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Why San Diego will never be like L.A.

Suburban spread, air pollution, bad water

There are twenty-six freeways in L.A. Cars on half of this 740 miles of asphalt crawl at less than fifteen miles an hour every working morning. Compare this with San Diego’s 220 miles of freeway.  - Image by Peter Hannan
There are twenty-six freeways in L.A. Cars on half of this 740 miles of asphalt crawl at less than fifteen miles an hour every working morning. Compare this with San Diego’s 220 miles of freeway.

There are two kinds of people in San Diego: the ones who think San Diego is becoming another Los Angeles and the ones who have been to Los Angeles recently.

I escaped from L.A. It took me two years to dig the tunnel, but I did it, and I’m glad. As an ex-Angeleno, a recovering rat racer par excellence, a former cellmate to the stars — well, let me tell you, freedom never drove, smelled, or looked so good. Stop griping, San Diego. You will never be like L.A.

I hope.

Los Angeles. New Year’s Eve. We’re looking for something to do, something really different... something a million other people won’t be doing as well. It’s rough. There are seven and a half million of us all getting ready to party this night. We live in Culver City, the only place we could afford to live in within twenty minutes’ driving time of UCLA. Seedy but safe. Sunset Strip will be a madhouse tonight. The beaches will be downright dangerous. You don’t want to get on a freeway, and you don’t want to drive surface streets across town.

I pick up the L.A. Weekly on a hunch. There it is: one of those little art cinemas is showing Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense. We pack into my Ford Maverick and head carefully to the mid-Wilshire district. Imagine my glee as I find a place to park on the street, my delight as we plop down in an empty theater. The lights dim, and I realize I’ll never forget this night. I actually came up with an original idea in Los Angeles.


San Diego will never drive like L.A. The numbers alone practically tell the whole story. Twelve and a half million people live in what the U.S. Census Bureau officially defines as “greater Los Angeles,” which includes parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Ventura counties. L.A. has nineteen major “activity centers” servicing nearly 200 square miles. Labels like “city” and “suburb” don’t work in L.A. any longer. Experts describe it more accurately as a series of “constellations” making up a “galaxy.”

With five million cars on L.A. freeways every day, it is easy to calculate that there are at least twice as many commuters there than residents in San Diego. San Diego’s whopping population of 2.1 million will at best grow by another million by the year 2020, according to projections by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

People drive amazing distances to work in L.A. They live in open, affordable areas like Newbury Park, an hour’s drive west of L.A. on the road to Santa Barbara. Or places like Victorville, ninety miles east in the desert above San Bernardino. “Outlying areas” like Riverside or Santa Ana are passé. That’s old chic. You’ve got to live where the air is clean and then drive one or two hours each way to work.

The traffic all this commuting creates is simply breathtaking. There are twenty-six freeways in L.A. Cars on half of this 740 miles of asphalt crawl at less than fifteen miles an hour every working morning. Three hundred miles of freeway are — as Don Watson of the California Department of Transportation puts it — “lost to congestion.” And it will only get worse in the next ten years. They’ve figured it all out: Watson says motorists waste 628,000 hours a year waiting in traffic, burning 72 million gallons of gas. By the year 2013, half of travel time will be spent waiting.

Compare this scene with San Diego’s mere 220 miles of freeway. Sure, there are problems. There’s no good way to get from La Jolla to Lakeside. Eastbound Interstate 8 and Highway 94 are real drags. A quarter of a million people commute to downtown, and SANDAG expects that number to double by the turn of the century. Broadway is one of the most congested streets in San Diego and will probably always be so, since no one plans to make a one-way street out of it.

A million more people are headed our way in the next twenty-two years, and they will settle mostly in the North City area: San Diego north of Interstate 8, everywhere between Poway and Del Mar. You will not want to be driving north on Interstate S between the 805 junction and the Del Mar Heights exit.

Still, it’s a far cry from the automania of Los Angeles. L.A. is permanent rush hour. It’s gridlock, dawn to dusk, on four of North America’s five busiest highways. People start driving each other crazy. One highway patrolmen recalls the woman he found stopped at the center divider, staring vacantly at her car, white with panic.

Look at all that hurling metal out there, guided by jokers whose only qualification is the ability to fog a mirror held under their noses. People jockey for position at seventy mph only to stop dead half a mile later at the next jam. They pull up on your right at stoplights, not to make a right-hand turn, but to zoom out ahead of you when the light goes green. They even shoot at each other up there. My belief in a Supreme Being was boosted greatly when I discovered that Caltrans reports only seventy-four accidents a day in Los Angeles. The way they drive, we should all be dead.

San Diego will never drive like L.A. because everything’s too close. You can drive anywhere in forty-five minutes: to a beach, the mountains, the desert, Mexico. A little ways past Spring Valley — nature. Out beyond Escondido — wilderness.

L.A. is so spread out, you get used to long drives. It takes forty minutes to drive from the L.A. basin (south of the Santa Monica Mountains) to the valley (north of them). We used to drive forty-five minutes to see friends in Pasadena. We were still in the city — we hadn’t gotten to nature or the mountains or the wilderness yet!

Proximity has its downside. San Diego is growing at a faster rate than Los Angeles, and there are fewer places to put newcomers. At best, only eighty-four miles of new freeways and trolley lines will be constructed by the year 2005. SANDAG experts figure the congestion will be four times greater than it is today as population outpaces transportation. Mass transit will have to play a big role in keeping San Diego sane.

At present, only 3.3 percent of San Diego’s commuters — little over 39,000 — use the bus. L.A.’s record is better, with seven percent of the commuters on bus lines. San Diego’s first line of rail mass transit hit the ground running in 1983: sixteen miles of trolley lines between downtown and Mexico. Another eighteen miles of east-west rail will be available to ride next year. Since “activity centers’’ are generally clustered along either a north-south axis (Otay Mesa to Oceanside) or an east-west axis (downtown to El Cajon), rail transit will suit San Diego better than L.A.

The Los Angeles Metro Rail system is a bust. The first segment of Metro Rail has taken twelve years to plan, will cost an estimated $1.25 billion to complete, and will run only four and a half miles, from the downtown Union Station to the run-down MacArthur Park district. It will cost another three billion dollars to tunnel the tracks under the Cahuenga Pass and out into the San Fernando Valley.

Critics of Metro Rail claim that homes and offices in Los Angeles are too densely distributed. There are too many places you can live and too many other places you can work. A thorough mass transit would have so many stops it would no longer be effective.

Economics professor Ross Eckert realized this and said that Metro Rail will do for congestion and pollution what “Ben-Gay can do for cancer.” Maybe Angelenos already realized this was the case in the 1950s, when they tore up more than 1000 miles of trolley lines to make better streets.


Long Beach. Summer. I’ve just finished fifth grade, and for reasons know n only to God, my dad is sending me to the Southern California Military Academy for summer school. We live on the north side of the Palos Verdes peninsula, and every day I ride in a small yellow school van through Torrance to Long Beach. It’s not really my kind of commute — too much cutting up and dirty stories from the older kids. But the dirtiest story is the long stretch past the oil refineries. Early in the morning, it’s kind of foggy and dark. The refineries have those tall, black torches burning red out among the pale tower and smokestacks. As far as the eye can see, the stacks gush great billows of thick, gray smoke into the morning air. In the evening, on the drive back, we’re on the other side of the freeway and it’s hard to see the refineries. The sunsets are always beautiful, though. Orange sky with streaks of red and purple. A man asks me if I know why the sunsets are so red. I say I don’t know, and he just smiles and sighs.


San Diego will never smell like L.A. The air and water quality control people there live double lives. All day they talk about the legal pollution standards, and then they go out into a city that has never lived up to them.

Two out of three days every week, Los Angeles air violates federal air-quality standards, according to Southern California Air Quality Management District president Jim Lents. The ozone level is three times higher than the law allows. To meet smog standards, Angelenos would have to eliminate eighty percent of the nitrogen oxides their cars produce. They would have to eliminate eighty percent of the evaporated chemicals, paints, and coatings used by refineries, aerospace plants, and other manufacturers. They would have to cut eighty percent of their hair spraying, house painting, and gas-powered lawn mowing and leaf blowing.

Lents points out that Los Angeles air is forty-five percent cleaner than it was in the pre-EPA 1960s. But L.A. has too many strikes against it. First there’s the ample sunshine that literally bakes exhaust and fumes into ozone. Weather patterns trap the smog in a natural inversion layer, and the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains keep it there. That’s why the campfires of native Californians created smog in the days of the early European colonies. Throw in eight million cars and a dozen oil refineries, and you have a recipe for disaster.

San Diego has a minuscule air pollution problem by comparison. Smog does get boxed into El Cajon in a manner similar to Los Angeles. But San Diego air violated federal health standards only forty days last year, says Lynn Eldred of the Air Pollution Control District, and two-thirds of those days resulted from L.A. smog blowing southward after Santa Ana conditions. Carbon monoxide exceeded health limits only once.

San Diego has strict control that “other areas of the country haven’t even thought about,” says Eldred. San Diego County pioneered gasoline vapor-recovery nozzles at gas stations, which reduces hydrocarbon emissions by twelve tons a day. Your rank-and-file refineries and “smokestack” manufacturing outfits aren't coming to San Diego. Biomedical engineering and high-tech electronics are growing here.

But more cars will bring more pollution. More houses will demand more power generation, a major source of air pollution. By the mid- to late-1990s, growth will outstrip the controls now in place for pollution management.

Water also smells better in San Diego. Neither San Diego nor L.A. could survive without outside water sources. The biggest outside source is the California Aqueduct, bringing water from the Colorado River, the Sierra Nevada, and the Sacramento Delta. The water in the aqueduct gets contaminated by pesticides, herbicides, and other agricultural drainage from the San Joaquin River, according to Sierra Club political director Carl Pope, as well as by mining and timber operations and heavy-metal fallout from energy facilities.

Citizens for a Better Environment claim that San Diego water contains chloroform around fifteen parts per billion. Chloroform is formed by sewage and other organic materials reacting to chlorine. It contributes to cancer, liver, and immune system disorders.

L.A. water is twice as bad. CBE says there’s chloroform at thirty-five parts per billion, DDT and PCBs from industrial waste, smog particles and oil on the streets washed into the water supply by rain. Wells are routinely shut down for dangerous levels of solvents produced by aircraft and electrical manufacturing.

L.A. recently paid the largest fine in the history of the EPA — $625,000 — for dumping raw sewage into the Santa Monica Bay. The bay is so polluted that much of the marine life is deformed and cancerous. San Diego Bay is considered by local water quality officials to be “very good in general,” and the San Diego Bay Clean-up Project is currently investigating the PCB hotspots among the shipyards of the South Bay.

One-third of all Angelenos drink bottled water instead of tap water. Unfortunately, they can’t shower in Perrier. These toxins are easily absorbed through the skin. A good hot shower releases fifty percent of the dissolved chloroform into the steam as gas. L.A. residents would be wise to wear gas masks in the bath or over a hot sinkful of dishes.

L.A.’s most odorous problem is waste. Sewers routinely overflow in the heavy winter rains to pollute L.A. beaches. According to Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, I6 1/2 tons of trash are collected daily in the city. Landfills are scarce, and not one square cubit will be available in five years. Burning it will create more air pollution problems, not to mention cancer risks to those living around incinerator sites. Plans to bury it in the desert or pay Third World countries to take it have been bandied about to the outrage of desert- and Third World-lovers.

San Diegans bury about 4.5 million tons of trash a year in landfills. By 1996, officials expect these sites to be completely filled and closed. County planners are taking a three-prong attack to the problem: the location of new landfill sites, resource recovery plants to convert refuse to electricity or fuel, and a comprehensive recycling program. The board of supervisors recently adopted a recycling plan it hopes will reduce refuse by one-third over the next three to four years.

All forms of pollution grow in relationship to population. More people, more trash. More cars, more smog. My eyes are stinging just thinking about going back to L.A. I’ll take San Diego .

Hollywood. Broad Daylight. Hollywood attracts all kinds. Everyone’s got a script. Everyone’s got a demo tape. Your trashman is an actor. I’m eating lunch on the steps of an office building on Sunset. Nearby is this greasy sort of fellow strumming a guitar and leaning against a tattered poster of Angelyne. He says he’s Elvis’s cousin and that this is one of Elvis’s guitars. Now, I’ve seen these posters of Angelyne the first day I drove through Hollywood. Hard to miss: a blonde with monster cleavage saying “Kiss Me, L.A.” There’s even a billboard down the street with her splayed out on the hood of a pink Corvette. Yet in two years. I’ve never discovered what she does. No script. No records. She cai act. Well, the Elvis guy starts play in something familiar and I’m getting ready to go back to work when I spot a brilliant flash from the comer of my eye. I turn to see the bleached hair. The wrap-around sunglasses. No — oh my God — all forty-two inches of bounding bustline. It’s Angelyne (or someone who looks just like her) crossing Sunset in a skintight pink body suit. Crossing my direction. Then she disappears down the street. My impression is that she’s much older than the posters indicate. Still, my heart pounds slightly. I feel as though I met somebody famous.


San Diego will never look like L.A. Anyone who’s flown into LAX can testify. They put down the landing gear over Palm Springs, and it’s wall-to-wall houses as for as the eye can see until you touch down. This talk of “constellations” and “galaxies” is a lot of wishful thinking. Los Angeles is suburban sprawl.

There are houses in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys from Thousand Oaks to San Bernardino. Houses stretch from Pasadena in the north to Santa Ana in the south. Houses from Malibu to Laguna Beach. By the turn of the century, builders will need to complete 2.8 million more of them, says former Southern California Association of Governments housing planner Fred Kahane.

San Diego’s housing patterns have evolved quite differently. Camp Pendleton is the Great Abyss: Orange County cannot expand south and San Diego cannot expand north. The 125,000-acre Marine facility keeps L.A. and San Diego permanently separated. Mountains and desert to the east have also limited growth. And throughout the coastal and east-west axes, there is open space. Hillsides in Lemon Grove and La Mesa. Forests in Scripps Ranch. Lakes and lagoons in Del Mar and Carlsbad.

In 1974, the city commissioned a major study of San Diego’s growth and future options. The report, entitled “Temporary Paradise,” figured handsomely into the city planning begun in 1979. The researchers found San Diego to be “remarkably clean and quiet ” perhaps fifty years behind L.A. in development. Affordable housing in suburbs like El Cajon attracted many from the city, creating greater commuter traffic, increased air-conditioning costs, and excessive use of water in maintaining lawns. Many open spaces were destroyed by development.

But they concluded that the city need not be doomed to the ‘‘Los Angeles model” of unlimited, unbroken growth. They advised the city to preserve open space and designate specific areas for building. The City of San Diego now owns more than 20,000 acres of permanent open space. Growth will be concentrated in North City, the Golden Triangle (mapped out between Highways 5, 805, and 52), and North County.

Los Angeles growth is so massively rambling that effective planning must rally the regional governments in Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Los Angeles counties as well as the City of Los Angeles. Plans will have to include the waves of immigrants, legal or not, who wash up in L.A. A recent Los Angeles Times survey concluded that 42,000 garages are inhabited by aliens and their families.

San Diego will never be like L.A. It can’t be. There’s not enough people or space here. But things can get worse. And those who want to preserve a sane San Diego have some hard choices to make.

First, commuting must be reduced to a bare minimum. Computer simulations reveal that only one “program” effectively solves traffic congestion: living close to work. To preserve clean air and freeway temperaments, a lot of driving has to stop.

Next, environmental standards must be enforced. Los Angeles is so far behind, it will never recover. Industry often fights clean-up measures because they’re costly. But who pays the cost? The consumer must pay to clean up the environment. And business can do its part by taking greater conservation efforts to recycle and use smaller amounts of chemicals.

San Diego must also pay the price of slow growth. Growth is good for business. It means more people making more money, more happy real-estate developers. But it also means a more crowded, polluted place to live. The less building we allow, the more existing housing will cost as people compete for space. San Diego, like San Francisco, will become a more expensive place to live than L.A.

But you don’t want to be like L.A.

Right?

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There are twenty-six freeways in L.A. Cars on half of this 740 miles of asphalt crawl at less than fifteen miles an hour every working morning. Compare this with San Diego’s 220 miles of freeway.  - Image by Peter Hannan
There are twenty-six freeways in L.A. Cars on half of this 740 miles of asphalt crawl at less than fifteen miles an hour every working morning. Compare this with San Diego’s 220 miles of freeway.

There are two kinds of people in San Diego: the ones who think San Diego is becoming another Los Angeles and the ones who have been to Los Angeles recently.

I escaped from L.A. It took me two years to dig the tunnel, but I did it, and I’m glad. As an ex-Angeleno, a recovering rat racer par excellence, a former cellmate to the stars — well, let me tell you, freedom never drove, smelled, or looked so good. Stop griping, San Diego. You will never be like L.A.

I hope.

Los Angeles. New Year’s Eve. We’re looking for something to do, something really different... something a million other people won’t be doing as well. It’s rough. There are seven and a half million of us all getting ready to party this night. We live in Culver City, the only place we could afford to live in within twenty minutes’ driving time of UCLA. Seedy but safe. Sunset Strip will be a madhouse tonight. The beaches will be downright dangerous. You don’t want to get on a freeway, and you don’t want to drive surface streets across town.

I pick up the L.A. Weekly on a hunch. There it is: one of those little art cinemas is showing Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense. We pack into my Ford Maverick and head carefully to the mid-Wilshire district. Imagine my glee as I find a place to park on the street, my delight as we plop down in an empty theater. The lights dim, and I realize I’ll never forget this night. I actually came up with an original idea in Los Angeles.


San Diego will never drive like L.A. The numbers alone practically tell the whole story. Twelve and a half million people live in what the U.S. Census Bureau officially defines as “greater Los Angeles,” which includes parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Ventura counties. L.A. has nineteen major “activity centers” servicing nearly 200 square miles. Labels like “city” and “suburb” don’t work in L.A. any longer. Experts describe it more accurately as a series of “constellations” making up a “galaxy.”

With five million cars on L.A. freeways every day, it is easy to calculate that there are at least twice as many commuters there than residents in San Diego. San Diego’s whopping population of 2.1 million will at best grow by another million by the year 2020, according to projections by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

People drive amazing distances to work in L.A. They live in open, affordable areas like Newbury Park, an hour’s drive west of L.A. on the road to Santa Barbara. Or places like Victorville, ninety miles east in the desert above San Bernardino. “Outlying areas” like Riverside or Santa Ana are passé. That’s old chic. You’ve got to live where the air is clean and then drive one or two hours each way to work.

The traffic all this commuting creates is simply breathtaking. There are twenty-six freeways in L.A. Cars on half of this 740 miles of asphalt crawl at less than fifteen miles an hour every working morning. Three hundred miles of freeway are — as Don Watson of the California Department of Transportation puts it — “lost to congestion.” And it will only get worse in the next ten years. They’ve figured it all out: Watson says motorists waste 628,000 hours a year waiting in traffic, burning 72 million gallons of gas. By the year 2013, half of travel time will be spent waiting.

Compare this scene with San Diego’s mere 220 miles of freeway. Sure, there are problems. There’s no good way to get from La Jolla to Lakeside. Eastbound Interstate 8 and Highway 94 are real drags. A quarter of a million people commute to downtown, and SANDAG expects that number to double by the turn of the century. Broadway is one of the most congested streets in San Diego and will probably always be so, since no one plans to make a one-way street out of it.

A million more people are headed our way in the next twenty-two years, and they will settle mostly in the North City area: San Diego north of Interstate 8, everywhere between Poway and Del Mar. You will not want to be driving north on Interstate S between the 805 junction and the Del Mar Heights exit.

Still, it’s a far cry from the automania of Los Angeles. L.A. is permanent rush hour. It’s gridlock, dawn to dusk, on four of North America’s five busiest highways. People start driving each other crazy. One highway patrolmen recalls the woman he found stopped at the center divider, staring vacantly at her car, white with panic.

Look at all that hurling metal out there, guided by jokers whose only qualification is the ability to fog a mirror held under their noses. People jockey for position at seventy mph only to stop dead half a mile later at the next jam. They pull up on your right at stoplights, not to make a right-hand turn, but to zoom out ahead of you when the light goes green. They even shoot at each other up there. My belief in a Supreme Being was boosted greatly when I discovered that Caltrans reports only seventy-four accidents a day in Los Angeles. The way they drive, we should all be dead.

San Diego will never drive like L.A. because everything’s too close. You can drive anywhere in forty-five minutes: to a beach, the mountains, the desert, Mexico. A little ways past Spring Valley — nature. Out beyond Escondido — wilderness.

L.A. is so spread out, you get used to long drives. It takes forty minutes to drive from the L.A. basin (south of the Santa Monica Mountains) to the valley (north of them). We used to drive forty-five minutes to see friends in Pasadena. We were still in the city — we hadn’t gotten to nature or the mountains or the wilderness yet!

Proximity has its downside. San Diego is growing at a faster rate than Los Angeles, and there are fewer places to put newcomers. At best, only eighty-four miles of new freeways and trolley lines will be constructed by the year 2005. SANDAG experts figure the congestion will be four times greater than it is today as population outpaces transportation. Mass transit will have to play a big role in keeping San Diego sane.

At present, only 3.3 percent of San Diego’s commuters — little over 39,000 — use the bus. L.A.’s record is better, with seven percent of the commuters on bus lines. San Diego’s first line of rail mass transit hit the ground running in 1983: sixteen miles of trolley lines between downtown and Mexico. Another eighteen miles of east-west rail will be available to ride next year. Since “activity centers’’ are generally clustered along either a north-south axis (Otay Mesa to Oceanside) or an east-west axis (downtown to El Cajon), rail transit will suit San Diego better than L.A.

The Los Angeles Metro Rail system is a bust. The first segment of Metro Rail has taken twelve years to plan, will cost an estimated $1.25 billion to complete, and will run only four and a half miles, from the downtown Union Station to the run-down MacArthur Park district. It will cost another three billion dollars to tunnel the tracks under the Cahuenga Pass and out into the San Fernando Valley.

Critics of Metro Rail claim that homes and offices in Los Angeles are too densely distributed. There are too many places you can live and too many other places you can work. A thorough mass transit would have so many stops it would no longer be effective.

Economics professor Ross Eckert realized this and said that Metro Rail will do for congestion and pollution what “Ben-Gay can do for cancer.” Maybe Angelenos already realized this was the case in the 1950s, when they tore up more than 1000 miles of trolley lines to make better streets.


Long Beach. Summer. I’ve just finished fifth grade, and for reasons know n only to God, my dad is sending me to the Southern California Military Academy for summer school. We live on the north side of the Palos Verdes peninsula, and every day I ride in a small yellow school van through Torrance to Long Beach. It’s not really my kind of commute — too much cutting up and dirty stories from the older kids. But the dirtiest story is the long stretch past the oil refineries. Early in the morning, it’s kind of foggy and dark. The refineries have those tall, black torches burning red out among the pale tower and smokestacks. As far as the eye can see, the stacks gush great billows of thick, gray smoke into the morning air. In the evening, on the drive back, we’re on the other side of the freeway and it’s hard to see the refineries. The sunsets are always beautiful, though. Orange sky with streaks of red and purple. A man asks me if I know why the sunsets are so red. I say I don’t know, and he just smiles and sighs.


San Diego will never smell like L.A. The air and water quality control people there live double lives. All day they talk about the legal pollution standards, and then they go out into a city that has never lived up to them.

Two out of three days every week, Los Angeles air violates federal air-quality standards, according to Southern California Air Quality Management District president Jim Lents. The ozone level is three times higher than the law allows. To meet smog standards, Angelenos would have to eliminate eighty percent of the nitrogen oxides their cars produce. They would have to eliminate eighty percent of the evaporated chemicals, paints, and coatings used by refineries, aerospace plants, and other manufacturers. They would have to cut eighty percent of their hair spraying, house painting, and gas-powered lawn mowing and leaf blowing.

Lents points out that Los Angeles air is forty-five percent cleaner than it was in the pre-EPA 1960s. But L.A. has too many strikes against it. First there’s the ample sunshine that literally bakes exhaust and fumes into ozone. Weather patterns trap the smog in a natural inversion layer, and the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains keep it there. That’s why the campfires of native Californians created smog in the days of the early European colonies. Throw in eight million cars and a dozen oil refineries, and you have a recipe for disaster.

San Diego has a minuscule air pollution problem by comparison. Smog does get boxed into El Cajon in a manner similar to Los Angeles. But San Diego air violated federal health standards only forty days last year, says Lynn Eldred of the Air Pollution Control District, and two-thirds of those days resulted from L.A. smog blowing southward after Santa Ana conditions. Carbon monoxide exceeded health limits only once.

San Diego has strict control that “other areas of the country haven’t even thought about,” says Eldred. San Diego County pioneered gasoline vapor-recovery nozzles at gas stations, which reduces hydrocarbon emissions by twelve tons a day. Your rank-and-file refineries and “smokestack” manufacturing outfits aren't coming to San Diego. Biomedical engineering and high-tech electronics are growing here.

But more cars will bring more pollution. More houses will demand more power generation, a major source of air pollution. By the mid- to late-1990s, growth will outstrip the controls now in place for pollution management.

Water also smells better in San Diego. Neither San Diego nor L.A. could survive without outside water sources. The biggest outside source is the California Aqueduct, bringing water from the Colorado River, the Sierra Nevada, and the Sacramento Delta. The water in the aqueduct gets contaminated by pesticides, herbicides, and other agricultural drainage from the San Joaquin River, according to Sierra Club political director Carl Pope, as well as by mining and timber operations and heavy-metal fallout from energy facilities.

Citizens for a Better Environment claim that San Diego water contains chloroform around fifteen parts per billion. Chloroform is formed by sewage and other organic materials reacting to chlorine. It contributes to cancer, liver, and immune system disorders.

L.A. water is twice as bad. CBE says there’s chloroform at thirty-five parts per billion, DDT and PCBs from industrial waste, smog particles and oil on the streets washed into the water supply by rain. Wells are routinely shut down for dangerous levels of solvents produced by aircraft and electrical manufacturing.

L.A. recently paid the largest fine in the history of the EPA — $625,000 — for dumping raw sewage into the Santa Monica Bay. The bay is so polluted that much of the marine life is deformed and cancerous. San Diego Bay is considered by local water quality officials to be “very good in general,” and the San Diego Bay Clean-up Project is currently investigating the PCB hotspots among the shipyards of the South Bay.

One-third of all Angelenos drink bottled water instead of tap water. Unfortunately, they can’t shower in Perrier. These toxins are easily absorbed through the skin. A good hot shower releases fifty percent of the dissolved chloroform into the steam as gas. L.A. residents would be wise to wear gas masks in the bath or over a hot sinkful of dishes.

L.A.’s most odorous problem is waste. Sewers routinely overflow in the heavy winter rains to pollute L.A. beaches. According to Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, I6 1/2 tons of trash are collected daily in the city. Landfills are scarce, and not one square cubit will be available in five years. Burning it will create more air pollution problems, not to mention cancer risks to those living around incinerator sites. Plans to bury it in the desert or pay Third World countries to take it have been bandied about to the outrage of desert- and Third World-lovers.

San Diegans bury about 4.5 million tons of trash a year in landfills. By 1996, officials expect these sites to be completely filled and closed. County planners are taking a three-prong attack to the problem: the location of new landfill sites, resource recovery plants to convert refuse to electricity or fuel, and a comprehensive recycling program. The board of supervisors recently adopted a recycling plan it hopes will reduce refuse by one-third over the next three to four years.

All forms of pollution grow in relationship to population. More people, more trash. More cars, more smog. My eyes are stinging just thinking about going back to L.A. I’ll take San Diego .

Hollywood. Broad Daylight. Hollywood attracts all kinds. Everyone’s got a script. Everyone’s got a demo tape. Your trashman is an actor. I’m eating lunch on the steps of an office building on Sunset. Nearby is this greasy sort of fellow strumming a guitar and leaning against a tattered poster of Angelyne. He says he’s Elvis’s cousin and that this is one of Elvis’s guitars. Now, I’ve seen these posters of Angelyne the first day I drove through Hollywood. Hard to miss: a blonde with monster cleavage saying “Kiss Me, L.A.” There’s even a billboard down the street with her splayed out on the hood of a pink Corvette. Yet in two years. I’ve never discovered what she does. No script. No records. She cai act. Well, the Elvis guy starts play in something familiar and I’m getting ready to go back to work when I spot a brilliant flash from the comer of my eye. I turn to see the bleached hair. The wrap-around sunglasses. No — oh my God — all forty-two inches of bounding bustline. It’s Angelyne (or someone who looks just like her) crossing Sunset in a skintight pink body suit. Crossing my direction. Then she disappears down the street. My impression is that she’s much older than the posters indicate. Still, my heart pounds slightly. I feel as though I met somebody famous.


San Diego will never look like L.A. Anyone who’s flown into LAX can testify. They put down the landing gear over Palm Springs, and it’s wall-to-wall houses as for as the eye can see until you touch down. This talk of “constellations” and “galaxies” is a lot of wishful thinking. Los Angeles is suburban sprawl.

There are houses in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys from Thousand Oaks to San Bernardino. Houses stretch from Pasadena in the north to Santa Ana in the south. Houses from Malibu to Laguna Beach. By the turn of the century, builders will need to complete 2.8 million more of them, says former Southern California Association of Governments housing planner Fred Kahane.

San Diego’s housing patterns have evolved quite differently. Camp Pendleton is the Great Abyss: Orange County cannot expand south and San Diego cannot expand north. The 125,000-acre Marine facility keeps L.A. and San Diego permanently separated. Mountains and desert to the east have also limited growth. And throughout the coastal and east-west axes, there is open space. Hillsides in Lemon Grove and La Mesa. Forests in Scripps Ranch. Lakes and lagoons in Del Mar and Carlsbad.

In 1974, the city commissioned a major study of San Diego’s growth and future options. The report, entitled “Temporary Paradise,” figured handsomely into the city planning begun in 1979. The researchers found San Diego to be “remarkably clean and quiet ” perhaps fifty years behind L.A. in development. Affordable housing in suburbs like El Cajon attracted many from the city, creating greater commuter traffic, increased air-conditioning costs, and excessive use of water in maintaining lawns. Many open spaces were destroyed by development.

But they concluded that the city need not be doomed to the ‘‘Los Angeles model” of unlimited, unbroken growth. They advised the city to preserve open space and designate specific areas for building. The City of San Diego now owns more than 20,000 acres of permanent open space. Growth will be concentrated in North City, the Golden Triangle (mapped out between Highways 5, 805, and 52), and North County.

Los Angeles growth is so massively rambling that effective planning must rally the regional governments in Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Los Angeles counties as well as the City of Los Angeles. Plans will have to include the waves of immigrants, legal or not, who wash up in L.A. A recent Los Angeles Times survey concluded that 42,000 garages are inhabited by aliens and their families.

San Diego will never be like L.A. It can’t be. There’s not enough people or space here. But things can get worse. And those who want to preserve a sane San Diego have some hard choices to make.

First, commuting must be reduced to a bare minimum. Computer simulations reveal that only one “program” effectively solves traffic congestion: living close to work. To preserve clean air and freeway temperaments, a lot of driving has to stop.

Next, environmental standards must be enforced. Los Angeles is so far behind, it will never recover. Industry often fights clean-up measures because they’re costly. But who pays the cost? The consumer must pay to clean up the environment. And business can do its part by taking greater conservation efforts to recycle and use smaller amounts of chemicals.

San Diego must also pay the price of slow growth. Growth is good for business. It means more people making more money, more happy real-estate developers. But it also means a more crowded, polluted place to live. The less building we allow, the more existing housing will cost as people compete for space. San Diego, like San Francisco, will become a more expensive place to live than L.A.

But you don’t want to be like L.A.

Right?

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