From the Publishers
Growth of a backwater
by Chris Klein
ast month, I happened to tune in to a radio talk show
about the growth of San Diego. Participants included a city councilperson,
local leaders of the "arts" community and several other well-known
community cheerleaders. After listening for a few minutes, it was clear
that they all shared a common view of how San Diego had developed and what
should be done in the future. It was a story I've heard many times over
the years, and it goes something like this.
San Diego has always had a reputation as a backwater,
a poor stepchild of Los Angeles (if LA seems a bit like a bloated corpse
now, at least it has known greatness). We've always had a strong military
town, a great tourist town and a favorite place to retire. But something
is missing: industry. We just can't seem to lure those big corporate headquarters
away from New York or Cincinnati or wherever. Not enough affordable housing.
Not a good climate for business. This is a problem.
Out past efforts have all been half-way measures. We
need a bigger convention center, to attract the really big shows away from
Chicago, Las Vegas and San Francisco. We need a bigger sports arena, a bigger
stadium - more corporate box seats. An NBA franchise wouldn't hurt. And,
of course, we must have a first class symphony orchestra. How about some
property tax breaks to lure big business? And I almost forgot - move the
airport. If we can just take these little steps - steps we were too myopic
to see in the past - San Diego will be ready to take its rightful place
in the pantheon of great cities.
What a load. It's time for a reality check.
First, my credentials. I'm a second generation native
San Diegan; I've lived here all my life (specifically, in the Pacific/Mission
Beach area) and my mom grew up in Mission Hills. I can remember back when
I-8 was a two lane road, with truck farms where Mission Valley Center now
perches. Back when a trip to La Mesa was an adventure. When Mission Blvd.
ended as a dirt road in front of my parent's house (there was no road over
Mt. Soledad). I attended Bird Rock Elementary, La Jolla High and UCSD. My
father worked for Convair and General Dynamics his entire professional life.
We had a good middle-class life. So, I'm a local.
Now, the funny thing is, San Diego has always seemed
like a really great place to me. I would bet that during my entire life
San Diego never struck me as a backwater. Sure, we would drive to LA a couple
of times a year to go to a museum or see a play, but that made it seem all
the more special. I certainly didn't feel deprived. Nothing was missing
It's a strange paradox, but today - with San Diego standing
as the seventh largest city in the United States - it seems that there are
a lot of things missing.
San Diego's unique mixture of urban and rural landscapes
is almost gone. The Mission Valley truck farms disappeared long ago, but
the ranches in rolling hills of Sorrento Valley are still a strong memory.
All the coastal canyons of north county seem to be going the same way: bisected
by freeways and terraced into dense complexes of houses and condominiums.
With the increased growth, a certain sense of freedom
is also missing. You don't drive to Del Mar or points north between 4pm
and 6pm unless your car has a really good sound system. The summer may be
the best time to go to the beach, but not if you have to park.
And if you live a "normal" middle-class life-style
today, money is missing. San Diego has gone from moderately priced to very
expensive. Radically inflated land prices have put home ownership out of
the reach of many. So we have a large population of transients who move
every 2 or 3 years. And with that, the sense of neighborhood is missing.
Now, I know that things will keep moving in the same general direction.
All the things that keep me here will continue to attract new residents
and businesses. As far as I can see, this isn't going to make living here
The problem with growth is, it happens too slowly to
be noticed. A housing project here, a freeway and strip mall there, the
traffic gets just a little bit heavier each year. Unless you sit in one
place for five or 10 or 20 years, like I have, you don't notice what's happened
to the quality of life. Is this a blessing or a curse?
Growth is going to happen (the idea of border guards
at the county line never seems to have caught on). But we certainly don't
have to encourage it. I don't want my tax dollars subsidizing it or my local
government promoting it. Forget subsidizing the stadium, symphony or convention
center. No more major sports teams, please. Let's keep some of the zoning
agricultural - permanently. Save a little of the "old" San Diego
- our unique landscapes and habitats. Save a little of the backwater for