Swazzo, too, sees some of the same problems in the community. "There are homeless people," he says, echoing Cornalo, "which is kinda, you know, a shame. They should just take them and...move them away." But he feels a sense of empathy. "When I came out here, I was homeless," he says, then looks toward the front of the bar. "You see Curtis outside?" he asks. "He's a black guy, a homeless black guy. Nicest guy in the world. Just...doesn't want to work. So he lives on the street. I give him cigarettes every day. He gets arrested 'cause he's vagrant. He's been living on the street now for, I guess, two years." He pauses. "The rents are going up [like] crazy," he continues, then chuckles. "Maybe that's why Curtis is on the street!"
But there are those who are comfortably situated, however wary of the new wave of buildings. John Keasley, who arrived in San Diego four years after his tour in Vietnam, bought a house in 1989. "When I got ready to leave home, it was either here or Baltimore," he says, laughing. "I had friends in both places. The guys in San Diego just picked up the phone first. That brought me, and the gay nightlife kept me." Keasley settled in North Park after scoring a great deal on a piece of property and has stayed ever since, starting work with a local AIDS service organization. "This is the longest I've ever lived anyplace," he says. "I've outlived two roommates, a roommate and a partner." Armed with a background in real estate, Keasley sees flaws in the development plans a layman may not. Recalling the '80s real estate crash in San Diego and the foreclosures that came with it, he predicts a repeat performance. "The banks allowed [homebuyers] to overextend themselves," he says, "and what happened was they found that they couldn't get their equity out of their houses and so they got foreclosed on. So after the '80s, we had a lot of foreclosure sales, where people got real estate real cheap. Now these same people, they've waited 20 years, and they sold [their property] at a profit, but the people who bought it are now overextended, so we're going to have another period of foreclosures."
For as much local skepticism as there may be--"Only an idiot would buy a condo!" Newton exclaims--there is no denying the increased residential attraction that has brought newcomers to the area. More homes have been purchased and fixed up rather than demolished, either by investors or by young families seeking out a little slice of California paradise for their own. With the older residents either dying or moving to retirement homes, residences have turned over, mostly to couples with babies and toddlers. "It's just incredible how many people are having children these days," Swersie says, laughing. And the more the merrier, it seems. For those who already own homes, at least. "Prop. 13 tends to reward people who stay put," Erdelsky says, then goes on to explain. "Proposition 13 was a statewide proposition passed in the late '70s. The principal thing is it said that real estate [can be reassessed] only when it is sold, and between sales [the assessed value] can only be upped as much as 2 percent a year. Before that they were able to increase assessments based on the general level of real estate prices." But renters do not have as much security. "One of the things that worries a lot of us is the condo conversions," says Swersie. "[That] has been a big issue. There's a lot of concern about the displacement of renters and the affordability of housing." Jude Thomas, of North Park Main Street, the business improvement district, recalls what a visitor to his office had to say. "A gentleman came in on Friday talking about how much he hates specific developments," says Thomas. "He's just an old guy who comes in about twice a year and he rants. He goes off on his spiels for a while, and then usually he goes, 'But you've been doing great work here, thanks a lot,' and then he'll leave. He's just someone who's lived here forever, and he doesn't like the changes. He complains about how they're pushing out poor people or pushing out the middle class." And the man has a point. Even with an option to buy, the package is expensive.
So what will North Park look like in five years? Ten? Can it all coexist, new and old, swank and well worn? Jude Thomas thinks so, speculating that the bars in particular will continue to hang on. "If you look at dive bars in San Diego in the last four or five years, they've gone through a big resurgence," he says. "You get the people who don't want to go to clubs, but they want to go out drinking--the indie-music-scene type thing--they see these dive bars as places they can go and hang out on a Friday and a Saturday night." Anything else with an arts focus, he adds, should be safe since it "taps into the whole arts culture and entertainment aspect of North Park that is what these real estate developers are selling to people." But others are worried, and not just about the change in businesses. Brian Bondie worries the new buildings will increase their allotment of lower-income housing. "I think all the new development and urbanization here is gonna usher in just...a new wave of Section Eights and everything that goes with that," he says. "[They are] the lower-income people that, while one of those condos might cost me $320,000 to $420,000 [or] whatever they're going for, it's 50 percent subsidized for [them]. I think it's a detriment to the social program." And Brandon Cornalo? "I don't give a fuck," he says.