The first day I took my daughter to her new school, I questioned whether moving to Eastlake was the right move for our family. I had stopped by the Otay Ranch mall on enough weekday afternoons to know that the area has an abundance of fancy, perfumed stay-at-home moms. As a visitor, I found the idea charming — the way one might find charming the sight of backcountry women washing their clothes in the river. How lovely and provincial, one thinks, until one finds herself standing in the river with a pile of wet clothes, wishing for a washing machine.
I was raised on the sound of lawn mowers, birds, and Little League baseball. There was a time when it gave me a thrill to live among the sounds of radios and car horns and sirens, but my tolerance has since diminished. It’s true that, when looking to purchase a home, had we been able to afford a four-bedroom, four-bath house on a semi-quiet street in Hillcrest or South Park, or maybe a spacious downtown high-rise, I would have been all for it. But in the end we chose square footage over location. And as much as I hated the idea of leaving city life behind, I yearned for afternoon runs along wide, quiet boulevards with landscaped medians.
And then here I was, with my house and my medians, somehow surprised that the parking lot of my daughter’s new preschool was crowded with minivans and moms in full makeup, large sunglasses, and exercise clothes.
Driving back to my home office, I was near tears.
What am I doing in Eastlake? I thought. I don’t Zumba.
It’s about the subdivisions, not the cross-streets
No one drops by anymore. Football season 2012 was lonely. When we have parties, I feel the need to apologize for the drive. Recently, my husband had a work party at our place. When one of the guys arrived, he stepped into the house and said, “Man, you guys live way the fk out in the middle of nowhere.”
It’s true. For anyone who doesn’t know the way to Eastlake (and/or doesn’t care to pay for the toll road), take 805 South past National City and Bonita, and keep driving until you’re sure you’ve missed the exit. After that, head east on East H or Telegraph Canyon or Olympic Parkway. After another maddening five miles of intermittent large-intersection traffic lights, you will have arrived at our perfect little “has everything” planned community of storybook loveliness, complete with duck ponds and sprinkler parks.
One afternoon, I drove a ten-mile loop from the Olympic Training Center, past Otay Lakes Road, down the wide boulevards of Hunte Parkway and Proctor Valley Road, then south on Eastlake Drive, around the lake and down Eastlake Parkway, past the mall to the Border Patrol stakeout at the corner of Eastlake Parkway and Hunte Parkway. On the way, I counted 14 gardeners in orange-and-yellow vests, 4 Border Patrol vehicles, and 39 purple and/or yellow flags meant to draw the eye toward large signboards announcing homes available “from the low $300,000s.”
The western end of the loop consists of a series of shopping centers, all butted up against Eastlake Parkway, and all bearing names that declare their neighborhood allegiance: Eastlake Terraces, Eastlake Village Marketplace, Village Walk at Eastlake, Eastlake Village Center, Otay Ranch Town Center, and Marketplace at Windingwalk.
At the eastern end of that loop stand the developments of Eastlake Greens (2356 units); Eastlake Trails (1145); Eastlake Trails North (254); Eastlake Vistas (1326); Eastlake Hills and Eastlake Shores (a combined 1822); the Woods (344); and the Gates (64). CasaLago Eastlake, a new development of apartments and townhomes just east of Olympic Training Center, is a 427-unit community currently under construction. The Windingwalk community currently has 1965 units completed, with another 21 planned and/or under construction.
The entrance of each development is meant to be grander than the last, flanked with either sentinel clusters of palm trees, trickling fountains, and/or low stone walls bearing the name of the subdivision.
In San Diego’s city center, the boundaries between neighborhoods are usually major cross-streets or freeways, but in this area, it’s a little different. Joe Glover, my real estate agent, tells me the division between Otay Ranch and Eastlake “is all about the little subdivisions. It’s not about the cross-streets.”
And for those of us who are not developers or HOA managers, this makes for some overlap and variance in perspective. Case in point: if you look on the Barnes & Noble website and search for store locations, you’ll see that the one they call their “Eastlake” store has an address at the Otay Ranch Mall.
Although there are official boundaries, Joe says, “Eastlake is almost like a generic term for all these different subdivisions.”
For the managers of the area homeowners’ associations (three of which tend to Eastlake proper: Eastlake 1, Eastlake 2, and Eastlake 3), the distinction is significant. Debra Vaca, the operations manager of Eastlake 3, told me that her organization alone employs 21 gardeners and 6 guys on the “mow crew,” each of whom works 8 hours a day and tends to 151.24 acres, or 6,587,931 square feet. There is no overlap with these guys. They know exactly which median to manicure, which desert bush to trim back and away from the jogging paths.
For the sake of simplicity, however, when using the word “Eastlake,” I’m referring to the area east of the 125, between Birch Road to the south and East H/Proctor Valley Road to the north. Although it includes the Otay Ranch Town Center mall and the Windingwalk development, both technically part of Otay Ranch, they are within the area I generally refer to as Eastlake.
Edward Scissorhands in terracotta stucco
We live at the very eastern edge of Eastlake’s suburban landscape. At night, we can see the lights of Tijuana. Our bedroom window looks out over a wide canyon alive with sage and other desert brush, roadrunners, coyotes, bunnies, and rattlesnakes. On the other side of the canyon, across Hunte Parkway, sits Windingwalk, a development of single-family homes painted earthy yellowish tones, their roofs Spanish-red. At night, when the lights of the subdivision shine across the darkened canyon, I imagine that I’m in Oakland looking across the San Francisco Bay at the lights of an urban metropolis, rather than in one Eastlake development staring at a matching development in Otay Ranch.