Time was, a road-weary traveler passing through coastal North County had little luck when it came to finding a hotel room for the night. From Orange County to the San Diego city limits, pickings were few along the heavily traveled Interstate 5 corridor.
Typically, a motorist or family of sightseers would be forced to pull off the highway and prowl the streets to find a bed in some decidedly spartan lodge near the seashore.
Not so anymore. Today, a wide array of lodging--from family-style budget motels to luxury hotel suites catering to the business executive--has sprouted along the North County coast.
In the last five years, more than a dozen motels and hotels have been built in the area, nearly doubling the number of available rooms while making North County a heavyweight contributor to the San Diego region's tourism market.
Analysts point to the northern coast as one of the hotbeds of hotel construction in the nation. Aside from the more than 1,650 extra rooms that have been added to the area during the recent hotel boom, another half-dozen large projects are on the drawing boards, from a 264-room luxury hotel at the Oceanside harbor to a 400-room Sheraton at the Torrey Pines golf course.
By 1991, more than 2,500 more hotel and motel rooms are expected to join the menu of accommodations along the county's northern coast. If all the projects are built, the stock of rooms in the area will have grown more than 300% in the matter of a decade.
"We get a lot of calls from an awful lot of people looking to do things in San Diego County," said Bruce Goodwin, a San Diego-based consultant with the big-eight accounting firm Laventhol & Horwath. "When they get here, they find where the growth pattern is, and the growth path is toward North County."
While many city fathers are ecstatic about the proliferation of hotels and the consequent "touristization" of North County, some residents resent the trend, arguing that it is spoiling the appeal of a region that, until recent years, has been little more than a patchwork of bedroom communities.
Moreover, some of the new projects, in particular the economy-class motels popping up beside the freeway, are architectural eyesores better suited for the urban sprawl of Los Angeles than the quaint beach towns dotting the northern coast, some homeowners grouse.
"Some of them are OK, but a lot them are pretty cheap-looking," said Tom Smith, co-chairman of Concerned Citizens, a Carlsbad-based slow-growth coalition. "I think they've gone overboard on it. They're definitely traffic inducers, and let's face it, we've got one freeway, so it's going to be a problem if it isn't one already."
Although such griping is scattered at best in Oceanside and Carlsbad, fervent opposition movements have surfaced in communities to the south, with residents battling to stop hotels planned for Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar and the Torrey Pines area.
Opponents filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block the Torrey Pines Sheraton and also sent out mass mailers in opposition. In Rancho Santa Fe, residents are currently fighting tooth and nail to block an 82-unit resort, lobbying county officials and pleading that the resale value of their homes will plummet. And environmentalists battled unsuccessfully to derail a 243-room deluxe hotel now under construction near the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
"I think the majority of people are against hotels and more tourists coming to town," said Bill Malone, a Del Mar resident and opponent of a 125-room hotel rejected Sept. 22 by the city's voters. "It just means more traffic, more noise and more people dumping trash on the beach and our front yards."
Such complaints contrast sharply with the attitude in cities such as Oceanside, where officials have rolled out the red carpet for a Radisson hotel planned at the municipal harbor, a project they hope will spur the city's sagging downtown economy.
"It will bring some money into downtown Oceanside," said Councilwoman Lucy Chavez, a lifelong resident of the city. "It will mean people coming in and buying, coming in and staying."
Aside from the spinoffs of tourists spending money at local restaurants and boutiques, the economic allure of hotels shines brightest from the bed taxes a city government can glean from a profitable operation.
In Carlsbad, the hotel kingpin of North County cities, the 6% tax a visitor pays on a nightly room bill accounted for $1.7 million during the 1986-87 fiscal year, up more than 450% over what was taken in a decade ago.
Natural Growth Area
Consultants and financial analysts say the North County hotel boom has sprung from a variety of factors, among them the pleasant year-round weather, the availability of relatively inexpensive land and the growth of residential areas as well as office and industrial parks, which provide a ready clientele.