Opinion: Keep the ‘neighbor’ in neighborhood. La Jollan shares views about short-term vacation rentals


Opinion / Guest Commentary / Our Readers Write:

One Friday evening a few years ago, as my family was heading east for a weekend camping trip, my cell phone rang. It was my neighbor, Steve. “Did you mean to leave your front door wide open?” he called to inquire.

On Thanksgiving this year, we had more bodies than chairs. A quick text to my neighbor Candace, and her eight folding chairs were on their way over.

We share dinner with our next-door neighbors every Sunday night, alternating houses, and often including other friends and neighbors.

And there must have been 50 times when my neighbor, Alice, and I have parked our kids at each other’s home while we got errands done.

Neighbors. Neighbors. Neighbors.

In the debate over vacation rentals, much has been said about the annoyance of “party houses,” but I haven’t seen as much discussion about the loss of real neighbors. As I think back on the tapestry of people and experiences that stand out as significant in my life, a huge percentage of them involve the people whose neighborhood I joined or who, by chance, happened to move into my neighborhood.

I’m still friends with about eight neighbors from the early 1990s. We all had apartments in a small building in Long Beach and ended up forming a monthly dinner club. I still go camping with one of them.

When my husband and I got engaged in 2003, it was my Hillcrest neighbors who proposed a block party wedding. We got a City permit to close my street, put up a tent, and we invited everyone on the block.

When we moved to La Jolla Shores in 2004, we put invitations on the doors of every house around our block and had a little party to meet everyone. As a result, we still know almost everyone on our block.

Before the elderly couple next door moved to assisted living, they entertained us with stories of their 60-plus years in the neighborhood. My favorite stories were about how June, and her other mom-friends in the neighborhood, would shoo the kids off to school, do a slapdash job on the housework, and hit the beach together until the kids returned from school. They would pretend to have been toiling in the house all day, so the kids and husbands wouldn’t get mad and jealous!

My mom, 81, has many friends from when my brother and I were little, and most of the ones she’s still close to lived within one or two blocks of our house. I’m still friends with the three people who were the kids next door, over 40 years later.

In this new age of increasing disconnectedness (the in-person kind), whole-house vacation rentals are endangering one of the last (and in my experience, best) ways to be human beings: knowing, breaking bread with, depending on, loving (or not loving), and celebrating everyday experiences with neighbors.

Every house that sits empty and soulless, but for a revolving door of strangers who occasionally reach out but generally keep to themselves, is a tear in the fabric of a close-knit neighborhood.

I’m not opposed to the occasional whole-house rental, like when someone takes a vacation and wants to put their house to work in their absence; even a month or two in summer isn’t all that bad. And I also think you can meet some extraordinary people from other places by offering a bedroom in your house a la Air BnB — I have no beef there. But whole houses used for nothing but a steady stream of temporary renters, and otherwise stand empty, rob permanent renters and owners of the chance for the neighborly relationships and friendships that can last a lifetime, and give us one more reason to hide indoors tapping away on our phones, keyboards and joysticks, instead of chewing the fat with the lady down the street, running next door for an onion or an egg, or hollering at all the kids to stop teasing the cat.

Please, let’s keep the “neighbor” in “neighborhood.” Please support the placing of limits on permanent, whole-house vacation rentals.

— Susan Wiczynski is a resident of La Jolla Shores Drive, who notes her house has a big shark head out front, and “it’s been so much fun for our family to wake up on many mornings to find that a neighbor with a good sense of humor has anonymously decorated it again!”