The 20-year-old swap meet on Highway 76 which has had the reputation with locals as one big garage sale, is populated by vendors who pay $15 on Saturday or $45 on a Sunday to sell T-shirts, beef jerky, audio equipment, bicycle tires, and used tennis balls.
In the mid-60s the swap meet space at 3480 Mission Avenue was home to a two-screen (later four-screen) drive-in theater. By the late 90s the drive-in was finished and the three-foot-high pedestals with car speakers were torn out of the ground. Since then the space has been home to the wild and wooly weekend bazaar.
For years Oceanside locals have been hearing that a CostCo or Target might replace the swap meet by anchoring a new commercial center. But a few weeks ago, news came down that the 950,000 square feet of the swap meet property just three miles from the coast has been purchased by Encinitas-based residential developer Zephyr Partners.
Zephyr defines itself as a builder of new homes in Orange and San Diego Counties. Zephyr is behind the 16-acre bluff-top Del Mar Resort project on the border of Solana Beach and Del Mar. Zephyr has built the 63-unit Level 15 townhome project in Escondido, the beach-front Summer House homes in Carlsbad (starting at $1.4-million) and The Block units in downtown San Diego on Broadway between 7th and 8th Avenues.
Jim McMenamin is Zephyr’s senior vice president of "forward planning." He said comment on projects such as the Oceanside swap meet site would need to come from CEO Brad Termini.
Dennis Martinek, who has a PhD in urban development, is a professor of economics at Palomar College, and served 12 years on the Oceanside Planning Commission. He is spearheading Measure Y on the November ballot which would keep Oceanside’s agricultural land from being rezoned to residential unless approved by voters. While Measure Y would not impact the swap meet property, he thinks more housing is exactly what Oceanside does not need.
“The city should not be giving up more commercial property to housing,” says Martinek. “As it is, we are not getting the [sales tax] revenue we need to support things like public safety and keeping up our roads.” Plus, he said, the added residents would worsen the congested Highway 76 which is already overwhelmed with traffic.
Tracey Bohlen, Oceanside’s Economic Development manager, says the city needs more commercial activity, not more houses. She says Oceanside’s most recent figures show it has the worst job-to-resident ratio in greater San Diego. “We have .82 jobs for every resident. Every other city in the county has at least a one-to-one ratio. To maintain our beaches and other city services we need to attract more industrial and commercial business.”
While it is possible that land owner Zephyr Partners could allow the swap meet to continue operation until its development plans are approved, Bohlen says that the city-issued conditional use permit allowing the swap meet to operate was set to end in October. The city granted a temporary extension that allows the swap meet to continue through February.
Oceanside Swap Meet Operations Manager Liza Molinar says she can not comment.
While it seems likely Zephyr Partners would want to build homes, the swap meet property is currently zoned as Community Commercial District. For Zephyr to build houses, the city council would have to rezone the property to allow residential. Bohlen says the property’s closeness to the Oceanside Municipal Airport limits how high any new buildings could be built.
Not all of the vendors at the Oceanside Swap Meet are low end. Hicinino Cruz offers brightly painted ceramics imported from Mexico including water fountains, statues and religious curia. He says there is a chain of garden stores in North County that carry the same quality imports but that he charges $45 for the same item that might go for $80 to $100 at those stores.
Cruz says he hopes if the Oceanside Swap Meet goes away, that the city of Oceanside would see fit to help him and other quality vendors find a new outdoor venue.
Economic Development manager Bohlen says: “We don’t really have a piece of property for that.”