More Mitt-La-Jolla Stories
Hat tip to profhoff for sending this article from the nytimes.com:
The elderly woman next door complains that her car is constantly boxed into her driveway. A few houses over, a gay couple grumbles that their beloved ocean views are in jeopardy. And down the street, a widow grouses that her children’s favorite dog-walking route has been disrupted.
Bellyaching over the arrival of an irritating new neighbor is a suburban cliché, as elemental to the life on America’s Wisteria Lanes as fastidiously edged lawns and Sunday afternoon barbecues.
But here in La Jolla, a wealthy coast-hugging enclave of San Diego, the ordinary resident at the end of the block is no ordinary neighbor.
He is Mitt Romney.
Four years ago, when he was just a well-heeled civilian in search of a quiet beach house, Mr. Romney paid $12 million for a three-bedroom Spanish-style villa with unobstructed views of the Pacific and a rich history: Maureen O’Connor, the former mayor of San Diego, once lived there, and Richard Gere had used it as a vacation rental.
Little did Mr. Romney know that his efforts to quadruple the size of his house would collide with a bid for the White House, foisting the unpredictable dramas of home renovation and presidential politics onto a community that prides itself on low-key California neighborliness.
So now, after overcoming the distrust of social conservatives and evangelical voters to clinch the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney must win over another constituency, one that his campaign team never anticipated, polled or targeted: disaffected neighbors.
It will not be easy. There are those who seem pleased by Mr. Romney’s presence here, which real estate agents have whispered could raise home values by 10 percent. “Personally, I’m glad it’s people who have a little bit of money and taste living there,” said Susan Coll, who lives three houses away.
But many of the residents of this exclusive tract in La Jolla say they are rankled by what they see from their decks and patios as the Romneys’ blindness to their impact on the neighborhood. And personal politics is fueling their frustration as much as anything else, several days of interviews with about a dozen residents suggest.
It turns out that Mr. Romney — who has likened President Obama’s policies to socialism, called for cutting back on federal funding to PBS and wants to outlaw same-sex marriage — has moved into a neighborhood that evokes “Modern Family” far more than “All in the Family.” (There are six gay households within a three-block radius of his house, neighbors said.)
Four doors up the street from the Romneys is the home of Randy Clark and Tom Maddox, a gay couple who meet regularly with other residents worried by the candidate’s renovation plans.
The men, who married in San Francisco four years ago, were asked by Mr. Romney’s architect to sign a document that stated they have no objections to his planned renovations, which would obscure a portion of their ocean view. They refused.
Mr. Clark, an accountant, is trying to organize a campaign fund-raiser at his home for President Obama and hopes to bump into Mr. Romney on the street, so he can explain, “in a neighborly way,” why he thinks his relationship with Mr. Maddox deserves the same rights and status as the marriage between Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann.
A few houses up on Dunemere are Michael Duddy and his partner, James Geiger, who make no secret of their discomfort with some of Mr. Romney’s politics. Chatting with Mr. Maddox and Mr. Clark a few weekends ago, Mr. Geiger playfully proposed hanging a gay-pride flag from the Italian stone pine tree in his yard “so that Romney’s motorcade has to drive under it.”
Three houses away from Mr. Romney is Mark Quint, a Democrat who said that he is tired of watching neighboring homeowners bulldoze small beach houses to make way for McMansions, fearing a “nightmare of construction.” He sees a discrepancy in Mr. Romney’s ambitious renovation plan.
“The only thing he wants small is government and taxes,” Mr. Quint said. “He likes big houses, big families and big religion.”
For partisan candor it was hard to top Karen Webber, who lives several blocks away and dislikes the heightened security measures. “If this were Obama,” she said, standing near bright orange barriers restricting access to Dunemere, “I’d probably be fine with it.”
LA JOLLA (derived from the Spanish word for “jewel”) was traditionally a Republican-dominated corner of San Diego. But that has changed over time. The La Jolla of 2012 is as purple a precinct as they come, with 7,764 registered Republicans and 7,024 Democrats.
“It’s odd that this is where Romney picked a place — it’s so progressive,” Mr. Clark said.
By all accounts, the Romneys chose No. 311 not for the neighborhood’s political profile but because of the home’s proximity to the water and to their longtime friends Victoria and John Miller, meatpacking magnates who live next door and served as the financial chairmen of Mr. Romney’s first presidential campaign.
On paper, the house sounds luxurious: it is 3,000 square feet, with vaulted ceilings, five bathrooms, a 20-yard lap pool and Jacuzzi shaded by a Torrey pine, a wraparound second-level deck and a lawn that slopes down to the ocean. But those who have been inside say it needs work. The house’s last owner, Marc Van Buskirk, a salesman who represented military contractors, described it in his memoir as “rather small, two bedrooms really, and a quasi-den/bedroom.”
And the floor plan, said Peter Middleton, a local real estate broker, “has a 1950s-1960s flow. It’s not modern, not open.”
The Romneys have said that the current configuration cannot accommodate their family of 5 children and 18 grandchildren. The new house, by contrast, will be 11,000 square feet with a split-level four-car garage equipped with an elevator to ferry cars up and down. (There is currently a cramped two-car garage, and little street parking available.)
Some neighbors say that they admire Mr. Romney’s devotion to his family, but question why he bought a house on such a crowded, built-up street to begin with, and wonder how such an extensive renovation can be achieved without shutting down their narrow street for hours a day.
“There are plenty of other big houses they could have purchased,” said a Dunemere resident who spoke on condition of anonymity, worried about antagonizing the Romneys and their friends. “This is a quaint little one-way street.”
Mr. Romney has hired a lawyer to shepherd the project through the local zoning process and has spent about $22,000 to lobby city officials for various permits. But construction is not expected to begin anytime soon.
In fact, among his immediate neighbors, there are rumors that Mr. Romney has given up on building his dream home and will instead purchase the bigger and grander estate of his longtime friend Mr. Miller. It is not entirely implausible: after protests from residents, the Secret Service moved its large and loud RV from the street onto the adjacent property. And, this spring, the Romneys held their annual Easter egg hunt in the Millers’ sprawling backyard.
“Selfishly, we hope he does move there,” Mr. Clark said. (The Millers could not be reached for comment.)
For now, though, the Romneys are making regular use of their La Jolla house. Despite a busy campaign schedule, they have stayed there for the past two weekends. Mr. Romney has been spotted pruning the trees by his pool and touching up the paint on a fence.
The Romneys rarely entertain neighbors, but they have tried to weave themselves into the fabric of local life. Mr. Romney and his wife take regular walks around La Jolla, exchanging pleasantries with fellow strollers and occasionally enforcing the law. A young man in town recalled that Mr. Romney confronted him as he smoked marijuana and drank on the beach last summer, demanding that he stop.
The issue appears to be a recurring nuisance for the Romneys. Mr. Quint, who lives on the waterfront near Mr. Romney, said that a police officer had asked him, on a weekend when the candidate was in town, to report any pot smoking on the beach. The officer explained to him that “your neighbors have complained,” Mr. Quint recalled. “He was pretty clear that it was the Romneys.”
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, declined to answer questions about the Romneys’ interactions with neighbors, but in a statement, she said, “Gov. and Mrs. Romney have been made to feel very welcome in La Jolla and they enjoy spending time there with their family.”
Despite attempts to blend in, though, the Romneys retain all the inconspicuousness of a neon billboard these days. Their comings and goings are heralded by sudden spasms of security: Secret Service agents fan out across the street. S.U.V.’s move into place. Traffic is stopped. A motorcade arrives. And whenever Mr. Romney is at home, a giant S.U.V. is parked diagonally across the entry to the cul-de-sac at the bottom of Dunemere, blocking all incoming traffic.
Local lawmakers are largely unmoved by the neighbors’ complaints, especially those with long memories. Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman who represents parts of San Diego County, can still recall when President Nixon, during his first year in office, purchased a waterfront mansion in nearby San Clemente, Calif. La Casa Pacifica, as Nixon called it, was quickly rechristened the Western White House.
Like his presidency, Nixon’s presence in town was deeply polarizing. “Some people were thrilled,” Mr. Issa said. “They’d be down at the Mission Restaurant and Nixon would be 10 paces over. And other people would say: ‘I can’t get a decent chair. The Secret Service is taking them all.’ ”
Residents here take pains to praise the Romneys’ security detail for its neighborliness.
A few days after the RV was moved to the Millers’ property, an agent approached Mr. Maddox and Mr. Clark on the street. “So, guys, do you like this better?” he asked, pointing to the spot on the road where the hulking vehicle once sat.
The men nodded.
The agent then broached another pressing matter: recycling. “We have cans and bottles we’d like to recycle,” he said, explaining that the Secret Service was a vigilantly green organization, whenever possible. Mr. Clark offered to collect the group’s recycling every week and take it to the curb along with the couple’s trash. (Later, out of earshot, he wondered aloud why the Romneys could not handle the task.)
As the conversation wound down, Mr. Clark eyed a couple of Secret Service men polishing a black S.U.V. and playfully asked if they would mind washing his car.
One of them gave him a knowing look. “You’ll be fourth in line behind Mrs. Romney,” he retorted playfully. “She’s always asking, ‘When will you do my car?’ ”