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North City West — the area between the freeways

Appearing soon: 40,000 people

Del Mar's Mayor Dick Roe: "Pete Wilson needs North City West because he’s trying to get into the governor’s office.” - Image by David Covey
Del Mar's Mayor Dick Roe: "Pete Wilson needs North City West because he’s trying to get into the governor’s office.”

An automobile moving at fifty-five miles per hour requires twenty-one minutes to travel up Interstate 5 from downtown San Diego to the Carmel Valley Road exit. Two gas stations and a Sambo’s restaurant are the only buildings that mark the offramp; to the west lies Los Penasquitos lagoon and Torrey Pines State Beach, and a mile or so north of that is the city of Del Mar, population 5200.

Mike Gotch, Fred Schnaubelt. Schnaubelt: “Well, there’s always an impact. It depends on whether you put the five-fingered child ahead of the three-toed lizard.’’

Looking eastward from one of the gas stations on a clear day you can see the round hump of Black Mountain a few miles distant. The rolling hills in between are covered with chaparral and scattered eucalyptus groves, and there are also a few houses, riding stables, and some farms that produce com, strawberries, and three percent of the nation’s total tomato crop. That is what is there today, anyway, but it is all expected to change.

Jack Van Cleave: “We don’t look at this as a sprawl situation; we consider it to be right across the street [I-5] from an urbanized area — Del Mar and Del Mar Heights."

On these brown hills a new community will rise. It will provide 14,000 homes for some 40,000 people, and it will be called North City West. The concept has been approved by the San Diego City Council and tentative-maps have been drawn up for the first subdivision. It seems like just a matter of time before the area submits to bulldozers and steam rollers, but a few problems could still stand in the way.

Ron Strange: “If growth like this took place in a human, they'd call it cancer.”

There are people who say North City West will be a model community, one that will provide relief for the city’s housing shortage and accommodate the incoming tide of would-be residents. There are others who say it is a capitulation to development companies, a classic symbol of growth gone wild in San Diego.

Embarrassed by the flagrant sprawl of Mira Mesa, the planning department had set out to plan North City West in style.

One of the opponents is the city of Del Mar, and when Del Mar sued the City of San Diego in November of 1979, claiming that the regional impacts of the proposed development had not been adequately studied, it set up a showdown of sorts that is currently scheduled for February 25 in San Diego Superior Court. Citizen and environmental groups have rushed to the support of Del Mar, while at least one developer has entered the suit as an ally of San Diego. Suddenly, North City West has become the hottest growth issue in this area, maybe the hottest one since Mission Valley was first opened up to commercial development in 1958. Seminars are being held and politicians are expounding at length and occasionally with eloquence on the subject. And while there is mostly disagreement on whether the area should welcome growth, limit it. delay it, or even try to prevent it, there is one thing nearly everyone agrees on: this single new community w ill have a profound impact on San Diego. Most people also agree that development of the hills and canyons already called North City West — development of some kind — is simply inevitable.

In retrospect, you could see it coming a long way off: first Interstate 5 was laid down, and a few years later and a few miles to the east. Interstate 15. Suddenly the land was no longer simply land but an area between freeways. Running across it from south to north were high-voltage power lines serving the San Dieguito area. Then in 1970 the Los Penasquitos sewer district was formed and a trunk line laid down through the Carmel Valley, connecting Rancho Bernardo to the Point Loma sewage treatment plant. The trunk line could serve 90,000 people, but even today the total population of Rancho Bernardo and its surrounding communities is only about 40,000. In 1974 a thirty-inch water main with a total capacity of 60-80,000 people was added. To developers, the area now looked like a table that had been set, the dishes and glassware laid out. Sooner or later someone would want to eat. ,

The San Diego City Council had postponed development in the area for a number of years, claiming that it was unnecessary and even unwise to expand to a relatively distant area. But in 1974 Lee Hubbard, then a city councilman, urged the mayor and the council to reconsider development of North City West. Pressure from the developers was mounting, and the council eventually gave in and approved a city planning department “community plan” for the area in 1975.

Embarrassed by the flagrant sprawl of Mira Mesa, the planning department had set out to plan North City West in style. Its community plan was 147 pages of maps, graphs, and computer analyses of everything from the land forms to housing trends. Sure, there would be 14.000 units on only 4286 acres of land, but there would also be parks, bike paths, schools, libraries, police and fire stations, a shopping center, and even an “employment center” for small businesses and light industry. If they wanted to, the future residents of North City West could sleep, work, shop, and play without ever leaving the boundaries of the community. They could park their cars — even sell them — and ride mass transit to other parts of San Diego, reducing traffic and air pollution. A finance plan would be worked out to charge the cost of all these services and amenities exclusively to the residents of North City West. There would be housing for all income groups, and any subdivision plans would incorporate the natural landscape as part of its design, thus creating “urbanization for people in harmony with nature.” That was in 1975.

Three years later a precise plan for the first subdivision, a 210-acre, 747-unit tract to be developed by the Baldwin Company of Irvine, was submitted to the planning department. When opponents of North City West got copies of the plan, they pointed out that aside from naming the subdivision "Carmel Valley," there was little in the plan that recalled any of the natural features of the area. Massive grading would "irreversibly obliterate" the site’s bluffs and canyons, according to the environmental impact report filed with the plan, and virtually all of the vegetation would be wiped out. There would be an elementary school and a park, but there were no provisions for police or fire stations, or libraries. There were no park-and-ride lots because there would be only one bus route serving the area. All that would come later, along with the "employment center." Meanwhile, the average cost of the homes would be around $150,000.

Wait a minute, said the opponents, it's not turning out like it was supposed to. Don’t worry, said the planning department, it’s only the first neighborhood, we’ll take care of it. The department recommended that the city council approve the precise plan for Carmel Valley, which the council did in October of 1979. There are still people shaking their heads over that decision, and one of the headshakers is Councilman Mike Gotch.

Gotch, young, tan, and good looking, opposed North City West vigorously during his narrowly successful election campaign in the fall of 1979, and he appears to be opposing it just as vigorously now that he is elected. When I met him not long ago in his office on the tenth floor of the city administration building, I asked him what his major objections to the development were. He smiled and said, "Have you got a lot of time?"

One issue he brought up immediately was the destruction of agricultural land. Nearly half of the land on which North City West will be built is suitable for agriculture, he says, and most of the surrounding land is either currently being cultivated or is suitable for it, too. However, once North City West is built, it will stimulate other development in the area — a sort of domino theory of subdivisions. Agriculture is the county’s third largest industry, and a ten-mile-wide strip along the coast accounts for nearly fifty percent of the county’s gross agricultural revenue. "I have to ask whether wc can put that project in without considering the impact on agriculture," says Gotch. “We just don’t have that much agricultural land left here, particularly for specialty coast crops like tomatoes and flowers.”

Gotch calls North City West “classic leapfrog development,’ ’ referring to the practice of building a new community distant from existing neighborhoods and before adequate public services for it are in place, and says the city’s existing water and sewer facilities are ill-equipped to handle a new community of 40,000 people. There is uncertainty as to where San Diego will obtain adequate water supplies in the future, and the city’s lone sewage treatment plant on Point Loma is already over capacity and in frequent violation of federal regulations on sewage discharge. But even if solutions to these problems are found, Gotch says, residents of San Diego will have to help pay for North City West because the finance plan will cover only the installation of public services, not the ongoing cost of providing them. (This is true not only of water and sewer but other city services such as police and fire protection, and schools.) “The state has done studies that show these new developments don’t pay their way since Proposition 13 was passed,” he says. “It has been proven over and over that the existing residents have to help foot the bill for these new communities. There’s no equity in that.”

Six floors below Gotch in the city administration building, city planning director Jack Van Cleave insists North City West is not leapfrog development. “We don’t look at this as a sprawl situation; we consider it to be right across the street [I-5] from an urbanized area — Del Mar and Del Mar Heights — and laced with public facilities,” he says. Van Cleave, a tall, white-haired, affable man, is confident that the city’s sewer and water needs will be met over the ten or fifteen years it takes for North City West to be completely built. He also thinks that San Diego will grow with or without North City West, and that agriculture will just have to be left to rural parts of the county. The state projects a population increase of 250,000 people for the San Diego metropolitan area by 1990, and according to Van Cleave, the city decided years ago to accommodate this influx of new residents rather than try to limit it artificially.

But Gotch responds vehemently to such reasoning. “Do we have an obligation to pave every acre and every canyon with housing and asphalt for every single person who wants to live here? I frankly don’t think so.” Gotch and others complain there are plenty of places for the city to expand that would be closer to existing urban areas, and even Van Cleave admits there is twice as much land within the city limits scheduled to be developed than is really needed to satisfy the projected population increase. “But we did that on purpose; we didn’t want to drive the cost of housing up further by restraining the free market,” he explains. “It’s a supply and demand thing — the more land there is open to development, the cheaper that land will be.”

The planning department’s figures also show that more than 266,000 people could be accommodated in already urbanized parts of San Diego, places such as Pacific Beach, Clairemont, and Southeast San Diego, at little or no increase in most city services. But the cost of land within the city is currently so high it isn’t profitable to develop these areas, say the planners. If outlying areas are opened up, the cost of land will stabilize and make this “infill” profitable, or at least that is what the planning department is hoping will happen.

“Look,” argues Gotch, “the price of housing is going to go up no matter what happens. Do we re-create Los Angeles County down here, or do we try to maintain some open space, agriculture and canyons, the things that will attract tourists and clean industry?” Gotch says he has been considering a referendum “to give the public a chance to review the city’s past decisions on North City West,” and claims such a measure would have the support of county supervisors Roger Hedgecock and Jim Bates, and Assemblyman Larry Kapiloff. If the referendum materializes, it would be in response to public outcry and would be timed to coincide with the local elections this November. The referendum would probably be aimed at lowering the density of North City West, Gotch says, which wouldn't save the agricultural potential of the land but would at least reduce the project’s impact on San Diego’s sewer and water utilities, traffic, and air quality. “I’m trying to protect the interests of people who live in San Diego right now,” he emphasized. “As elected officials, that’s our responsibility, and if we’re not going to violate that, we can’t promote the type of project that will hurt the quality of life here and dip into the pocketbooks of residents.

“The bottom line is that the growth-management plan originally implemented by the city has become a growth-accommodation plan. In 1975 Mayor Wilson said North City West was a big mistake. Well, it’s still a big mistake. Nothing has changed since 1975 except the political climate.”

Otto Bos, Mayor Pete Wilson’s press secretary, agrees that the political climate has shifted since 1975, but insists the mayor has not.

Is the mayor in favor of accommodating growth rather than managing it or limiting it?

"From the very first time he took office, Pete has said we have to try to shape the growth that will inevitably occur. There’s no legal way to keep people from moving here, and I think we have an obligation to accommodate people anyway. Some people say we should slam the door and not allow anyone to come here any more, but personally I find that repugnant. I think that to try to turn San Diego into a kind of giant Carmel, where everyone walks around wearing Guccis and drinking Perrier, is wrong."

But why did the mayor originally oppose North City West, only to endorse it now?

"That s a simple question, but I’m going to give you a complicated answer. He voted against it a couple of times when he saw that it wouldn’t pay for itself. But that changed. When the. finance plan was worked out, it said that the builders would pick up the tab for all the “infrastructure” — the police and fire stations, and so on. Housing prices here are escalating, and we obviously need to open up some housing. So Pete thinks that the time has come to develop North City West. It’s the next logical place for development in our community."

But opponents say the finance plan will cover just the cost of capital improvements for the infrastructure, not the ongoing cost of services.

"Well, I’m not a financial expert, but the people who have studied this thing say there will be enough money generated by taxes to cover the ongoing costs."

It's been said that the development industry funds election campaigns to a large extent, and that the mayor is now supporting North City West to gain the development industry’s backing in his bid for governor. Could the mayor or anyone else be elected governor without the support of the development industry?

"I don’t even know who owns the land in North City West. And it doesn’t make any difference. Pete won the mayoral election in ’71 despite the opposition of the building industry. He halted the expansion of Mira Mesa when that was getting out of hand, and he sponsored the toughest campaign-contribution law in the nation. Two hundred and fifty dollars, that's the maximum anyone can contribute now. But that’s a law limiting contributions to local election campaigns."

Doesn’t it cost a lot more to run for governor?

"It does. But we have thrown out contributions from people who have business pending before the city. If there is a conflict, or a hint of a conflict, we won’t touch it. I don’t think the integrity of Pete Wilson has ever been questioned, not even by his opponents."

Despite Bos’s statement, however, Wilson’s integrity has been questioned lately, usually in regard to North City West and usually by opponents of the project like Dick Roe, the mayor of Del Mar. “San Diego’s a laid-back town,” Roe says.

“It’s not a New York or Chicago, but that’s what Pete Wilson wants it to be. He’s trying to change the face of San Diego. He says we need a convention center downtown so we can compete with Chicago for conventions. He says we need to attract industry and that we need to accommodate growth with projects like North City West. I say hogwash. I say we don’t need it. Wilson needs it because he’s trying to get into the governor’s office.” Roe takes a rather dim view of North City West, and isn’t one to mince his words. “It’s premature. It’s a plum for developers. They’re building homes for people in Poughkeepsie who don’t even know they’re going to move here yet.

"There’s no pressure from the public to build North City West. No one’s saying we need more $150,000 houses east of Del Mar. So where does the pressure come from? Pardee and Baldwin [the two development companies that are the major owners of North City West land], that’s who. That land was zoned for agriculture. The optimum would be to leave it for agriculture, but that's unrealistic. But to build a city the size of Carlsbad on it instead. ...” He shakes his head.

In a way, the city of Del Mar is fighting for its life. It has always been a quiet, rather exclusive little town, a place where a whale-watching park (consisting of a stairway and one bench on a bluff overlooking the ocean) is currently being built, a place where, as Roe himself says, “We have Burt Bacharach and Desi Amaz living on the beach, but we also have six students sharing a house next door.” Cut off from La Jolla by Torrey Pines State Park, and from the rest of San Diego by what was once a wide swath of undeveloped canyons, the residents of Del Mar came to enjoy a sort of cozy isolation. Now that isolation is ending.

Roe was elected mayor of Del Mar in April of last year after having served two years as a Del Mar city councilman. He complains North City West will cost Del Mar $200,000 a year in increased costs for police, lifeguards, traffic lights, litter pick-up. and the like. “In San Diego that may not sound like much," he says ruefully, “but it’s ten percent of our total budget. Many residents along the coast are concerned about the new project’s impact on schools," he adds; although a financing method was recently worked out which would allow existing school districts to sell bonds for new schools in North City West, critics say the method is of questionable legality and has yet to be tested in the courts. Until new schools are built, the children of North City West will attend schools in the Del Mar and Solana Beach elementary school districts and the San Dieguito Union High School District.

But Roe insists North City West will affect the entire San Diego area, not just Del Mar or the north coast. Del Mar’s suit is a focal point for regional opposition to the project, he says, and he lists the support of groups such as the Sierra Club and Citizens for Responsible Planning, as well as La Jollans, Inc., the Leucadia Town Council, and the partial support of the City of Poway. The goal of the suit is not to stop North City West completely but to reduce its impact on the region's facilities and environment. “We want them to lower the density and spread out the building over a longer period of time,” explains Roe. “Essentially we think it’s too big, too dense, and poorly done. To cite just one example, the engineers say that once North City West is fully built the traffic will be bumper to bumper on Interstate 5. What’s that going to do to our air?’’

In San Diego, though. Councilman Fred Schnaubelt has a rather different view of North City West. “An impact on San Diego’s facilities and environment?” he asked when I contacted him by phone recently. “Well, there’s always an impact. It depends on whether you put the five-fingered child ahead of the three-toed lizard.’’ He laughed. “It depends on where your priorities are.”

Schnaubelt, an outspoken libertarian opposed in principle to government regulation. says that the whole question of where and when development takes place should be left to free-market forces. And according to him, the market is now forcing a need for North City West. He estimates the project will generate $3.5 billion in jobs over a twenty-year period — jobs not just for construction workers but for swimming pool contractors, drapery hangers, landscapers — a major stimulant for San Diego’s economy. “But the overriding major benefit,” he told me, “will be that young people graduating from high school and college will have a place to live.”

The housing shortage in San Diego is critical, Schnaubelt says, critical enough to have made the cost of housing here the third highest in the nation. North City West will help alleviate that situation, and he insists the development will benefit all income groups in spite of the high costs projected for homes there. Most of the people moving out to North City West from San Diego will be vacating lower-cost housing, he argues, and this “trickle effect” will eventually increase the housing supply for all residents.

Schnaubelt admits that not all of the people moving to North City West will be former residents of San Diego — that it will attract a lot of new residents, too. “But I’m not a misanthrope.” he said. “I don’t hate my neighbor and I don’t think it’s a laudable attitude. Some of the opponents of North City West have a reactionary mentality — as if they’re the Brahmans in Del Mar and the untouchables are the people who have not yet arrived. They’re saying that if anyone else gains, it’s at their expense, and that’s not true. In a free-market situation, everyone gains.”

Up in Del Mar. though, Dick Roe has heard of Schnaubelt and his theories and wants neither. “Mr. Schnaubelt is in favor of the Los Angelization of San Diego County,” he charges. “He has said, and I’m quoting. We should have no zoning in San Diego.’ Have you ever been to Houston? There’s no zoning there and the place looks awful. I suggest we put Mr. Schnaubelt in a box and ship him to Houston.”

Roe rejects the charge that Del Mar’s position is elitist. “We are concerned with the quality of life and our environment,” he says, “and we don’t take kindly to people who aren’t. But we’re not antigrowth. We don't want to build a wall and keep people out. We just want to strike a balance between what’s best for developers and what's best for us.”

To find out exactly what is best for developers, I called up Jim Baldwin of the Baldwin Company in Irvine. Opponents of large housing developments such as North City West, who often say they are trying to prevent San Diego from becoming another Los Angeles or Orange County, will not be encouraged to hear that the Baldwin Company has been building houses mainly in those areas, in places such as Yorba Linda, Glendale, and Laguna Niguel. The company owns a total of 400 acres in North City West and hopes to break ground on its Carmel Valley subdivision this summer. Jim Baldwin himself, partners with his brother in the company, is a casual and intelligent speaker who sounds younger than his forty-two years.

Mr. Baldwin, some of the opponents to North City West say that the land shouldn't he developed for housing but kept for agriculture and open space. What do you think of that position?

"What can I tell you? I don't think it’s a viable position. That raises a bunch of elementary questions, the most basic of all being. Do you think that an area should provide for the housing needs? Is that healthy or unhealthy for the environment of people? And I’m a firm believer that you have to have a certain amount of growth in order to have a certain amount of jobs and vitality in an area, or it becomes stagnant and starts to decline.

"I'm a pretty outdoor guy myself. I just got back from Cabo San Lucas yesterday. I spend a lot of time in Mexico fishing and skin diving, and I like to ski. I spend most of my time outside. And I don’t apologize at all for what I do; I think the houses we build are a super thing. But I have a very good friend who flies hawks, and we were arguing recently because I just built some houses in Laguna Niguel in an area where he used to take his hawks to hunt rabbits. And he told me, ‘Aw shit, you’ve screwed up one of my last spots!' But heck, if you want to live where there’s nothing but tomato fields or open space, well then, you should move from San Diego. San Diego County and Orange County together are, I think, one of the most unique areas in the whole world. There’s always going to he a natural draw of people into the area, and I think you should plan logically for that and build good developments."

You think it's just a matter of time before San Diego and Orange counties are entirely developed?

"It's inevitable that people will continue to come here because of the climate, and I think we ought to provide housing for them in a reasonable, logical way, and encourage good development instead of running around trying to stop development altogether. Because that doesn’t stop it. What it does, it might stop it for a couple of years, but then the pressure grows. And it grows to such an extent that it finally bursts open and you get a bunch of junk all at once, like we saw happen ten years ago. I don’t think that’s such a healthy way to go. Will North City West really be different from standard subdivisions?

"Oh yeah, there’s no question about it. All you have to do is fly up in a helicopter and look at a bunch of the other areas that have grid-pattern streets and so on. North City West w ill have curved streets and different elevations and parks and a green belt. The plan that we're building is not a plan that we did but a plan the City of San Diego did. A lot of thought has gone into it, and it’s going to be neat.

"But you know, I think there’s been a little bit of overreaction since Mira Mesa, and I think we’ve paid a little of that price. Mira Mesa came in overnight and there weren’t any schools or stoplights, the roads weren’t wide enough. ... So now in planning North City West, the controls that have been put on us are very conservative, to say the least. But it’s a good plan.

"Another thing you have to realize is North City West is not going to be built overnight. The logical way to plan one of these areas is to plan for a large area, but it will take ten years or more to complete. The old way, it was easier for developers, but it didn't always result in a good development. You’d go out and build fifty houses, and then another fifty, and then another and another and another. When you try to do it logically, you deal with larger numbers, and people relate those to everything happening tomorrow."

Have you spent much time on the property?

"Oh, yeah, a lot. We build medium-sized houses here in Orange County, and we build about 400 of them a year. You know our company is not owned by any big corporation. it’s just my brother and I. And we’re planning to build 4200 houses total in North City West, over a ten-year period. So that kind of gives you an idea of the size of that project to everything else we’re doing. So it’s been important to me, and I’ve spent a lot of time down there. It’s a beautiful area. I think it’s the neatest piece of land in San Diego to build a housing development on. and I think what you're going to see there is going to be worthy of the land it’s on."

But if the land is so neat, why grade ninety-five percent of the site, obliterate the topography and so on?

"Well, it all depends what the eye of the beholder is, as far as making a judgment on how much of the natural topography we’re maintaining and how much we aren’t. Some of the major topography has to be graded to get the major roads in. And there was a bluff that we originally intended to leave totally natural, but seeing that there’s a lot of erosion going on there, the soils engineers recommended it be graded. But if you look at a map of North City West, the large amounts of open-space area are around the perimeter, and to the north and south of the first neighborhood."

A good source down here told me that you had admitted you could build half the number of houses on your North City West property and still make a good profit. Is that true?

"Who told you that? Yeah, we could cut the density in half and double the price of the houses, and make the same amount of profit. We could build another Rancho Santa Fe, but I don’t think that’s what the City of San Diego envisions. They want houses for a wider range of incomes, a wider segment of the population."

But the houses are for high-income people already, aren't they? They’re going to cost $150,060 each.

"Yeah, but that’s a cheap house today. That’s a tract house! (He laughs.) I hope they only cost $150,000. Some of them will cost $200,000. Look, there are some idealistic environmentalists who are opposed to North City West, and I can’t say anything against them; that’s their opinion. But I really feel this flat out: Most of the people opposed to it are from Del Mar, and they don’t want to see houses cheaper than theirs right over the hill. The mayor of Del Mar met me a couple of months ago, and he presented to me that if we agreed to cut the density in two, they would stop the lawsuit. But that’s an elitist point of view. What he’s really saying is that he wants more expensive homes there. I guess they want to see more important people there, I don’t know."

Are you concerned about Del Mar's lawsuit? Do you think you'll win?

"Well, any time there’s a lawsuit you’re concerned. But everything’s gone well so far. We’ve owned most of our land in North City West for seven years, but I think we're on the home stretch now."

By his own admission, Ron Strange is an idealistic environmentalist. He is a member of the Sierra Club, an organization that recently petitioned as a “friend of the court” to enter Del Mar’s lawsuit against San Diego. The Sierra Club is worried about the potential environmental consequences of North City West in general,. but like most opponents they are hoping at least the project’s density can be reduced. Strange researched and wrote the club’s response to the environmental impact report for the Baldwin Company’s Carmel Valley subdivision, and when I contacted him he kindly offered to show me around North City West.

We met one afternoon near an Exxon gas station on Del Mar Heights Road, just east of Interstate 5. Strange was waiting for me in a well-worn white VW van. He is a big, shaggy-haired man, thirty years old, and he told me almost immediately, “I’m a member of the radical fringe, I admit it. Everyone else is down to talking about what kinds of bushes to put around the buildings and what color cement should be used for the sidewalks. I’m saying North City West shouldn't be built at all.”

We set off first for the “employment center,’’ a long, narrow triangle of land that runs along Interstate 5 just south of Del Mar Heights Road. Today the employment center is covered with chaparral and eucalyptus trees, but this will soon give way to a small-business and industrial complex where, it is hoped, as many as one-third of the residents of North City West will work. Strange drove down El Camino Real until he reached a dirt road, then turned off and came to a stop in a stand of eucalyptus. We got out of the van and Strange showed me where two natural springs were bubbling to the surface nearby — “Kind of an unusual thing for this area,” he said — and w here several young Torrey pines were growing. The ground near the springs was covered with moss and cattails, and over our heads the thin bark of the eucalyptus trees hung in ragged strips. “The planning department loves to talk about how this will be a ‘self-contained community,' how a lot of the people who live here will work here.” said Strange. “But they don’t have any figures on how many people will work here. It’s going to be a bedroom community and everyone knows it.” (When I asked Jack Van Cleave a few days later if building an employment center was really any guarantee that people in the surrounding community would work there, he replied, “Probably not. But we at least want to give them the opportunity.”)

Strange and I got back into his van and drove up to Neighborhood #3, as yet unnamed. Neighborhood #3 will rise to the north of the employment center, and when we got to the area. Strange maneuvered his van over the soft dirt roads that lead across it, until we reached a bluff that overlooked Interstate 5 and the San Dieguito River valley. Cars whooshed up and down the freeway, and below us at the foot of the bluffs stood a bright yellow grader, parked and unattended. Beyond it was San Diego’s city limit, knifing across the valley just north of the riverbed. It dawned on me that here it was, only 1981. and the nation’s ninth largest city, in square miles, was already beginning to bulge at its borders. I said as much to Strange and he muttered. “If growth like this took place in a human, they'd call it cancer.”

Next we headed down to Neighborhood #1, the Carmel Valley subdivision. We got out of the van and w alked along a path through shoulder-high chamise, manzanita. and sumac, until we stood on a bluff overlooking a shallow canyon. According to the precise plan, a road will swing through this canyon, connecting Del Mar Heights Road with Carmel Valley Road, and the canyon itself will become an elementary school and a small neighborhood park. The bluff we were standing on will be leveled because it is eroding, part of the cubic yards of dirt that will be moved to make way for Carmel Valley. Strange knelt to examine a small barrel cactus, one of six ‘'sensitive*’ plant species growing on the bluff, and then he stood up. “The planning people, they give you no options.” he said. “They say we either build here or we have to build somewhere else. They say it’s our responsibility to accommodate grow th no matter how big it is. But that’s bullshit; it’s not our responsibility. The city has a responsibility to protect the health of its citizens, not just accommodate growth. I guess I’m just a naive, romantic, idealistic environmentalist, but it seems to me that 40,000 people in this area is incompatible with the air quality and a healthy quality of life. I don’t even like the term environmentalist, but that word environs, you know, it means home. One of my complaints is that it’s the people who will be moving here in the future who are determining the quality of life in San Diego, not the people who live here.”

But if San Diego refuses to allow new development, I asked him, won’t that drive the cost of housing higher and higher? “Yeah,” he replied, “it’s true. The coast will become the rich zone. It already is. I rent a room in a house in Solana Beach. That’s all I can afford. The house is worth $225,000. It shouldn't be worth that much, but it is.” He laughed, but not with enjoyment.

After a few minutes. Strange asked me if I had ever seen the rest of Carmel Valley, and when I told him I hadn't, he suggested we go take a look, at part of it, anyway. Driving slowly eastward on Carmel Valley Road, we passed a riding stable and tomato farms. Soon these gave way to canyons and rolling, scrub-covered hills. A big marsh hawk floated low over the yellow grass as we passed, and cottontails froze in the brush near the road, noses twitching. “It’s like this all the way to Interstate 15,” Strange commented. “Further out it’s all planted with corn and tomatoes and strawberries. It’s almost unbelievable that this area is in the city limits.”

He pulled over where Carmel Valley Road meets up with Del Mar Heights Road. We were on a low ridge and we could see the unpaved road winding east across canyons and hills toward Interstate 15. The afternoon was beginning to wane, and in the wide sky over our heads clouds were drifting toward the mountains. Strange pointed across the miles to where white boxes seemed to dot the hillsides in the distance: houses. “That’s Los Penasquitos,” he said. “It won’t be long before it’ll be solid houses from here to there. Maybe it’s inevitable like everyone says. I’m an anachronism, I guess. People in San Diego don’t have ears to hear environmentalists any more. I was bom and raised here, but I’ll be leaving soon.”

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Del Mar's Mayor Dick Roe: "Pete Wilson needs North City West because he’s trying to get into the governor’s office.” - Image by David Covey
Del Mar's Mayor Dick Roe: "Pete Wilson needs North City West because he’s trying to get into the governor’s office.”

An automobile moving at fifty-five miles per hour requires twenty-one minutes to travel up Interstate 5 from downtown San Diego to the Carmel Valley Road exit. Two gas stations and a Sambo’s restaurant are the only buildings that mark the offramp; to the west lies Los Penasquitos lagoon and Torrey Pines State Beach, and a mile or so north of that is the city of Del Mar, population 5200.

Mike Gotch, Fred Schnaubelt. Schnaubelt: “Well, there’s always an impact. It depends on whether you put the five-fingered child ahead of the three-toed lizard.’’

Looking eastward from one of the gas stations on a clear day you can see the round hump of Black Mountain a few miles distant. The rolling hills in between are covered with chaparral and scattered eucalyptus groves, and there are also a few houses, riding stables, and some farms that produce com, strawberries, and three percent of the nation’s total tomato crop. That is what is there today, anyway, but it is all expected to change.

Jack Van Cleave: “We don’t look at this as a sprawl situation; we consider it to be right across the street [I-5] from an urbanized area — Del Mar and Del Mar Heights."

On these brown hills a new community will rise. It will provide 14,000 homes for some 40,000 people, and it will be called North City West. The concept has been approved by the San Diego City Council and tentative-maps have been drawn up for the first subdivision. It seems like just a matter of time before the area submits to bulldozers and steam rollers, but a few problems could still stand in the way.

Ron Strange: “If growth like this took place in a human, they'd call it cancer.”

There are people who say North City West will be a model community, one that will provide relief for the city’s housing shortage and accommodate the incoming tide of would-be residents. There are others who say it is a capitulation to development companies, a classic symbol of growth gone wild in San Diego.

Embarrassed by the flagrant sprawl of Mira Mesa, the planning department had set out to plan North City West in style.

One of the opponents is the city of Del Mar, and when Del Mar sued the City of San Diego in November of 1979, claiming that the regional impacts of the proposed development had not been adequately studied, it set up a showdown of sorts that is currently scheduled for February 25 in San Diego Superior Court. Citizen and environmental groups have rushed to the support of Del Mar, while at least one developer has entered the suit as an ally of San Diego. Suddenly, North City West has become the hottest growth issue in this area, maybe the hottest one since Mission Valley was first opened up to commercial development in 1958. Seminars are being held and politicians are expounding at length and occasionally with eloquence on the subject. And while there is mostly disagreement on whether the area should welcome growth, limit it. delay it, or even try to prevent it, there is one thing nearly everyone agrees on: this single new community w ill have a profound impact on San Diego. Most people also agree that development of the hills and canyons already called North City West — development of some kind — is simply inevitable.

In retrospect, you could see it coming a long way off: first Interstate 5 was laid down, and a few years later and a few miles to the east. Interstate 15. Suddenly the land was no longer simply land but an area between freeways. Running across it from south to north were high-voltage power lines serving the San Dieguito area. Then in 1970 the Los Penasquitos sewer district was formed and a trunk line laid down through the Carmel Valley, connecting Rancho Bernardo to the Point Loma sewage treatment plant. The trunk line could serve 90,000 people, but even today the total population of Rancho Bernardo and its surrounding communities is only about 40,000. In 1974 a thirty-inch water main with a total capacity of 60-80,000 people was added. To developers, the area now looked like a table that had been set, the dishes and glassware laid out. Sooner or later someone would want to eat. ,

The San Diego City Council had postponed development in the area for a number of years, claiming that it was unnecessary and even unwise to expand to a relatively distant area. But in 1974 Lee Hubbard, then a city councilman, urged the mayor and the council to reconsider development of North City West. Pressure from the developers was mounting, and the council eventually gave in and approved a city planning department “community plan” for the area in 1975.

Embarrassed by the flagrant sprawl of Mira Mesa, the planning department had set out to plan North City West in style. Its community plan was 147 pages of maps, graphs, and computer analyses of everything from the land forms to housing trends. Sure, there would be 14.000 units on only 4286 acres of land, but there would also be parks, bike paths, schools, libraries, police and fire stations, a shopping center, and even an “employment center” for small businesses and light industry. If they wanted to, the future residents of North City West could sleep, work, shop, and play without ever leaving the boundaries of the community. They could park their cars — even sell them — and ride mass transit to other parts of San Diego, reducing traffic and air pollution. A finance plan would be worked out to charge the cost of all these services and amenities exclusively to the residents of North City West. There would be housing for all income groups, and any subdivision plans would incorporate the natural landscape as part of its design, thus creating “urbanization for people in harmony with nature.” That was in 1975.

Three years later a precise plan for the first subdivision, a 210-acre, 747-unit tract to be developed by the Baldwin Company of Irvine, was submitted to the planning department. When opponents of North City West got copies of the plan, they pointed out that aside from naming the subdivision "Carmel Valley," there was little in the plan that recalled any of the natural features of the area. Massive grading would "irreversibly obliterate" the site’s bluffs and canyons, according to the environmental impact report filed with the plan, and virtually all of the vegetation would be wiped out. There would be an elementary school and a park, but there were no provisions for police or fire stations, or libraries. There were no park-and-ride lots because there would be only one bus route serving the area. All that would come later, along with the "employment center." Meanwhile, the average cost of the homes would be around $150,000.

Wait a minute, said the opponents, it's not turning out like it was supposed to. Don’t worry, said the planning department, it’s only the first neighborhood, we’ll take care of it. The department recommended that the city council approve the precise plan for Carmel Valley, which the council did in October of 1979. There are still people shaking their heads over that decision, and one of the headshakers is Councilman Mike Gotch.

Gotch, young, tan, and good looking, opposed North City West vigorously during his narrowly successful election campaign in the fall of 1979, and he appears to be opposing it just as vigorously now that he is elected. When I met him not long ago in his office on the tenth floor of the city administration building, I asked him what his major objections to the development were. He smiled and said, "Have you got a lot of time?"

One issue he brought up immediately was the destruction of agricultural land. Nearly half of the land on which North City West will be built is suitable for agriculture, he says, and most of the surrounding land is either currently being cultivated or is suitable for it, too. However, once North City West is built, it will stimulate other development in the area — a sort of domino theory of subdivisions. Agriculture is the county’s third largest industry, and a ten-mile-wide strip along the coast accounts for nearly fifty percent of the county’s gross agricultural revenue. "I have to ask whether wc can put that project in without considering the impact on agriculture," says Gotch. “We just don’t have that much agricultural land left here, particularly for specialty coast crops like tomatoes and flowers.”

Gotch calls North City West “classic leapfrog development,’ ’ referring to the practice of building a new community distant from existing neighborhoods and before adequate public services for it are in place, and says the city’s existing water and sewer facilities are ill-equipped to handle a new community of 40,000 people. There is uncertainty as to where San Diego will obtain adequate water supplies in the future, and the city’s lone sewage treatment plant on Point Loma is already over capacity and in frequent violation of federal regulations on sewage discharge. But even if solutions to these problems are found, Gotch says, residents of San Diego will have to help pay for North City West because the finance plan will cover only the installation of public services, not the ongoing cost of providing them. (This is true not only of water and sewer but other city services such as police and fire protection, and schools.) “The state has done studies that show these new developments don’t pay their way since Proposition 13 was passed,” he says. “It has been proven over and over that the existing residents have to help foot the bill for these new communities. There’s no equity in that.”

Six floors below Gotch in the city administration building, city planning director Jack Van Cleave insists North City West is not leapfrog development. “We don’t look at this as a sprawl situation; we consider it to be right across the street [I-5] from an urbanized area — Del Mar and Del Mar Heights — and laced with public facilities,” he says. Van Cleave, a tall, white-haired, affable man, is confident that the city’s sewer and water needs will be met over the ten or fifteen years it takes for North City West to be completely built. He also thinks that San Diego will grow with or without North City West, and that agriculture will just have to be left to rural parts of the county. The state projects a population increase of 250,000 people for the San Diego metropolitan area by 1990, and according to Van Cleave, the city decided years ago to accommodate this influx of new residents rather than try to limit it artificially.

But Gotch responds vehemently to such reasoning. “Do we have an obligation to pave every acre and every canyon with housing and asphalt for every single person who wants to live here? I frankly don’t think so.” Gotch and others complain there are plenty of places for the city to expand that would be closer to existing urban areas, and even Van Cleave admits there is twice as much land within the city limits scheduled to be developed than is really needed to satisfy the projected population increase. “But we did that on purpose; we didn’t want to drive the cost of housing up further by restraining the free market,” he explains. “It’s a supply and demand thing — the more land there is open to development, the cheaper that land will be.”

The planning department’s figures also show that more than 266,000 people could be accommodated in already urbanized parts of San Diego, places such as Pacific Beach, Clairemont, and Southeast San Diego, at little or no increase in most city services. But the cost of land within the city is currently so high it isn’t profitable to develop these areas, say the planners. If outlying areas are opened up, the cost of land will stabilize and make this “infill” profitable, or at least that is what the planning department is hoping will happen.

“Look,” argues Gotch, “the price of housing is going to go up no matter what happens. Do we re-create Los Angeles County down here, or do we try to maintain some open space, agriculture and canyons, the things that will attract tourists and clean industry?” Gotch says he has been considering a referendum “to give the public a chance to review the city’s past decisions on North City West,” and claims such a measure would have the support of county supervisors Roger Hedgecock and Jim Bates, and Assemblyman Larry Kapiloff. If the referendum materializes, it would be in response to public outcry and would be timed to coincide with the local elections this November. The referendum would probably be aimed at lowering the density of North City West, Gotch says, which wouldn't save the agricultural potential of the land but would at least reduce the project’s impact on San Diego’s sewer and water utilities, traffic, and air quality. “I’m trying to protect the interests of people who live in San Diego right now,” he emphasized. “As elected officials, that’s our responsibility, and if we’re not going to violate that, we can’t promote the type of project that will hurt the quality of life here and dip into the pocketbooks of residents.

“The bottom line is that the growth-management plan originally implemented by the city has become a growth-accommodation plan. In 1975 Mayor Wilson said North City West was a big mistake. Well, it’s still a big mistake. Nothing has changed since 1975 except the political climate.”

Otto Bos, Mayor Pete Wilson’s press secretary, agrees that the political climate has shifted since 1975, but insists the mayor has not.

Is the mayor in favor of accommodating growth rather than managing it or limiting it?

"From the very first time he took office, Pete has said we have to try to shape the growth that will inevitably occur. There’s no legal way to keep people from moving here, and I think we have an obligation to accommodate people anyway. Some people say we should slam the door and not allow anyone to come here any more, but personally I find that repugnant. I think that to try to turn San Diego into a kind of giant Carmel, where everyone walks around wearing Guccis and drinking Perrier, is wrong."

But why did the mayor originally oppose North City West, only to endorse it now?

"That s a simple question, but I’m going to give you a complicated answer. He voted against it a couple of times when he saw that it wouldn’t pay for itself. But that changed. When the. finance plan was worked out, it said that the builders would pick up the tab for all the “infrastructure” — the police and fire stations, and so on. Housing prices here are escalating, and we obviously need to open up some housing. So Pete thinks that the time has come to develop North City West. It’s the next logical place for development in our community."

But opponents say the finance plan will cover just the cost of capital improvements for the infrastructure, not the ongoing cost of services.

"Well, I’m not a financial expert, but the people who have studied this thing say there will be enough money generated by taxes to cover the ongoing costs."

It's been said that the development industry funds election campaigns to a large extent, and that the mayor is now supporting North City West to gain the development industry’s backing in his bid for governor. Could the mayor or anyone else be elected governor without the support of the development industry?

"I don’t even know who owns the land in North City West. And it doesn’t make any difference. Pete won the mayoral election in ’71 despite the opposition of the building industry. He halted the expansion of Mira Mesa when that was getting out of hand, and he sponsored the toughest campaign-contribution law in the nation. Two hundred and fifty dollars, that's the maximum anyone can contribute now. But that’s a law limiting contributions to local election campaigns."

Doesn’t it cost a lot more to run for governor?

"It does. But we have thrown out contributions from people who have business pending before the city. If there is a conflict, or a hint of a conflict, we won’t touch it. I don’t think the integrity of Pete Wilson has ever been questioned, not even by his opponents."

Despite Bos’s statement, however, Wilson’s integrity has been questioned lately, usually in regard to North City West and usually by opponents of the project like Dick Roe, the mayor of Del Mar. “San Diego’s a laid-back town,” Roe says.

“It’s not a New York or Chicago, but that’s what Pete Wilson wants it to be. He’s trying to change the face of San Diego. He says we need a convention center downtown so we can compete with Chicago for conventions. He says we need to attract industry and that we need to accommodate growth with projects like North City West. I say hogwash. I say we don’t need it. Wilson needs it because he’s trying to get into the governor’s office.” Roe takes a rather dim view of North City West, and isn’t one to mince his words. “It’s premature. It’s a plum for developers. They’re building homes for people in Poughkeepsie who don’t even know they’re going to move here yet.

"There’s no pressure from the public to build North City West. No one’s saying we need more $150,000 houses east of Del Mar. So where does the pressure come from? Pardee and Baldwin [the two development companies that are the major owners of North City West land], that’s who. That land was zoned for agriculture. The optimum would be to leave it for agriculture, but that's unrealistic. But to build a city the size of Carlsbad on it instead. ...” He shakes his head.

In a way, the city of Del Mar is fighting for its life. It has always been a quiet, rather exclusive little town, a place where a whale-watching park (consisting of a stairway and one bench on a bluff overlooking the ocean) is currently being built, a place where, as Roe himself says, “We have Burt Bacharach and Desi Amaz living on the beach, but we also have six students sharing a house next door.” Cut off from La Jolla by Torrey Pines State Park, and from the rest of San Diego by what was once a wide swath of undeveloped canyons, the residents of Del Mar came to enjoy a sort of cozy isolation. Now that isolation is ending.

Roe was elected mayor of Del Mar in April of last year after having served two years as a Del Mar city councilman. He complains North City West will cost Del Mar $200,000 a year in increased costs for police, lifeguards, traffic lights, litter pick-up. and the like. “In San Diego that may not sound like much," he says ruefully, “but it’s ten percent of our total budget. Many residents along the coast are concerned about the new project’s impact on schools," he adds; although a financing method was recently worked out which would allow existing school districts to sell bonds for new schools in North City West, critics say the method is of questionable legality and has yet to be tested in the courts. Until new schools are built, the children of North City West will attend schools in the Del Mar and Solana Beach elementary school districts and the San Dieguito Union High School District.

But Roe insists North City West will affect the entire San Diego area, not just Del Mar or the north coast. Del Mar’s suit is a focal point for regional opposition to the project, he says, and he lists the support of groups such as the Sierra Club and Citizens for Responsible Planning, as well as La Jollans, Inc., the Leucadia Town Council, and the partial support of the City of Poway. The goal of the suit is not to stop North City West completely but to reduce its impact on the region's facilities and environment. “We want them to lower the density and spread out the building over a longer period of time,” explains Roe. “Essentially we think it’s too big, too dense, and poorly done. To cite just one example, the engineers say that once North City West is fully built the traffic will be bumper to bumper on Interstate 5. What’s that going to do to our air?’’

In San Diego, though. Councilman Fred Schnaubelt has a rather different view of North City West. “An impact on San Diego’s facilities and environment?” he asked when I contacted him by phone recently. “Well, there’s always an impact. It depends on whether you put the five-fingered child ahead of the three-toed lizard.’’ He laughed. “It depends on where your priorities are.”

Schnaubelt, an outspoken libertarian opposed in principle to government regulation. says that the whole question of where and when development takes place should be left to free-market forces. And according to him, the market is now forcing a need for North City West. He estimates the project will generate $3.5 billion in jobs over a twenty-year period — jobs not just for construction workers but for swimming pool contractors, drapery hangers, landscapers — a major stimulant for San Diego’s economy. “But the overriding major benefit,” he told me, “will be that young people graduating from high school and college will have a place to live.”

The housing shortage in San Diego is critical, Schnaubelt says, critical enough to have made the cost of housing here the third highest in the nation. North City West will help alleviate that situation, and he insists the development will benefit all income groups in spite of the high costs projected for homes there. Most of the people moving out to North City West from San Diego will be vacating lower-cost housing, he argues, and this “trickle effect” will eventually increase the housing supply for all residents.

Schnaubelt admits that not all of the people moving to North City West will be former residents of San Diego — that it will attract a lot of new residents, too. “But I’m not a misanthrope.” he said. “I don’t hate my neighbor and I don’t think it’s a laudable attitude. Some of the opponents of North City West have a reactionary mentality — as if they’re the Brahmans in Del Mar and the untouchables are the people who have not yet arrived. They’re saying that if anyone else gains, it’s at their expense, and that’s not true. In a free-market situation, everyone gains.”

Up in Del Mar. though, Dick Roe has heard of Schnaubelt and his theories and wants neither. “Mr. Schnaubelt is in favor of the Los Angelization of San Diego County,” he charges. “He has said, and I’m quoting. We should have no zoning in San Diego.’ Have you ever been to Houston? There’s no zoning there and the place looks awful. I suggest we put Mr. Schnaubelt in a box and ship him to Houston.”

Roe rejects the charge that Del Mar’s position is elitist. “We are concerned with the quality of life and our environment,” he says, “and we don’t take kindly to people who aren’t. But we’re not antigrowth. We don't want to build a wall and keep people out. We just want to strike a balance between what’s best for developers and what's best for us.”

To find out exactly what is best for developers, I called up Jim Baldwin of the Baldwin Company in Irvine. Opponents of large housing developments such as North City West, who often say they are trying to prevent San Diego from becoming another Los Angeles or Orange County, will not be encouraged to hear that the Baldwin Company has been building houses mainly in those areas, in places such as Yorba Linda, Glendale, and Laguna Niguel. The company owns a total of 400 acres in North City West and hopes to break ground on its Carmel Valley subdivision this summer. Jim Baldwin himself, partners with his brother in the company, is a casual and intelligent speaker who sounds younger than his forty-two years.

Mr. Baldwin, some of the opponents to North City West say that the land shouldn't he developed for housing but kept for agriculture and open space. What do you think of that position?

"What can I tell you? I don't think it’s a viable position. That raises a bunch of elementary questions, the most basic of all being. Do you think that an area should provide for the housing needs? Is that healthy or unhealthy for the environment of people? And I’m a firm believer that you have to have a certain amount of growth in order to have a certain amount of jobs and vitality in an area, or it becomes stagnant and starts to decline.

"I'm a pretty outdoor guy myself. I just got back from Cabo San Lucas yesterday. I spend a lot of time in Mexico fishing and skin diving, and I like to ski. I spend most of my time outside. And I don’t apologize at all for what I do; I think the houses we build are a super thing. But I have a very good friend who flies hawks, and we were arguing recently because I just built some houses in Laguna Niguel in an area where he used to take his hawks to hunt rabbits. And he told me, ‘Aw shit, you’ve screwed up one of my last spots!' But heck, if you want to live where there’s nothing but tomato fields or open space, well then, you should move from San Diego. San Diego County and Orange County together are, I think, one of the most unique areas in the whole world. There’s always going to he a natural draw of people into the area, and I think you should plan logically for that and build good developments."

You think it's just a matter of time before San Diego and Orange counties are entirely developed?

"It's inevitable that people will continue to come here because of the climate, and I think we ought to provide housing for them in a reasonable, logical way, and encourage good development instead of running around trying to stop development altogether. Because that doesn’t stop it. What it does, it might stop it for a couple of years, but then the pressure grows. And it grows to such an extent that it finally bursts open and you get a bunch of junk all at once, like we saw happen ten years ago. I don’t think that’s such a healthy way to go. Will North City West really be different from standard subdivisions?

"Oh yeah, there’s no question about it. All you have to do is fly up in a helicopter and look at a bunch of the other areas that have grid-pattern streets and so on. North City West w ill have curved streets and different elevations and parks and a green belt. The plan that we're building is not a plan that we did but a plan the City of San Diego did. A lot of thought has gone into it, and it’s going to be neat.

"But you know, I think there’s been a little bit of overreaction since Mira Mesa, and I think we’ve paid a little of that price. Mira Mesa came in overnight and there weren’t any schools or stoplights, the roads weren’t wide enough. ... So now in planning North City West, the controls that have been put on us are very conservative, to say the least. But it’s a good plan.

"Another thing you have to realize is North City West is not going to be built overnight. The logical way to plan one of these areas is to plan for a large area, but it will take ten years or more to complete. The old way, it was easier for developers, but it didn't always result in a good development. You’d go out and build fifty houses, and then another fifty, and then another and another and another. When you try to do it logically, you deal with larger numbers, and people relate those to everything happening tomorrow."

Have you spent much time on the property?

"Oh, yeah, a lot. We build medium-sized houses here in Orange County, and we build about 400 of them a year. You know our company is not owned by any big corporation. it’s just my brother and I. And we’re planning to build 4200 houses total in North City West, over a ten-year period. So that kind of gives you an idea of the size of that project to everything else we’re doing. So it’s been important to me, and I’ve spent a lot of time down there. It’s a beautiful area. I think it’s the neatest piece of land in San Diego to build a housing development on. and I think what you're going to see there is going to be worthy of the land it’s on."

But if the land is so neat, why grade ninety-five percent of the site, obliterate the topography and so on?

"Well, it all depends what the eye of the beholder is, as far as making a judgment on how much of the natural topography we’re maintaining and how much we aren’t. Some of the major topography has to be graded to get the major roads in. And there was a bluff that we originally intended to leave totally natural, but seeing that there’s a lot of erosion going on there, the soils engineers recommended it be graded. But if you look at a map of North City West, the large amounts of open-space area are around the perimeter, and to the north and south of the first neighborhood."

A good source down here told me that you had admitted you could build half the number of houses on your North City West property and still make a good profit. Is that true?

"Who told you that? Yeah, we could cut the density in half and double the price of the houses, and make the same amount of profit. We could build another Rancho Santa Fe, but I don’t think that’s what the City of San Diego envisions. They want houses for a wider range of incomes, a wider segment of the population."

But the houses are for high-income people already, aren't they? They’re going to cost $150,060 each.

"Yeah, but that’s a cheap house today. That’s a tract house! (He laughs.) I hope they only cost $150,000. Some of them will cost $200,000. Look, there are some idealistic environmentalists who are opposed to North City West, and I can’t say anything against them; that’s their opinion. But I really feel this flat out: Most of the people opposed to it are from Del Mar, and they don’t want to see houses cheaper than theirs right over the hill. The mayor of Del Mar met me a couple of months ago, and he presented to me that if we agreed to cut the density in two, they would stop the lawsuit. But that’s an elitist point of view. What he’s really saying is that he wants more expensive homes there. I guess they want to see more important people there, I don’t know."

Are you concerned about Del Mar's lawsuit? Do you think you'll win?

"Well, any time there’s a lawsuit you’re concerned. But everything’s gone well so far. We’ve owned most of our land in North City West for seven years, but I think we're on the home stretch now."

By his own admission, Ron Strange is an idealistic environmentalist. He is a member of the Sierra Club, an organization that recently petitioned as a “friend of the court” to enter Del Mar’s lawsuit against San Diego. The Sierra Club is worried about the potential environmental consequences of North City West in general,. but like most opponents they are hoping at least the project’s density can be reduced. Strange researched and wrote the club’s response to the environmental impact report for the Baldwin Company’s Carmel Valley subdivision, and when I contacted him he kindly offered to show me around North City West.

We met one afternoon near an Exxon gas station on Del Mar Heights Road, just east of Interstate 5. Strange was waiting for me in a well-worn white VW van. He is a big, shaggy-haired man, thirty years old, and he told me almost immediately, “I’m a member of the radical fringe, I admit it. Everyone else is down to talking about what kinds of bushes to put around the buildings and what color cement should be used for the sidewalks. I’m saying North City West shouldn't be built at all.”

We set off first for the “employment center,’’ a long, narrow triangle of land that runs along Interstate 5 just south of Del Mar Heights Road. Today the employment center is covered with chaparral and eucalyptus trees, but this will soon give way to a small-business and industrial complex where, it is hoped, as many as one-third of the residents of North City West will work. Strange drove down El Camino Real until he reached a dirt road, then turned off and came to a stop in a stand of eucalyptus. We got out of the van and Strange showed me where two natural springs were bubbling to the surface nearby — “Kind of an unusual thing for this area,” he said — and w here several young Torrey pines were growing. The ground near the springs was covered with moss and cattails, and over our heads the thin bark of the eucalyptus trees hung in ragged strips. “The planning department loves to talk about how this will be a ‘self-contained community,' how a lot of the people who live here will work here.” said Strange. “But they don’t have any figures on how many people will work here. It’s going to be a bedroom community and everyone knows it.” (When I asked Jack Van Cleave a few days later if building an employment center was really any guarantee that people in the surrounding community would work there, he replied, “Probably not. But we at least want to give them the opportunity.”)

Strange and I got back into his van and drove up to Neighborhood #3, as yet unnamed. Neighborhood #3 will rise to the north of the employment center, and when we got to the area. Strange maneuvered his van over the soft dirt roads that lead across it, until we reached a bluff that overlooked Interstate 5 and the San Dieguito River valley. Cars whooshed up and down the freeway, and below us at the foot of the bluffs stood a bright yellow grader, parked and unattended. Beyond it was San Diego’s city limit, knifing across the valley just north of the riverbed. It dawned on me that here it was, only 1981. and the nation’s ninth largest city, in square miles, was already beginning to bulge at its borders. I said as much to Strange and he muttered. “If growth like this took place in a human, they'd call it cancer.”

Next we headed down to Neighborhood #1, the Carmel Valley subdivision. We got out of the van and w alked along a path through shoulder-high chamise, manzanita. and sumac, until we stood on a bluff overlooking a shallow canyon. According to the precise plan, a road will swing through this canyon, connecting Del Mar Heights Road with Carmel Valley Road, and the canyon itself will become an elementary school and a small neighborhood park. The bluff we were standing on will be leveled because it is eroding, part of the cubic yards of dirt that will be moved to make way for Carmel Valley. Strange knelt to examine a small barrel cactus, one of six ‘'sensitive*’ plant species growing on the bluff, and then he stood up. “The planning people, they give you no options.” he said. “They say we either build here or we have to build somewhere else. They say it’s our responsibility to accommodate grow th no matter how big it is. But that’s bullshit; it’s not our responsibility. The city has a responsibility to protect the health of its citizens, not just accommodate growth. I guess I’m just a naive, romantic, idealistic environmentalist, but it seems to me that 40,000 people in this area is incompatible with the air quality and a healthy quality of life. I don’t even like the term environmentalist, but that word environs, you know, it means home. One of my complaints is that it’s the people who will be moving here in the future who are determining the quality of life in San Diego, not the people who live here.”

But if San Diego refuses to allow new development, I asked him, won’t that drive the cost of housing higher and higher? “Yeah,” he replied, “it’s true. The coast will become the rich zone. It already is. I rent a room in a house in Solana Beach. That’s all I can afford. The house is worth $225,000. It shouldn't be worth that much, but it is.” He laughed, but not with enjoyment.

After a few minutes. Strange asked me if I had ever seen the rest of Carmel Valley, and when I told him I hadn't, he suggested we go take a look, at part of it, anyway. Driving slowly eastward on Carmel Valley Road, we passed a riding stable and tomato farms. Soon these gave way to canyons and rolling, scrub-covered hills. A big marsh hawk floated low over the yellow grass as we passed, and cottontails froze in the brush near the road, noses twitching. “It’s like this all the way to Interstate 15,” Strange commented. “Further out it’s all planted with corn and tomatoes and strawberries. It’s almost unbelievable that this area is in the city limits.”

He pulled over where Carmel Valley Road meets up with Del Mar Heights Road. We were on a low ridge and we could see the unpaved road winding east across canyons and hills toward Interstate 15. The afternoon was beginning to wane, and in the wide sky over our heads clouds were drifting toward the mountains. Strange pointed across the miles to where white boxes seemed to dot the hillsides in the distance: houses. “That’s Los Penasquitos,” he said. “It won’t be long before it’ll be solid houses from here to there. Maybe it’s inevitable like everyone says. I’m an anachronism, I guess. People in San Diego don’t have ears to hear environmentalists any more. I was bom and raised here, but I’ll be leaving soon.”

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