North Park is one of the hottest real estate markets in the county. Prices are climbing as higher-end restaurants and businesses move into the neighborhood. Following them are residents who desire an urban lifestyle.
But families are not following suit. The reason has to do with the higher concentration of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. North Park is also plagued by sex-related businesses and marijuana or smoking-related businesses.
“When peace and quiet and quality of life is disturbed, it is usually in mixed-use neighborhoods,” said Scott Chipman, a community activist who has fought against marijuana dispensaries and high concentrations of alcohol licenses. “When the restaurants and bars roll up their doors at 10 p.m., there may be no problem. But then patrons leave the bar, and even employees may turn up music and are loud. It disturbs the neighbors next door. And the only people who want to live next door are the people who are OK partying until 2 a.m.”
Chipman said those residents then continue the party at their homes, bothering more neighbors. Soon, families leave the neighborhood.
“When families move, there are fewer kids,” Chipman said. “Then you have school closings and then you need to bus kids in.”
He said family businesses then fail and are replaced by tattoo parlors, smoke shops and more bars.
That is what happened in Pacific Beach, where Chipman lives. It is also happening to North Park, as more businesses get liquor licenses.
“In North Park, we had less worry about crime and more worry about people out late who are drunk and acting stupid,” said Spencer, the homebuyer.
Pacific Beach has one of the highest concentrations of tattoo parlors and smoke shops, and ranks first for DUIs with 175 between October 2012 and March 2013.
For this category, Our City also ranked neighborhoods for the concentration of drug-related stores, drug arrests and sex-related businesses. Hillcrest got well, top honors, followed by downtown and College.
Pacific Beach ranked sixth worst, with North Park landing 14th from the bottom.
“We think we can turn Pacific Beach around,” Chipman said. “It all starts with an over-concentration of alcohol licenses, which is something a community can impact.”
On the opposite end, ranking well for families when it comes to moral cleanliness, are University City and 24 other neighborhoods with perfect scores.
Neighborhoods with a high number of alcohol and drug violations also tend to have high violent crime rates.
Our City ranked crime and safety — in totality — at 32.5 percent of the study, higher than all other categories. This includes violent crime (15 percent), physical disorder (5 percent), pedestrian safety (5 percent) and the number of sex offenders (7.5 percent).
East Village ranks last in crime and safety with neighboring downtown San Diego trailing.
That is, arguably, worrisome. Before the recession, the two neighborhoods saw a spurt of residential development that grew its population by an estimated 10,000 to 40,000.
The development of downtown is often cited as a fresh alternative to years of suburban sprawl. But its success may depend on whether the region can attract families.
Gary Smith, president of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group said families move into the neighborhood with young children, but usually move out by the time their children reach school age.
“Part of [changing that] is getting the word out,” he said. “The Marina District and Little Italy are both great neighborhoods for kids.”
Smith said most crime occurs in the Gaslamp Quarter after hours, or by transients against transients. But families in Little Italy, for example, are more secluded from the crime.
Other regions at the bottom for crime and safety include Kearny Mesa, Mission Valley and Midway.
Coronado and other smaller municipalities have been able to minimize crime through zoning. Tanaka said Coronado is fortunate to be its own city. It is a size that is manageable and it gives the residents greater control over what is allowed in the community.
University City has taken an active approach to combating crime through a neighborhood watch.
“We want people to know who to call, what to do and when,” said Gellman, who runs UC’s watch group. “I find captains for different streets. They hold street meetings and pass out safety tips. It really puts people on notice.”
Smith said downtown has the Clean & Safe program to help put a dent in crime. Run by the Downtown San Diego Partnership, it boast both maintenance crews and safety personnel that compliment San Diego city-provided services.
Property destruction is typically the primary thing a potential homebuyer sees, and often plays a large role in their perception of crime. The Our City study measures this through public disorder data provided by SANDAG, which includes vandalism and malicious mischief.
“Homebuyers don’t like to see houses not taken care of, lots of cars on the street and people really close together,” said Craig Yolles, an independent real estate agent with Prime West Properties.
He said some neighborhoods change within a few blocks.
“Kensington is a prime example,” he said. “It is rough near El Cajon Boulevard, and then closer to Adams Avenue, it gets gorgeous. There are a lot of areas like that.”