Port Hueneme is a quirky little beach town that defies conventional wisdom: The nicest homes aren't on its waterfront, but inland. Which leaves all those somewhat funky beachfront condos relatively affordable.
Princess Hueneme (pronounced wy-NEE-mee) was a beautiful Indian girl with bad taste in men. As legend has it, her newlywed husband left her for an evil woman who cast a spell over him.
So broken-hearted was Princess Hueneme that she threw herself into the sea and turned into stone. She became Mugu Rock. Her now-repentant and distraught husband followed her into the sea. The seaweed encircling Mugu Rock is said to be the hair of the grief-stricken husband, destined to float around his beloved princess for eternity.
What does this have to do with Port Hueneme? Not much. Mugu Rock, one of the most-photographed symbols of Southern California, isn't even in Port Hueneme. But the city's name is derived from a Chumash word for "resting place," and that's fitting given that a growing number of retirees are choosing to buy here.
What it's about
This is a town that would have lost at the board game Monopoly. Instead of developing spectacular housing along its spectacular waterfront, it has a handful of dated condominium complexes built in phases over the last 30 or so years. The nicer — and newer — housing stock is all inland.
Compounding the sense of a missed opportunity is that those oceanfront complexes haven't been especially well-maintained: In Surfside I, small patios visible from units for sale are littered with storage, rusted barbecues and untended plants. Cigarette butts are strewn along the common walkways.
None of which is to say the upside potential here isn't tremendous. Brooms are cheap.
Assessments, however, aren't. In its sister complex of Surfside III, owners face assessments of more than $20,000 per unit to pay for long-deferred maintenance. Owners of Surfside IV were recently assessed $5,600.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
"If you want to live at the beach, this is probably the least-expensive oceanfront and ocean-view housing in Southern California," said Susan O'Brien, Sotheby's Real Estate, Oxnard office.
Deferred maintenance or not, these units have appreciated at pretty much the same pace as everyplace else in the area, O'Brien said.
Good news, bad news
Port Hueneme is a mixed bag. Still, it may be a bargain hunter's dream come true. If you can see beyond the peeling paint, it's an affordable weekend beach home for Angelenos.
And you almost have to wonder if coastal Port Hueneme wouldn't be a cooler place to commute from than, say, Riverside's heat?
Mark Sabo, broker-owner of Surfside Anacapa Real Estate, has lived here for about 30 years. All four of the Surfside complexes are showing their age, he acknowledges, and he has a theory why.
Many still have original owners — people who bought 30 years ago for $30,000 to $75,000 — and who enjoy Proposition 13 tax protection, he said.
They use their units for weekends or rent them out for monthly income. Many owners are now retired and lobby to keep the homeowner association fees low. They aren't interested in selling — they own outright, and their property-tax bills are minimal. Newer buyers would like to see the complexes updated. In a few units, Sabo said, the dated tan-and-brown color schemes have been replaced and new flooring and kitchens installed.
"They can improve the inside," he said, "but there isn't much they can do about the exterior common areas."
Katy Greenstreet, who moved here about 15 years ago from Northridge with her husband, said she tries to stay above the homeowner association fray.
She owns a 1,600-square-foot Surfside III end unit with a dead-on ocean view and a wrap-around patio. "I love living here," she said. "This town has captured my heart. It's not a rich man's town; it's a working man's town."
Port Hueneme is the West Coast home of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Center, the famous Seabees. Occupying 1,800 acres of prime land in a community of just 4 square miles, the Seabee base is a quiet giant.
Although military personnel and their families — 6,000 of Port Hueneme's 23,000 residents — obviously eat at local restaurants and shop at local stores, the base has a feeling of self-containment. This is not Camp Pendleton's Oceanside.
Port Hueneme is also attracting a new pool of residents: students from Cal State Channel Islands — now a four-year university — who recognize that this is the closest beach to campus, a straight eight-mile drive.
On the market
There are condos aplenty, and asking prices have been dropping. In the gated Surfside I, a unit with two bedrooms and 1 3/4 bathrooms was originally listed at $444,500. The price is now $399,900, and there are ocean views from the balconies.
Cheaper still is a 756-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit in Surfside III listed at $369,000.
There are nine elementary schools in Port Hueneme. Out of a possible 1,000, their 2005 Academic Performance Index Base Report scores were: Hollywood Beach, 887; Hueneme, 746; Richard Bard, 735; Fred Williams, 710; Parkview, 709; Sunkist, 698; Larson, 676; Hathaway, 644; and Haycox, 613. Scores for the two middle schools were: Charles Blackstock, 689; E.O. Green, 703. For high school, Hueneme students attend Oxnard High School, 675; Channel Islands, 648; and Hueneme High, 606.