Just about everything this city knows about suburban living (comparable to what Milwaukee knows about beer) has gone into the making of the southern end of University city, ten miles south of downtown and a few miles inland of La Jolla.
A neighborhood without billboards, without the white schoolroom trailers that betoken overcrowding, with just the right number of grocery stores and service stations, a post office and an extra spacious library, in just the right locations so that one may walk or bike or drive (probably drive) to do one's errands or serve one's children with the least possible clot of urban flow, this part of University City turned out well because it is somewhat isolated and self-contained, being moated by canyons and freeways, but moreover because it was the first fully planned suburb in the city's history (the first to incorporate the novel concept of "open space"), and because it was built by relatively few hands.
Nearly the same conditions apply to the relatively undeveloped northern part of University City on the mesa east of Interstate 5 and UCSD. But instead of building another single family suburb, the developers have the chance to create a new kind of setting — so new it has no graceful name. If it works it will be something more varied and exciting than a suburb but less troubled than a downtown. A suburban city? A subcity? An upburb?
The University City Planning Group, a newly elected body of neighbors and business people, has just completed the last in a long series of revisions to the community plan and calls the thing to be centered in the vicinity of Genesee Avenue and La Jolla Village Drive and "urban node." This is technochatter for a bound-town on the edge of the city; it will look like our present downtown yet will spring from a suburb of schools, dwellings, churches, and a shopping center.
About half of the people on the planning group feel the change will be less than splendid. Particularly those who reside in University City, and who will have to put up with the pollution and traffic problems predicted in the plan's environmental impact report feel that their neighborhoods are being manhandled by so-called market forces which to them look like greed.
Then there are critics outside the community, particularly those attached to the University of California who wonder whatever happened to the simple, inexpensive neighborhoods that were supposed to serve their institution, its students, full professors, and lean lecturers. Roger Revelle, former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a founder of UCSD, told a group of La Jollans last year that the development of University City has left him "bitterly disappointed."
The half dozen developers are riding out the criticism. In a way they're above it. They have lofty reputations, for elsewhere in the country they have done good work: Ernest Hahn with University Towne Center, Harry L. Summers with Rancho Bernardo, Genstar Corporation with Racho Penasquitos. And anyways the community plan was approved but the city council in June with only one dissenting vote (Mayor Hedgecock's), which means that even if many individual projects need final approval, the overall development has been sanctioned and indeed has already begun.
One day in mid-August, earthmovers bellied into the corner of Genesee Avenue and La Jolla Village Drive to break ground for an office park, the Plaza at La Jolla Village. In the earliest community plan of 1960, this crossroads was to have been like hundreds of others in San Diego, with a gas station on each corner and a supermarket or two on the side. Instead, a hugely successful shopping mall, University Towne Centre, went in on the southeast corner and transformed the other three corners into very choice land.
The Plaza at La Jolla Village, to the north of University Towne Centre, will begin with two office buildings and a restaurant. Each of the buildings will enclose 45,000 square feet of office space, which is the equivalent square footage of a Safeway "superstore." Eastward on the same seventeen-acre parcel will be five more office buildings, various lawns, and a pond. Two buildings will cover 45,000 square feet each, another 60,000 square feet, and the two centerpiece buildings, each eighteen stories high, will include 300,000 square feet apiece, for a total of 840,000 square feet — the equivalent of 19 Safeways or 15 percent of the total office space in downtown San Diego.
The third corner at this crossroads is a vacant parcel of weeds and a shade-less bus stop that borders the University of California. Standing on this corner with the bulldozers at your back, you might assume that the university was distant — that dark green hill two miles to the west of the other side of Interstate 5, where the stringent tops of buildings stick up from the eucalyptus plantation. But the camps actually straddles the freeway and spreads almost to your feet. The university's backyard comprises a ball field, a golf driving range, acres of buckwheat, and some two-story apartments for married students. From here you can just make out their windows.
If ever there were a place where the campus and University City were intended to meet, it was here, where the planners saw a natural connection between the undeveloped end of the university and the soon-to-be-built suburb, where each would grow in a way that complemented the other. "It should be toward this area that a professor, a student, a resident of the community, or a casual visitor would naturally gravitate and find himself at the center of activity. " said the 1971 version of the community plan, which went on to call this focal point the "town center core." It was to be arena, in effect, where idealism touched gloves with the marketplace.
Lomas Santa Fe Development which acquired the twenty-seven acres on the northwest corner, brought forward a plan that looked good to nearly everyone but its future business partners. The plan ventured to mix apartments, condominiums, shops, a hotel, and a supermarket in one project. The apartments would be for students, the condominiums for university employees and other professionals, the hotel for visitors to the university or for the families of patients at the nearby Scripps Memorial Hospital, and the shops and the supermarket for everyone. Furthermore, the design mixed the uses vertically, putting the apartments over the shops and over the grocery store to avoid the usual bane of mixed-use projects in which the commercial side of the development goes dead after business hours and makes the residential side seem an unpeopled, spooky place to live. At Brittany Village, as the project was called, the ideal was to have activity at all hours for a variety of people, to give the place a cosmopolitan spirit.