The Happiest Place in America

With a population of approximately 45,000 the City of San Luis Obispo lies between Los Angeles and San Francisco, just minutes away from Central California’s world-famous Pacific Ocean views.  While still considered a small town, it has become ever-increasingly popular due to its natural beauty and quaint, family-oriented reputation. In 2010, it was named the “Happiest City in America” and featured on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Known as “SLO” to those who live here, one of San Luis Obispo’s most desirable traits is its relaxed lifestyle and rural feel.  With the city surrounded by a series of volcanic mountains, its beauty is unsurpassed and its climate is considered ideal. The weather, mild most of the year, offers an added incentive for those who enjoy an abundance of sunshine, fresh air and the great outdoors. The annual temperature average is around 70 degrees and there’s a casual friendliness that permeates this town.

Historic museum in San Luis Obispo

There are many features that support those who are committed to a healthy lifestyle.  The city was the first in the county to institute a ‘no smoking’ policy.  There are miles of biking and hiking trails.  San Luis Obispo hosts two fabulous Farmer’s Markets, one on Thursday evening in its downtown area and one on Saturday morning in the parking lot of the shopping center off of Madonna Road.  And there is an abundance of recreational activities, small, workout facilities and restaurants that offer seafood and vegetarian options.

Some larger chain stores, such as Target, Costco and Kohls are slowly moving to the area along with those who choose to move from larger, more populated areas.  People who work from home often land here as do retirees, who sometimes venturing into a second career in areas such as the wine industry.

San  Luis Obispo Real Estate

Within its 10.5 square mile area, a plethora of neighborhoods and housing options are available and there are numerous San Luis Obispo homes for sale in and around the city.  With a mixture of new and historic areas, upscale housing is on the rise as well as affordable housing units.  The city hosts 43% of San Luis Obispo County’s jobs and 17% of its housing.  The median home age is 32 years old.  Most neighborhoods are close to a number of larger retail areas, schools and parks.  Madonna Plaza, Laguna Plaza, Marigold Plaza and Foothill Plaza are just a few of the more popular shopping areas found in and around these mixed residential neighborhoods.
Parks are plentiful (Meadow, Mitchell, Sinsheimer and Laguna Lake) and people actively visit them for multi-purpose activities.  With the warm temperatures year-round, people thrive on the outdoors and community gardens as well as outdoor sports are popular.

There are some new housing developments although affordable housing has previously been of concern in the area.  The rise of foreclosures has present some fabulous opportunities but the competition is stiff.  With an annual population growth of 2.6% and a median age of 30, it is considered desirable place to begin and raise a family.  The largest category of San Luis Obispo homes for sale is currently single-family dwellings with an estimated 20,300 residential units overall.

There are also numerous unincorporated areas that lie on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo.  An example of this is the Country Club Estates, a gated neighborhood with approximately 60 townhouses, 185 single family homes, greenbelt areas and a private country club.

Hillside of San Luis ObispoWhile San Luis Obispo County has sustained enormous growth over the past two decades, the city of San Luis Obispo has not because of a slow growth policy.  Combined with the need for student housing and a climate that attracts new residents from around the world, these factors have lead to a sometimes challenging market.  Presently, Cal Poly State University is in the process of increasing its on-site housing for students and faculty while the city continues to carefully monitor the needs for more affordable housing through entities including the Housing Authority of the City of San Luis Obispo.

Since it is a college town, it is quite common for affluent parents to buy a house for their child while attending college, and sell it after graduation.  Close to 58% of the population is under 29 years old and numerous San Luis Obispo homes for sale fall in this category each year.

So who else resides in the city besides students and affluent retirees?  What is the population made up of and who raises a family here?  How do working families afford to live here?   Cal Poly State University and the San Luis Obispo County Government Center, along with nearby Diablo Power Plant are among the areas largest employers.  The wine industry is thriving along with other tourism-oriented services, additional forms of agriculture and industry.

San Luis Obispo had been recognized nationally as a wonderful place to live on several occasions.  In 1998, “Money” Magazine rated San Luis Obispo as one of the west’s best places to live and in 2004, Frommer’s “Cities Ranked and Rated” named San Luis Obispo one of top 3 places to live in North America.  It was National Geographic Magazine’s book “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way,” which named San Luis Obispo the “Happiest City in America.”

For these reasons and more, San Luis Obispo homes for sale are desirable for a wide spectrum of potential buyers.

Avila Beach real estate values have jumped substantially since the town was rebuilt. Beginning prices in Avila currently start at $650,000 for a studio, all of 615 square feet. If you’re in a different income bracket, you can spend $2,995,000 for a gorgeous custom home atop the town with incredible views. There are approximately 23 properties listed today (August 3, 2009), including 8 fractional properties. If you don’t know what fractional properties are, contact or call me, it’s a whole different ball game. I studied fractional ownership last year; it’s just now hitting the central coast, but has been popular in different parts of the states and other countries.
I still believe Avila Beach is one of the gems of the Central Coast, whether you are looking for a place to live or vacation.

Avila Beach is not the same town it was years ago, its better. I realize to some this is not true, they loved the old Avila with its old shops, history and character. But as I rode my bike through today, I was really struck with a deep appreciation for the wonderful little beach town that has been created. With all the attractions, hotels, eateries and new character, Avila has so much to offer the locals and the tourists.
One of my favorite places today was Joe Momma’s, a coffee house, spa and hotel. The coffee is great and the units (referred to as a semi-B&B) feature contemporary oceanfront rooms, perfect for small families or a romantic weekend. They certainly have my recommendation. With the town rebuild comes more conveniences; I noted the Avila Mercantile & Deli, which reopened in May under the new ownership of the very popular Woodstone Marketplace. This store is awesome, where one can eat breakfast, lunch or dinner, shop for your daily necessaries and beach stuff plus more. The store has really put together what people of this small community need, I applaud them.
For the diners, everything is just a short walk away. I have personally dined at most of the restaurants there, its wide open to your taste buds, fast foods to fine dining.

-Eddie Stanfield

For those of you who enjoy auto racing, July 26th was a special day of racing for me. That night, the Santa Maria Speedway hosted the 23th annual Bud Stanfield Memorial in memory of my father who was killed in the pits during  nights racing. My father’s passion was racing, all kinds of racing throughout his life, and now racers show up from all over the state to participate. I was lucky to be the driver of the family sprint car for several years prior to dads passing and to this day racing is still in the blood. This event has featured up to 50 sprint cars showing to go after the coveted hand machined trophy by Dave Mussels machine shop and an increased purse for the main event winner.

At this year’s Memorial Race, I enjoyed watching over 40 fire-breathing 360’s go at it. By Main event time, the track was spent, leaving very little moisture for the 23 starters for the Main event.  Winner Danny Faria Jr. found the setup to be able to wrestle the lead from Clovis ace, Peter Murphy, and hold on for the win of the 30 lapper. Danny told me Memorials are special to him and he was proud to win the Bud Stanfield Memorial.  He certainly earned it.  It was a tough night for past Memorial winner Greg Port, as he took a hard ride on the front straightaway after running near the front all night. I talked to Greg’s dad afterwards; Greg was probably awfully sore Sunday morning. 

This year I donated $500.00 towards the purse for the night’s racing, spreading it between finishers 3rd, 4th and 5th places of the Main event.  It was nice to help out the racers I so dearly love to watch.  Good job to all at the speedway!

Floods are a fact of life in many places around the country.  During the last few years, we have seen devastation from events like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the drastic flooding in Iowa, Missouri and many other states along the Mississippi River.  Unless you have lived in the Santa Maria Valley for longer than 40 years, the concept of flooding creating damage and loss to your home or personal property has not been a concern.

The city of Santa Maria prior to 1967 was subject to flooding on an almost bi-annual basis.  This is because the Santa Maria River, which is fed by the foothills and mountains to our east, channels a tremendous amount of water over a short distance on its way to the Pacific Ocean during our rainy season.  Without a way to channel the water away from the city, it was not unusual to see water flood into the city center, usually as far south as Stowell Road on a regular basis.  The flooding, although chronic, was not catastrophic, usually flooding about a foot or so of water on average.

In the 1960’s as both a flood control and water reclamation project, the Santa Maria River Levee and Twitchell Resevoir were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Upon the completion of the levee,  the area south of the river was categorized in the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) as an area that is deemed to have a 1% or less chance of major flooding in any given year.  As a result of this categorization, property owners have been generally exempt from a requirement to purchase flood insurance.  (Federally backed mortgages require flood insurance when there is a greater than 1% chance of flooding, and most private mortgages are starting to adopt the same requirement).

The failure of the levee system in New Orleans, along with the large numbers of uninsured losses in traditionally flood prone areas has prompted the review of all levees across the United States.  Every levee will need to be ‘re-certified’ to determine that their protection is still adequate. 

Santa Maria’s levee, upon review, was deemed to be inadequate and in need of renovation.  This causes our area to lose it’s category of 1% or less chance of flooding, and requires FEMA to re-draw the flood maps that determine the amount of risk, and therefore the pricing mechanism for flood insurance.   The maps create ‘zones’ which distinguish a particular area’s risk versus another.  Basically, the higher the risk, the higher the pricing for flood insurance.

Unfortunately, this area’s designation will change from a FIRM zone that allows for relative inexpensive pricing (currently $348 for a preferred policy that contains $250,000 of building coverage and $100,000 of contents coverage) to a pricing model that can make the same preferred policy on the same property cost $1385.00.  If the home you live in or are purchasing was built before 1974 and is in the changed zones, your same policy can cost as much as $5481.00.  So, where you live, and when your house was constructed will play a big part as to how these changes will effect you and your family.

City, County and Federal officials are working on a plan to bring the levee up to certification standards.  At the last estimate, the cost is approximately $48 million.  Upon completion of the work and re-certification of the levee, the requirement for purchasing flood insurance should be lifted, but consumers are urged to consider maintaining this valuable coverage.  Of course, the pricing at that time should be substantially reduced.

Our office will be glad to discuss your particular situation and help you with your insurance needs.  Feel free to contact us to help you determine if the home you own or are considering buying may be affected.

Marty Mariscal  CLU, CHFC
Mariscal-Rumbaugh Insurance




The Pismo Beach Car Show took place this past weekend.   I used to participate by entering my 1969 Checker Aerobus and even was fortunate to win first place one year in my division.  Now it’s fun for me to be an observer and to roam downtown Pismo Beach and talk to the owners of the cars on display. 

The record-breaking heat added another element to the event.  I thoroughly enjoyed the warm evening weather as we watched the cars cruise the streets, although some of the vendors complained that the crowds were thinner than they expected.  If that was the case, it’s hard to tell whether it was the heat or gas prices (or both) that affected their business.

We often get questions from people who are interested in buying a Central Coast beach property that generates income as a vacation rental. Pismo Beach and Shell Beach are popular destinators for tourists and one of the key areas of interest for a possible vacation home. However many people, including locals, are not aware of the fact that the City of Pismo Beach (which includes Shell Beach) has a Zoning Ordinance that makes it illegal to rent a home as a short-term vacation rental in Pismo Beach and Shell Beach neighborhoods that are zoned “residential”. The ordinance defines a short-term rental as one that is less than 30 days. Until recently, the City of Pismo Beach really didn’t enforce any penalties for violators and left it up to neighbors to complain before any action was taken. Now Pismo Beach has hired an enforcement officer who will be researching, investigating and enforcing the ordinance. Currently the City plans to shut off the water supply for those who violate the ordinance after two complaints/warnings.

In anticipation of reduced property tax revenues due to the weak stock market, increasing number of homes in foreclosure and declining home values, the Pismo Beach City Council voted to add a 1/2 cent increase in sales tax to the June Ballot.  If approved, the sales tax will be 7.75%, which is what it currently is in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.  According to the City Council, secure funding is needed to continue the work that has already begun for repair of sidewalks, streets, beach access stairs, and improving the storm drainage systems.