Empty castles and ghost streets in Cayucos

July 2, 2019

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted weekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin.


I ran into Richard just off the seawall yesterday morning around nine as he was returning from his walk on the pier. Richard is tall, slender, a little stiff in movement, a trifle hunched, wears glasses, sports a 1950s style mop of hair, is in his early 70s, and is highly educated.

At one time he was into a jogging regimen (in fluorescent sneakers) that involved at least 5 miles in a gait slower than my walk. Richard became a real estate agent about 25 years ago; and why I don’t know, because he is not particularly ambitious or money-crazed, but reasonably calm and personable almost all the time, a picture of consistency in a nerd’s grown-up suit. Though he doesn’t wear suits, no, just a plain shirt and plain pants and no tie.

Richard has a small office on the main drag, and another in Santa Barbara where he says it’s much easier to sell a house. He shuttles back and forth, and I would say, the best quality about Richard besides his honesty and compassion, is his appreciation of irony and sarcasm and especially absurdity; though unlike myself, he is in too serious a business to be an “absurdist” like me.

“I hear there’s eleven real estate offices in Cayucos these days,” I said, after initial salutations. I’ve known Richard from back in the days when I was a bartender in Morro Bay and he slummed with his ex wife, a bit of an adolescent hooligan in grown-up skin. Richard, never a boozer, is long-suffering to say the least.

“Probably more,” Richard said. “Lots of real estate agents in Cayucos, and not much to sell. What there is, is too expensive.”

“Lots of empty castles and ghost streets.”

“Oh yes. I’d say at least eighty per cent of the beach front homes along Pacific Avenue are empty almost all the time.”

“Not even for the Fourth and holidays.”

He shook his head. “You walk on the beach, and maybe a handful of homes have people enjoying them. Mostly they’re rentals.”

“And whole blocks where people used to live, where kids and dogs played, empty. Ghost streets, I agreed.”

“Pretty much. These people from the Valley have a lot of money. They build these Carmel-like mansions, up to 3,500 square feet, though they can cheat by claiming storage space. They pay gardeners and caretakers to keep them up, and they’re never lived in. And then they go up for sale for astronomical prices nobody can afford.”

“How do you sell them?”

“Well, you know I work with Dale.”


“He sells most of them. We work as a team. I do the writing.”

“The writing?”

“Yes, you have to write up a house like it’s a person, or a personality. Make it attractive. You sit down and give it a script, and try and make it enticing as possible—like a movie trailer, say…making it beautiful…even if it isn’t, even if it has flaws…”

“Like a romance novel.”

“Pretty much, yes, I’d say so.”

“And Dale won’t do that?”

“Dale can’t be bothered, and he’s not one to do it anyway. Dale talks. Dale sells.”

Dale is the biggest real estate maven in Cayucos and one of the biggest in the county. Dale is the opposite of Richard. Dale seems hyperkinetic and has the cell phone out. Richard is never in a hurry and seldom on his cell phone. Even when you pass by Dale’s office and he’s at his desk doing nothing, he appears antsy, as if he’s about to jump up and do something earth-shaking serious.

He is a world class bullshitter about nothing and everything, while Richard is a bullshitter on just about any subject, for he reads and listens calmly while Dale has the attention span of a parakeet but knows what to say and can be entertaining. Above all, Dale really, really knows his business. Unlike Richard, who is a touch frumpy, Dale is perennially youthful and charismatic.

And Dale is impossible to dislike even if what he does for a living contributes hugely to the radical gentrification of Cayucos. If it wasn’t him, it would be somebody else, and I have come across a few reptiles in town, one woman in particular who appraises you as not worth bothering with if you don’t look like you can bankroll at least a mini mansion.

She wears suits and high heels and drives a late model sports car, and is married to a grinning geek. Her cell phone is almost always affixed to her ear, her face wreathed in concentration, worry, and greed. She is a handsome woman, utterly unappetizing.

Real estate agents are everywhere in Cayucos, like locusts. And since, like Dale, they are outgoing and sunny and engaging and wear constant smiles when it matters, which is most of the time, they are accepted and saluted in the streets. My friend and former mechanic, George Borque, who was flushed from town over rent hikes and bought a home in shabby Los Osos, blames Dale solely for the ruination of Cayucos and his own demise and would torture him before executing him if he had his way.

“So what’s going to happen?” I asked Richard. “I mean, that place on Park sold, right? It’s a monster. Nobody but a big family can move in there. Six bedrooms? So who buys it? Another zillionaire for a tax write off? Weekly rentals to whole clans? Or some retired fossil who’s going to share it with his fossil wife?”

Richard shrugged. “Who knows. Most families can’t afford to move here. So you don’t see as many kids as you used to.”

“You see old fat rich people with little dogs and little to do.”

“There’s a lot of that, too.”

“Someday, that’s all it will be, until they die and their kids sell the places to people like their parents, or knock them down and build these gross castles nobody can live in—like living in a fucking mausoleum in a cemetery.

Richard laughed. “Well, maybe it won’t be that bad. Hopefully not. Anyway, I’ve got to get going.”

Richard left, a slow shamble from the area off the pier to his office a few doors down.

On my way back with Wilbur, I passed Dale’s office. He saw me, raised a hand in greeting, jumped off his chair, grabbed a couple biscuits and, to prevent Wilbur from plowing into his office and inciting his dogs, fed Wilbur the goodies. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I moved on…

…but later that afternoon I passed by his office on the afternoon walk, and this time he handed me the biscuits in fear Wilbur would take his hand. He then started laughing and told me he thought one of my pieces about the radical gentrification of Cayucos in the Cal Coast News was hilarious.

“What do you think about the radical gentrification of Cayucos?” I asked.

“Well, it’s sad,” he confessed. “But it seems unavoidable.”

“Lots of people blame people like you, and specifically you, because you’re big.”

“I know, but also you’ve got these people coming in who don’t live here, who Air B&B their places to get more than they can renting them out full time, so you’ve got people who don’t live here running around and not caring about the town.”

“So the full time rentals are shrinking, and the ones available are too expensive to rent.”

“That’s it.”

“Whole streets that used to have people in every house, are almost empty but for three or four, and sometimes one or two. Ghost streets.”

I didn’t want to press and torment Dale. His sunny disposition and readiness to bullshit and laugh eliminates most of the target. It’s a dirty job, being in the center of radically gentrifying one of the last affordable beach outposts in California. But I guess somebody’s got to do it. And get rich in the process.

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After reading your opinion piece of July 2, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos,” I would like to share my opinion as a person who has lived in Cayucos for six years. Yes, one of the newcomers!

My experience in Cayucos has been overwhelmingly good – not just good but great. All of the “Ghost Castles” referred to are dwarfed by the people who embrace Cayucos. They are what makes up our little piece of the California Coast. They are, without doubt, the most welcoming, happy, fun loving, community hopeful and helpful, supporting, accepting and inviting group of people. These Cayucans are what makes Cayucos! And if you find that those “Ghost Castles” are off-putting I say please dig a little deeper and you may find many hearts of gold inside.

On behalf of Dale Kaiser, i believe the reason for Dale’s success in Cayucos is not simply because he exists in Cayucos but because he has spent years living here while supporting and nurturing his community and business. He has Cayucos’ back and he loves this little place on the California Coast.

Gentrification of Cayucos? Maybe instead it is just coming of age.

Thank you

Better Dell better!!!

Less twisted political bent:)

Except for the purported vacation home quotient.

Cayucos has always had a high percentage of vacation homes, I don’t think the numbers have changed that dramatically over the years, if Dell had done a little research with the local utility providers, we could actually have the facts!

I do think the vacation homes we have now are bigger and nicer, so probably more noticeable, not sure if numbers are any different,

The county median home price is now $640,000.00, so these same changes are County wide, it seems to me that the housing cost has changed the community dynamic, based on who can afford to be here. Both Avila and Shell Beach used to be just as funky as Cayucos, not anymore!

Of course we can always build camper trailer’s for our bicycles and shower at Dell’s house:)

This is one of the main things I love about Dell’s writing:

” I would say, the best quality about Richard besides his honesty and compassion, is his appreciation of irony and sarcasm and especially absurdity; though unlike myself, he is in too serious a business to be an ‘absurdist’ like me.”

That is a comment from an observer who sees through templates. I know Dell is telling the truth; those qualities belong to several real estate agents I know, and they do better than average in a highly competitive field. They’re villainized like used car salesmen, they’re easy targets for folks who look but don’t see. Dell, THANKS so much for telling it like it is, for seeing the world in full color, that people are multihued, that black and white thinking is limited. Okay, Happy 4th. Time to focus on the most important part of our country’s name, the UNITED States of America.

polishing turds for rich people, I guess one has to make a living.

Good article

Let’s say Cayucos residents agreed to a law that dictated those lots be designated either a permanently occupied residence (rental or owner-occupied) or a short-time rental. I loathe those empty mansions ANYWHERE where dozens of sweet little cottages in pretty “weed” (just wildflowers) choked yards were home to working class folks, surfers, low lifes, and all manner of free spirits who had priorities other than money. I REALLY miss those days, a lot. It irks me to see a pretty place wasted on an empty mansion, and such sights are becoming almost as common here as they are in L.A.

So such a tyrannical law would solve the problem and those damned real estate agents would STILL (and rightly) prosper from the gentrification of the town. And it would CERTAINLY become as gentrified, but in a different way. It’s because the weather and the setting are a finite resource in demand. We were here first dammit … life ain’t fair. Boo hoo.

Well, Dell, keep writing your fine stuff, you’re a master, sincerely said. Smoke ’em if you got ’em — that is, enjoy it while it lasts. Me, I’m just happy to be here.

Exactly, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the normal people to take back the leadership of a small place like Cayucos and return it to the family oriented hamlet it once was.

Actually, friend, I’m afraid it is well out of the realm of possibility to do that. I wish it wasn’t true, but what I wish means zip to human nature. This place is in demand, and it is going to be invaded. I think Californians should stand strong and fight for our “old” ways as best we can, but this growth-esthetics-agriculture thing is FALSELY viewed as a political divide.

It’s a cultural divide between city/planned community mindsets, and ag/small town rural mindsets, where it’s pretty much mind your own business. Would that folks could use their yards or any spot of land for growing produce to sell, but government requirements and regulation makes it a losing proposition financially. Many things that people would and could do with “our” community are precluded by very expensive and intrusive government nannying. So only the wealthy and/or politically compliant/correct can live here comfortably.

The thing I’d want to take back as a Californian is my freedom from intrusive government, telling me who I can’t fire because of a stupid hairdo! YIKES. Freedom from people who see a pretty old house with an unkempt yard, or a working class family with a couple of vehicles out front being worked on by dad and son or whatever, and scream bloody murder about how “ugly” it is. They pass laws that punish folks for enjoying their lives on their own terms, peacefully and civilly but without reference to anyone’s approval. Such laws make this pretty place infinitely uglier. *sigh* Just complaining, boo hoo. I wish there was a way to control growth to be “just right,” but controlling it is just an illusion.

“And Dale is impossible to dislike even if what he does for a living contributes hugely to the radical gentrification of Cayucos.”

You have it backwards, putting the cart before the horse.