, there must be some compatibility on the key issues. In the case of STRs, there are members who are driven by money to protect their investments versus residents who are primarily volunteering to provide a service to the community. This has been a very difficult conflict to resolve in one organization.

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