Commentary: Gentrification puts Oceanside’s character in jeopardy

For years, Oceanside was known for its affordability, unheard of for a coastal community. It was a spot loved by its locals and ignored by tourists, who were often more intrigued by the San Diego cities farther south. Now, driving down the Coast Highway where you used to get endless ocean views, new hotels and apartments cast a shadow over your car.

To blame for this? Gentrification. This is a process by which there is an influx of wealthier residents into a community through building more luxurious housing options, hotels, and businesses which, in turn, displaces the poorer current inhabitants. The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute explains that gentrification not only leads to displacement but also causes significant emotional stress, generalized anxiety, anger, and feelings of loss.

Commentary logoThe gentrification increases the cost of housing, pushing Oceanside natives to the peripheries, and many cannot keep up with the increasing costs of living. According to Redfin, as of September 2022, housing costs are up by 15.2% compared to last year. A consequential result of these rising living costs is that longtime Oceanside residents now face more homelessness than ever before.

Oceanside now has the highest population of homeless individuals in North San Diego County, with more than 318 people living on the streets, a 31.4% increase since 2020, as reported by local news outlet Voice of San Diego. To further compound the problem, the city of Oceanside currently does not have the means to support these individuals, as there is not a single homeless shelter within the city limits. So, not only are locals being forced out of their homes but they are also being forced out of their city. Without adequate support and costs of living continuing to trend upward, this rising homeless population remains vulnerable, unsafe, and without tangible hope.

Another significant impact of gentrification is that it can compromise and dilute Oceanside’s unique culture and flare. Over the decades, Oceanside has developed a distinctive culture of surf, grunge, creativity and sunshine. The city is a melting pot of diverse ethnicities, military values, laid-back surfers, a love of art, and punk rock. One local put it perfectly in a KPBS news article:

“I think it’s important that we keep it a locals town,” Roger “Roddy” Browning, one of the owners of the Flying Pig Pub and Kitchen, said in the KPBS story. “We will embrace the tourism, but nobody wants this to turn into just a tourist destination completely. That’s going to take all the soul and flavor out of Oceanside, that’s not what we want.”

As minority communities face the harshest effects of gentrification, the community slowly becomes less and less diverse. According to the U.S. Census, of Oceanside’s large population of 172,982 people, 37.8% are Hispanic or Latino, 11% are mixed-race, and 7.9% are Asian and Pacific Islanders. So, the minority population makes up the majority of Oceanside. Mindful and deliberate action is needed to keep Oceanside “O’side” and not completely diminish this community of culture and diversity. While gentrification and rising living costs have already taken a toll on the community, it is not too far gone.

To combat the immediate issue of the rising homeless population, first, we need to build more homeless shelters in the community and create programs to support these individuals’ needs and get them back on their feet. Second, instead of channeling money into building more hotels and upscale housing, we need to allocate those funds to financial support programs for low-income families and build more affordable housing. By putting more energy and resources toward supporting these struggling families, we can begin to soften the impact of the seemingly inescapable gentrification.

As community members, it is also crucial to get involved. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion about what neighborhood improvements you want, or don’t want, for your community. You can get involved in your City Council meetings and bring these issues to the attention of your community leaders. Lastly, supporting locally owned Oceanside businesses will mitigate the influx of gentrifiers.

Drive through downtown O’side and appreciate the vibrant and beautiful murals painted on just about every wall. Grab some comfort food from Angelo’s burgers for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Explore Artist Alley, where there is always something to do, whether it’s jamming to the live music, admiring the local art, or checking out the pop-up vendors. Or, head to Nana and Pop Pop’s Sweet Shop for an ice cream cone. Through tight-knit community efforts, locals can help keep Oceanside, “O’side.”

Kaitlyn Watcher, Chloe Blish and Benjamin Roach are policy and advocacy students in the Suzanne-Dworak Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California.

Commentaries from community members represent the views of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of the North Coast Current and OsideNews.