LOS ANGELES (CN) — Life can be loud, filled with the sounds of music and yelling, but living feet away from iconic Venice Beach and its famous boardwalk is worth it for Terry McGhee.
McGhee grew up in South Los Angeles. As a kid, he rode his bicycle to Venice Beach whenever he could. The two places aren’t far from each other, but to McGhee they seemed like different worlds, the beach a reprieve from the violence and neglect that characterized his own neighborhood.
“Looking back on it, that was a very dangerous ride,” McGhee, now 60, recalled in an interview in September of this year. He remembers dodging cars on the highway as he biked the famous beach town, its boardwalk always filled with rollerbladers, bodybuilders and eccentrics.
After bouncing around for a bit — including spending time in Antelope Valley on the far and desert-y reaches of the Los Angeles area — McGhee in 2016 was able to find a subsidized apartment in Venice Beach through the nonprofit Venice Community Housing.
While nothing fancy, the apartment gave McGhee a foothold in the vibrant beach community he’d always loved. It also let him reconnect with his daughter, who until recently lived in the neighborhood.
“I get up in the morning and sometimes I can see dolphins,” McGhee said in an interview from his apartment overlooking the beach. “You can’t beat the scenery. You can’t beat the view.”
As housing prices perpetually increase in California and as gentrification and speculation continue to eat up affordable homes, McGhee is one of a shrinking number of low-income Californians that can afford to live near the state’s iconic beaches.
Against that backdrop, the California Coastal Commission — the state agency tasked with protecting the coastline and ensuring every Californian has access to it — is beginning to rethink how they define access with the goal of making sure the coast isn’t just for rich people. But the commission faces an uphill battle on that front, as soaring housing prices and income inequality in the Golden State have put the California Dream out of reach of many residents.
For his part, McGhee says he gets along with everybody — from the rich to the homeless.
“I’m not better than he, you’re not worse than me,” he said. “I give what I can when I got it.”
Even still, his neighborhood is a testament to rampant gentrification in California’s increasingly pricey beach communities. From the roof of his apartment complex, McGhee points to an apartment complex down the street that he said is offering studio apartments for a whooping monthly rent of $4,500. And yet elsewhere on the same street, there's also a couple living in a van.
The high rents are a far cry from the Venice Beach that McGhee remembers from his youth. Though once bohemian, Venice has become a magnet for technology companies, house flippers and short-term rental units. Like in other previously relatively affordable coastal areas, gentrification here is causing housing prices to skyrocket.
Scenes like this are catching the attention of policymakers, forcing them to grapple with how California’s ongoing housing crisis affects access to state beaches. Donna Brownsey, the chair of California’s Coastal Commission, says the problem has garnered concern from “everybody at every level of government.”
Created by ballot measure in 1972 before being then made permanent by the state legislature in 1976, California’s Coastal Commission exists to protect the state’s coast and marine habitats while also ensuring all residents have access to the state’s shoreline. It does this by regulating land use in coastal zones, including construction of new roads, businesses and housing.