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 - then.
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 any better.
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 me.