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Cedar Fire survivors, La Jolla liberal settles for Clairemont, looking back at Mission Hills

To build a Rancho Santa Fe dream home, rooming with my son in North Park, last vacant lots at the beach

The author, Chi Varnado. "Can we hurry up and go? It looks like the fire is coming!" - Image by Alan Decker
The author, Chi Varnado. "Can we hurry up and go? It looks like the fire is coming!"
Construction crew, July 2004. "Our family is living in two tiny trailers, and it's pulling us apart. I really need your help!"

Angel in the Rubble

Four years after the Cedar Fire.

On October 25, 2003, I go outside to touch base with the night sky and feel the air before retiring to bed. Tonight feels different. A Santa Ana is brewing and I smell smoke.

I come back inside through the creaky kitchen door, releasing the knob too soon, and the glass pane rattles as if it will break. My husband Kent says a neighbor called. They smell smoke.

"Yeah, I do too," I say, "and there are hot and cold pockets in the air outside, which means the east wind is on its way." Kent grew up on the East Coast and is not as familiar with the natural omens of our area. Our 1920s two-story cabin is nestled in an oak-studded box canyon, located about a mile due north of San Vicente Lake.

By Chi Varnado, Oct. 11, 2007 | Read full article

National City. The De la Cerdas' house seemed foreign and pastoral to me. Then one day it very abruptly became a Quality Inn.

La Jolla Liberal Learns Tolerance from Clairemont Republicans

I look out the car window at the tacky little houses with gravel front yards. The streets are lined with parked trucks advertising hauling, mobile dog washing, drywall, mariachi bands. Inside an open garage, a bunch of men sit around a poker table drinking beer.

I miss La Jolla and tell the realtor. "Well, it's the cheapest neighborhood close to the beach," she says as we drive past a house covered in millions of old dishes, ceramic statuettes, Christmas ornaments, and plastic flowers.We're here because I can't afford to buy in La Jolla, the beautiful place I've come to love and call home, where my friends live and where I surf; the place I'd moved to four years before to get as far as I could from a bad divorce back East.

By Various Authors, Sept. 13, 2007 | Read full article


In March of 1981, my small family and I moved into the house before which I now stand. We paid $60,000.

Hi. I used to live here. Can I come in?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Freud pointed out. He would never have said the same thing about a house. Certainly Carl Jung would not. In my case, as I approach my former address at the edge of Mission Hills, right where that neighborhood turns into Hillcrest, I am approaching a time machine as surely as if I were walking toward and lifting my hand to knock at the address of H.G. Wells’s Victorian scientist in the famous story from 1895. Actually, the house, built in 1883, predates that story by a dozen years.

By John Brizzolara, Jan. 28, 2009 | Read full article

The colonnade outside the back of the living room has been ripped out and replaced with an enormous beam.

Site 151’s Four Million Dollar Mansion

Wealth has nothing to do with luck.

Ralph Genovese doesn't use the word "mansion" to describe the three dwellings he will construct on a mountaintop in Rancho Santa Fe. He prefers "estate." He's building one of the homes for himself, and he hopes to sell the other two for close to $4 million apiece.

The first to take shape will have 7400 square feet of interior space that will open to ocean views sweeping from Mexico to Catalina Island. In addition to the master-bedroom suite and the kitchen and the family room and the dining and living rooms, this home will have three secondary bedrooms, five full bathrooms, two powder rooms, a study, a gym, a game room, five fireplaces, garage space for four cars, a wine cellar designed to hold 500 bottles, and outdoor-entertaining facilities that would look respectable at a hotel.

By Jeannette DeWyze, July 22, 2004 | Read full article

Talk is what I'm hoping for, mostly. I want him to tell me about it. What is it like, that kind of madness? I'll tell him, as best I can, what it is like to drink the way I have and maybe some reasons why.

All of Us in This House

The mystery that is my son.

My friend Adrian and I approached the darkened North Park apartment, and I sensed something wrong. It was and is my own apartment, one I share with my 28-year-old son, Geoffrey. The hour was early, maybe 6:30 p.m., and we had cut our evening short after snacks and a bit of canvas-viewing at the galleries on Ray Street. A cardboard box sat at the doorstep in shadow. It was the size of a small suitcase. As I neared the door I called out, "Geoff! Geoffrey?" and I heard a rustling inside, a low voice coming from the bathroom.

By John Brizzolara, Nov. 22, 2006 | Read full article


Between hedges and wrought-iron gates, chain-link fences stand open to reveal the skeletons of soon-to-be-multimillion-dollar houses.

All That's Left

With all those amazing ocean views, 16 empty lots may seem like a surprisingly large number. Who wouldn't want a house on the beach? There is a tax incentive to keeping the property vacant -- true in the '80s, even truer now. Those who have held property for years pay low taxes. The property tax bill, which can include special local taxes, amounts to approximately 1.25 percent of the property's assessed value, says Scott Travasos of Swell Property in Leucadia, and Proposition 13 ensures that the assessed value may be increased by only 2 percent per year. But add a house on the property, and the county can update the assessment.

Some lot owners may not be able to sell their lots, as they are keeping them as collateral against loans taken out to build their current homes.

By Rosa Jurjevics, Oct. 25, 2007 | Read full article


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The author, Chi Varnado. "Can we hurry up and go? It looks like the fire is coming!" - Image by Alan Decker
The author, Chi Varnado. "Can we hurry up and go? It looks like the fire is coming!"
Construction crew, July 2004. "Our family is living in two tiny trailers, and it's pulling us apart. I really need your help!"

Angel in the Rubble

Four years after the Cedar Fire.

On October 25, 2003, I go outside to touch base with the night sky and feel the air before retiring to bed. Tonight feels different. A Santa Ana is brewing and I smell smoke.

I come back inside through the creaky kitchen door, releasing the knob too soon, and the glass pane rattles as if it will break. My husband Kent says a neighbor called. They smell smoke.

"Yeah, I do too," I say, "and there are hot and cold pockets in the air outside, which means the east wind is on its way." Kent grew up on the East Coast and is not as familiar with the natural omens of our area. Our 1920s two-story cabin is nestled in an oak-studded box canyon, located about a mile due north of San Vicente Lake.

By Chi Varnado, Oct. 11, 2007 | Read full article

National City. The De la Cerdas' house seemed foreign and pastoral to me. Then one day it very abruptly became a Quality Inn.

La Jolla Liberal Learns Tolerance from Clairemont Republicans

I look out the car window at the tacky little houses with gravel front yards. The streets are lined with parked trucks advertising hauling, mobile dog washing, drywall, mariachi bands. Inside an open garage, a bunch of men sit around a poker table drinking beer.

I miss La Jolla and tell the realtor. "Well, it's the cheapest neighborhood close to the beach," she says as we drive past a house covered in millions of old dishes, ceramic statuettes, Christmas ornaments, and plastic flowers.We're here because I can't afford to buy in La Jolla, the beautiful place I've come to love and call home, where my friends live and where I surf; the place I'd moved to four years before to get as far as I could from a bad divorce back East.

By Various Authors, Sept. 13, 2007 | Read full article


In March of 1981, my small family and I moved into the house before which I now stand. We paid $60,000.

Hi. I used to live here. Can I come in?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Freud pointed out. He would never have said the same thing about a house. Certainly Carl Jung would not. In my case, as I approach my former address at the edge of Mission Hills, right where that neighborhood turns into Hillcrest, I am approaching a time machine as surely as if I were walking toward and lifting my hand to knock at the address of H.G. Wells’s Victorian scientist in the famous story from 1895. Actually, the house, built in 1883, predates that story by a dozen years.

By John Brizzolara, Jan. 28, 2009 | Read full article

The colonnade outside the back of the living room has been ripped out and replaced with an enormous beam.

Site 151’s Four Million Dollar Mansion

Wealth has nothing to do with luck.

Ralph Genovese doesn't use the word "mansion" to describe the three dwellings he will construct on a mountaintop in Rancho Santa Fe. He prefers "estate." He's building one of the homes for himself, and he hopes to sell the other two for close to $4 million apiece.

The first to take shape will have 7400 square feet of interior space that will open to ocean views sweeping from Mexico to Catalina Island. In addition to the master-bedroom suite and the kitchen and the family room and the dining and living rooms, this home will have three secondary bedrooms, five full bathrooms, two powder rooms, a study, a gym, a game room, five fireplaces, garage space for four cars, a wine cellar designed to hold 500 bottles, and outdoor-entertaining facilities that would look respectable at a hotel.

By Jeannette DeWyze, July 22, 2004 | Read full article

Talk is what I'm hoping for, mostly. I want him to tell me about it. What is it like, that kind of madness? I'll tell him, as best I can, what it is like to drink the way I have and maybe some reasons why.

All of Us in This House

The mystery that is my son.

My friend Adrian and I approached the darkened North Park apartment, and I sensed something wrong. It was and is my own apartment, one I share with my 28-year-old son, Geoffrey. The hour was early, maybe 6:30 p.m., and we had cut our evening short after snacks and a bit of canvas-viewing at the galleries on Ray Street. A cardboard box sat at the doorstep in shadow. It was the size of a small suitcase. As I neared the door I called out, "Geoff! Geoffrey?" and I heard a rustling inside, a low voice coming from the bathroom.

By John Brizzolara, Nov. 22, 2006 | Read full article


Between hedges and wrought-iron gates, chain-link fences stand open to reveal the skeletons of soon-to-be-multimillion-dollar houses.

All That's Left

With all those amazing ocean views, 16 empty lots may seem like a surprisingly large number. Who wouldn't want a house on the beach? There is a tax incentive to keeping the property vacant -- true in the '80s, even truer now. Those who have held property for years pay low taxes. The property tax bill, which can include special local taxes, amounts to approximately 1.25 percent of the property's assessed value, says Scott Travasos of Swell Property in Leucadia, and Proposition 13 ensures that the assessed value may be increased by only 2 percent per year. But add a house on the property, and the county can update the assessment.

Some lot owners may not be able to sell their lots, as they are keeping them as collateral against loans taken out to build their current homes.

By Rosa Jurjevics, Oct. 25, 2007 | Read full article


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