With two private recreational parks sprawling over the landscape, few San Diegans see much of the far northwest corner of Mission Bay. Just west of the Grand Avenue exit in Pacific Beach stretches De Anza Trailer harbor, a facility dominated by not-too-mobile homes planted solidly next to the bay. And to the west of De Anza, off an even more remote section of Pacific Beach Drive, lies Camperland, about 46 acres of land and five acres of water serving more transient campers. Public access to both facilities should have come under close scrutiny last week, some Pacific Beach residents are saying, but the city council displayed a marked disinterest in the topic.
The issue arose last week because Associated Mobile Estates, a nationwide organization which runs De Anza Trailer Harbor, asked the city to approve its purchase of the Camperland lease. The corporation has, in fact, been managing the Camperland for two years, ever since the original owner went bankrupt. With the bid to acquire the lease, Associated Mobile Estate directors also proposed several changes in the facility’s operation.
For one thing, they asked the city for $650,000 rent credit, to be used for improvement of the facilities. They also asked to be able to allow campers to stay 90, rather than 30 days, between October 1 and May 1, and they announced plans to de-emphasize space for more primitive camping facilities in favor of bigger, more expensive travel trailers. Analysis of the proposal fell to city consultant Bill Weatherford, who voiced criticism.
First, his report questioned the preference for travel trailers, predicting that the force of demand from “snowbird” travel-trailer market will price less affluent campers out of Camperland. He also pointed out that the corporation had not clearly specified what it intended to do with the rent credit money. The suggested improvements would, for the most part, benefit only the park and it’s paying customers. To change this, Weatherford suggested Campland could open up to non-campers by charging a day rate for use of the swimming pools, showers, toilets, parking spaces, and other facilities. The report concluded by recommending that the city review and adjust the park’s rental rates every 12 years, in accordance with council policy.
Policy or no, the committee ignored all those suggestions and Monday unanimously approved Associated Mobile Estate’s proposal for the new lease and Tom Gade moved it speedily to the full council. The Pacific beach Town Council heard about the proposal at the last minute and suggested that a short postponement might allow people to find out what was going on, but the full city council ignored that too, and approved the lease switch last Wednesday evening.
To charges that the committee and council pushed the action through, Gade counters that the item was publicized in the committee agenda and no one showed up to object. Unsatisfied, several Pacific Beach residents say the council could have used the whole incident to take a harder look at both parks operations. They say the council could have reviewed if De Anza should be allowed to operate permanent mobile homes on private property just as it could have reviewed why Camperland should be able to restrict access to a public Beach.
Associated Mobile Estates denies that the new lease arrangements will mean a change in Camperland’s character, but some observers are skeptical. “De Anza and Camperland are the only places you can legally camp on Mission bay,” says one P.B. Town Council member. “And they’ve admitted to the committee that they’ll be turning into a rich man’s playground only. It’s a perfect example of high-powered money greasing something through.”