On Costa Mesa's east side, it's safety first

On Costa Mesa's east side, it's safety first
The front porch and white picket fence are emblematic of the east side of Costa Mesa, where families reign. (GERALDINE WILKINS / LAT)
It is a neighborhood in flux. Costa Mesa's east side is saying goodbye to retired World War II veterans who raised their families in its modest homes and is welcoming a new generation of professionals with growing families. They are upgrading the small homes and bringing children into the neighborhood again.

Early days

Costa Mesa's east side began as a town called Harper, named for a nearby rancher, and had its first post office in 1909.

The name was changed in 1920 to Costa Mesa, which means "coastal tableland" in Spanish, and the community continued to grow as an agricultural center.

World War II brought thousands of people to the area for training at the Santa Ana Army Air Base, site now of the Orange County fairgrounds and Orange Coast College.

With the population boom came a need for housing, and the east side's quaint homes, known for minimal square footage and big backyards, were built.

Costa Mesa was incorporated in 1953 and had an area of 3.5 square miles. Today, it is about 17 square miles and is home to more than 180,000 people.


Drawing card

Costa Mesa is routinely ranked by the FBI as one of the nation's 50 safest cities compared with others of similar population.

The roughly 3-square-mile east side, which borders Newport Beach, is among the safest neighborhoods in Costa Mesa, according to local law enforcement.


Wow factor

Compared with most south Orange County planned communities, east side homes practically have parks for backyards. East side lots are about 10,000 square feet, giving the owners room to expand the original small homes.

For those who like the beach, the east side is a bike ride away from the Pacific Ocean, about 3 miles.


Good news, bad news

The east side is not regulated by a homeowners association, therefore there is no board to tell homeowners what color to paint their houses or remind them to water their lawns.

That is considered a good thing, for the most part, as the majority of homeowners take pride in their houses. There are, however, those who simply don't care that the paint is chipped or the grass is brown.

The city of Costa Mesa has increased its code enforcement patrols and seems to be cracking down on blighted properties, especially those that harbor junk vehicles, but will not step in on such minor issues as landscaping or basketball hoop permits.


Report card

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District covers east side students, as well as those from Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

Scores from schools serving the east side range from 726 at Newport Harbor High School to 815 at Woodland Elementary School on the 2003 Academic Performance Index's scale of 1,000.


Stock report

The east side has more than 2,000 residences, from medium-density condominiums to sprawling ranch-style houses.

Because of the large lots, many developers have rebuilt with multi-unit dwellings where single homes once stood.

Costa Mesa has enacted a policy to curb this trend, stipulating that a home cannot be built on lots less than 6,000 square feet in size.

Even projects that fall within the guidelines are frequently contested by neighbors and rarely approved.


Historical values

Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price






*Year to date.


On the market

There are 72 residences on the market, from a 953-square-foot condominium for $410,000 to a 1,820-square-foot house for $899,000.


Sources: DataQuick Information Services; city of Costa Mesa website, ; Gary Monahan, mayor of Costa Mesa; Realtor Karen Lynch, Prudential California; ; Newport-Mesa Unified School District website .