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How High is San Diego?

Matthew Alice:

I've seen signs along the roads leading to San Diego stating that the elevation is 11 feet. Exactly where is the spot where the measurement was taken? Or is it an average elevation: And who gives a darn anyway?

-- Bruce W., La Mesa

Don't be misled just because it's painted on a sign. "San Diego: elevation 11 feet" seems to be a factlet without a source. At least a source that anyone can identify. A check with the offices of the city and county surveyors drew a blank, so we'll have to work with best guesses. First of all, the elevation, whatever its source, is undoubtedly a single-point reference. Deriving a reliable average elevation in the city would be tough, given our up-and-down terrain. A lot of work for a figure nobody much cares about. We're close enough to actually view sea level, so a foot more or less isn't going to make a difference.

Odds are that our elevation was measured at city hall or Horton Plaza, Santa Fe station, or other civic landmark. This is a long-time tradition dating back at least to the days when railroad surveyors marked up the Midwest and West during the mid-1800s. An elevation for a town in Iowa or the Rockies, where there would be no sea level visible for reference, would have more practical value for residents and especially railroad builders than does an elevation for a coastal city like San Diego. But because elevation is a traditional descriptor for a city, San Diego would have it's height measured just like Des Moines or Denver. The county surveyor's office holds topographical maps one by U.S. government geologists that date back to 1848, and there's a chance that the 11-foot measure derives from such a source; but it still would be a single-point reference from one of several benchmarks around the city.

As for how the unknown surveyor arrived at 11 feet, its likely that it was done with an altimeter, depending on how long ago the measure was taken, just like an airplane's altitude reckoning device. But the fact is inescapable that nobody much cares, so that 11-foot figure will probably remain on the signs until the big one finally hits and they change the sign to read, "San Diego: elevation -100 feet."

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Matthew Alice:

I've seen signs along the roads leading to San Diego stating that the elevation is 11 feet. Exactly where is the spot where the measurement was taken? Or is it an average elevation: And who gives a darn anyway?

-- Bruce W., La Mesa

Don't be misled just because it's painted on a sign. "San Diego: elevation 11 feet" seems to be a factlet without a source. At least a source that anyone can identify. A check with the offices of the city and county surveyors drew a blank, so we'll have to work with best guesses. First of all, the elevation, whatever its source, is undoubtedly a single-point reference. Deriving a reliable average elevation in the city would be tough, given our up-and-down terrain. A lot of work for a figure nobody much cares about. We're close enough to actually view sea level, so a foot more or less isn't going to make a difference.

Odds are that our elevation was measured at city hall or Horton Plaza, Santa Fe station, or other civic landmark. This is a long-time tradition dating back at least to the days when railroad surveyors marked up the Midwest and West during the mid-1800s. An elevation for a town in Iowa or the Rockies, where there would be no sea level visible for reference, would have more practical value for residents and especially railroad builders than does an elevation for a coastal city like San Diego. But because elevation is a traditional descriptor for a city, San Diego would have it's height measured just like Des Moines or Denver. The county surveyor's office holds topographical maps one by U.S. government geologists that date back to 1848, and there's a chance that the 11-foot measure derives from such a source; but it still would be a single-point reference from one of several benchmarks around the city.

As for how the unknown surveyor arrived at 11 feet, its likely that it was done with an altimeter, depending on how long ago the measure was taken, just like an airplane's altitude reckoning device. But the fact is inescapable that nobody much cares, so that 11-foot figure will probably remain on the signs until the big one finally hits and they change the sign to read, "San Diego: elevation -100 feet."

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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