Barbara Cobb, the current town council president, spends much of her time keeping everyone up to date. "Membership consists of about 500 people, so I answer to them," Cobb says. "I put out a newsletter. I try to do one every other month, but I also have everybody on e-mail so that when the city sends out notices--and they do it all the time; they send us notices for the Planning Commission projects or anything that's happening--I just forward them on to the membership so they know what's going on."
Since the Mother Cardiff days, the town council has been instrumental in getting Cardiff recognition. One of their biggest efforts, to have "Cardiff-by-the-Sea" listed under the Birmingham Drive exit sign on Interstate 5, which required lobbying and negotiating with Caltrans, ended in triumph.
While the town council champions residential issues, the chamber of commerce has focused its efforts on community events that generate revenue for the town, especially the schools. "For ten years, we put on the Hansen-Machado Surf Classic," says Barth. "We did it as a community fund-raiser. Some funds went to the chamber to do other things, but also we would give money to the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, to Surfrider Foundation. We sold chili at the Halloween carnival and things like that, which made us more of a 'Main Street' than a chamber of commerce."
Cardiff is still working to start its own Main Street program, a nationwide approach to rejuvenate traditional business districts. "It's about enhancing the community as it is," Barth explains. "It's not a redevelopment idea where, you know, you level everything and start over. Things do change, like the Seaside Market area renovated and changed the fade, and it's much more contemporary than it used to be, but the essence of the shopping center is still there. It's still a grocery store. It's still a community-based retail area, and Main Street programs work on that theory."
Yet despite the efforts to keep Cardiff the way it always has been--with a bit of a facelift--there's still more than a murmur of discord. Rick Mildner, owner of Seaside Upholstery ("since 1973"), has been in town for 31 years, ever since he "set [his] Volkswagen van right across the street," on Chesterfield Drive, just off the main drag of San Elijo Avenue. "They're tearing down all the old houses and putting up new ones," he laments. "The quaint little Cardiff community is turning into the Newport Beach-wannabe, look-alike community, you know? 'Cause people are coming here now, like, in droves." His building is one of the oldest in Cardiff. The shop walls are covered with posters and photos and trinkets accumulated over the years, many of them documenting life and times in Cardiff. Most of them feature surfers. Yellowing flyers advertise local events; a Dick Dale concert advertisement peeks out from behind a mounted fish head.
"They build all these houses, but they still have the same sewer system," he points out. "They're building millions of houses. What's gonna happen in the first earthquake? The water...it's a desert, you know? How much can they be allowed to build before they figure out the sewage and all this stuff and stop polluting the ocean with all the newcomers? It was polluted when there was just a handful of people, and now it's really worse." He shakes his head. "They're sure building and knocking down everything, and they're wrecking what they came for."
Others agree. "Now it's just crowds of people out there," remarks Billy, a local musician, cradling his guitar in one hand as he points across the parking lot toward the ocean. He and his friends have gathered at VG Donut, a local hangout on San Elijo Avenue, to jam, which they do between conversations. Lisa (not her real name), an old friend of Billy's who has stopped by VG on her way home, nods in agreement. "They should spay and neuter," she says with a wicked smile, then softens. "Cardiff was a great place to grow up," she says. "VG was open all night, and we'd come down here--we'd all be stoned--and buy doughnuts. Anytime. Day or night. It was grand." She deepens her voice and branches into a faux-English accent. "It was grand," she repeats.
Billy continues where she left off, walking his own memory lane. "That park wasn't even there," he says, indicating the strip of planted greenery separating the town from Highway 101. "We could just walk our surfboards right straight down to 85-60s, and there was nobody out there." Billy has been in Cardiff since 1964, or "before the freeway," as he says. Mildner defines his tenure in Cardiff the same way. "When they first built it, we were wondering, 'Why'd they build this thing? We don't need this big freeway!'" he exclaims, then pauses. "We used to skateboard on it in the middle of the night, when they were building it," he says, with a laugh, remembering. After Interstate 5 was finished, the population increased. "They started taking away our dirt roads and our freedom," he laments, explaining that the land was eaten up by outsiders. "Before, we could go everywhere," he says, "nobody cared 'cause we all knew each other. Now it's more like, 'Oh, who are you?' you know? 'What do you mean, who am I? I've been here forever. Who are you?' You know?" He sighs. "It's different now. There's money."
Mildner remembers the days when he could see the water from the back window of his upholstery shop. "When I got here, it was nothing but dirt," he explains, "everywhere. So I used to be able to look out from this back table and watch my friends surf South Peak. I used to be able to see the surf right there. And I could identify my friends by their styles of surfing and I'd go, 'Oh, Mark DeCotes is out, I gotta get out there, man!'" Darryld Kitaen, owner of the Good Morning gift shop, a trinket-filled hangout that evokes a '60s-era generation gone by, says, "Everything and everybody has changed. The ocean's still there. That's about the only thing that hasn't changed too much."