Bart Mendoza 5 a.m., Dec. 8
We started looking to purchase our first home in San Diego in 2005. We looked at condos because the median price for a home back then was $500,000. When we discovered that living in a condo smaller than our current rental in Golden Hill but paying twice as much per month was not our idea of moving up in the world, we ceased looking. As we all know now, after the real estate boom came the gloom, so in mid 2008, we called the same agent and started a new search with a longer wish list in hand. We were open to any area as long as it was a short commute to my husband’s workplace and as long as the house, not condo, had hardwood floors and a big yard for our dog. We used to joke that we were buying a dog house and that as long as it had a leak-proof roof and a stable foundation, everything else was gravy. After months of watching home renovations shows on HGTV, we were ready for anything, or so we thought. After months of searching we found a listing that seemed too good to be true. I was hesitant as my economics teacher used to say, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” The house listed was a cute, three bedroom yellow cottage with hardwood floors built in 1941. It was described it as a horse property with “park like grounds”, a little under an acre in size. The agent explained to us that the original owner had passed away and the house was being sold by her sons. After the first look, we put an offer and bought the house for half of the 2005 median home price. The house had been vacant for a whole year so it needed a lot of work but being that we’d be the second owners in close to 70 years, the house had retained much of the vintage charm. We loved the house but we didn’t know much about the area only that it was 4 miles to my husband‘s workplace.
The renovations took seven months and after I was laid off from my property management job where part of my compensation was a rent-free apartment, we moved in. Perfect timing. We soon learned that we lived in a strange little unincorporated community of about 150 homes on huge lots, called Lincoln Acres. It is wholly within the city limits of National City but it is not National City. It is part of the County of San Diego. The residents of this area are allowed to keep chickens, ducks, and other livestock. It is not uncommon to see someone riding their horse or walking a goat in these parts. Here, you can have a garage sale everyday if you want to, operate almost any kind of legal business out of your home, or like my neighbor did, set up a driving range in your back yard. Shortly after settling in, I received my first letter from the Lower Sweetwater Fire Protection District informing me of the monthly meeting being held at the local library down the street. The first time I attended one of those meetings, I found out why they are so important. The Lower Sweetwater Fire Protection District is our only form of government, and without it, we risk annexation to National City which would deprive us of all the freedom we now enjoy.
Our house is at the very end of the main road so I pass by many houses and businesses like the carpentry shop and the tortilla factory while watching the sun sinking into the ocean thru my rear view mirror on the way home. A lot of the homes have great ocean views. Sometimes I feel our freedom is a blessing and at the same time a curse. Some people made good use of the vast amount of land they have and planted lemon and orange groves in the back and others built more houses as I was told you are allowed to have four homes in one lot. Others took the land for granted and instead of fruit bearing trees and pretty flowers have junk growing a little more each day in their front and back yards. I see inoperable cars, faded plastic toys, stinky month-old dog poop, and even computer monitors in people’s yards. This one house had a bulldozer in its front lawn for over 8 months! Sometimes I think about parking my scooter, knocking on their door, and asking them to at least move the junk to the back where no one can see it but then I think that they are exercising their right to live how they choose just like I am. I myself chose to keep a set of mildly loud chickens and a few whiney dogs. My neighbors told me that this once was a dangerous place. Gang activity was prevalent and although most people like the idea of drinking and not having to pay a taxi to take them home, having their own bar on the corner between the little post office and the little library was not beneficial for the community. The bar closed and things miraculously improved a few years ago. It now feels safe and is pretty quiet for the most part, with the exceptions of a few birthday parties here and there. This place has so much potential. We are getting a new library next year and I am already starting to see some new people move in and fix the old homes that former residents took for granted. Some are planting corn and others are planting sunflowers. I love living here even if I have to attend monthly meetings in order to keep our independence and be able to set up an archery range in my backyard in the future. Plus, where else can you be 5 minutes away from all The Gaslamp has to offer and still be allowed to have a horse?