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A city in California has no house numbers. Here’s why they’re finally addressing it

In the small Californian city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, there isn’t a single home address. It makes it difficult for residents to give directions or receive their food deliveries, but city councillor Karen Ferlito says there are safety concerns as well.

City council is putting together a committee to look into the matter, but not every resident wants the change

The outside of a Rolex storefront.

As It Happens6:04A city in California has no house numbers. Here’s why they’re finally addressing it

In the small Californian city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, there isn't a single home address. It makes it difficult for residents to give directions or receive their food deliveries, but city councillor Karen Ferlito says there are safety concerns as well.

"I say I live at the end of 12th Avenue, three east of Junipero Street," Ferlito told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "Then I describe that there is a big pine tree, a whiskey barrel with some flowers sometimes, and a fire hydrant at the end of my driveway."

There are street names, but no numbers. Instead people give their homes extravagant names — such as Neverland or Almost Heaven — and have to be creative when giving directions.

Ferlito is part of an ad hoc committee put together by the city to look at the address issue, because it has created an assortment of challenges that were amplified by the pandemic, when people were going out less and having more delivered.

The challenges of no numbers

It's not a big city. At just one-square mile in size, Carmel-by-the-Sea has a little over 3,000 people.

But even with those small numbers, it can still be hard to track down where people live. Ferlito says her place can be hard to find, and she worries about what would happen if she needed an ambulance or fire truck.

"If you're having a heart attack or a stroke, it's minutes, even seconds count," said Ferlito.

A woman stands with a beach in the background.

She's even heard from her constituents that an ambulance will sometimes go to the wrong house. The fire department, which is contracted out from the nearby community of Monterey, usually knows where to go, but not every volunteer at the department knows the situation.

And then there are everyday challenges. Having no address makes it difficult to sign up for a cellphone plan, new credit card and cable, and hooking up utilities can be a nightmare.

"I have one woman that has written to me that, you know, unless she stands out in the street and waves down a delivery service, they can't seem to find her," said Ferlito.

As is

Carmel-by-the-Sea has been without street numbers for a century, and not everyone wants that situation addressed. According to a survey by the Carmel Residents Association, 59 per cent of respondents said they don't want numbers on their property.

One respondent wrote that even with "occasional inconveniences" they "love not having addresses in our village."

Others wrote things like "Keep Carmel Carmel" and, "Our address system has worked for over 100 years; it's good for all to walk to the post office."

Part of the charm is the city's post office. Since mail isn't delivered house-by-house, people gather at the post office to collect their mail, making it a hot spot for catching up with friends.

A couple walk down the sidewalk.

But Ferlito says that residents' association survey doesn't really represent the city, as it only heard from about 18 per cent of its members.

She also says the California fire code requires street numbers. Ferlito said they've gotten away without numbers for years, but that it's time for change. She says there are more stringent requirements now around having an accurate addresses.

Still, Ferlito said she hopes for a hybrid system. People would be required to have numbers on their houses, but the mail would still be delivered to the post office, and people could still give their homes fun names.

"Hopefully we can arrive at a situation that is happy for everybody," said Ferlito. "I don't think it will destroy our town. I think that would be an exaggeration. I think it will just make it safer and a little bit more convenient for people who do need home delivery."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Drost is a journalist with the CBC. You can reach him by email at philip.drost@cbc.ca.

    Interview with Karen Ferlito produced by Devin Nguyen

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