San Diego is a very well-defined region. To the west is the Pacific
Ocean; to the east are the mountains and the desert; to the south is the
international border with Mexico-really the other half of our region-and
the north is our armed boundary, the Camp Pendleton Marine Base,
protecting us from Los Angeles.
The best place to start understanding
San Diego is to take a look around downtown. What you see today is a very
vibrant area-the heart of a city of 1.3 million in a region of 4-1/2
million (2 million live literally across the street in the city of
Tijuana, the world's busiest border crossing and the other half of our
metropolis). We project another one million people will be added on this
side of the border in the next twenty years.
When you came into San Diego, you saw the suburban edges-just like the
development in many other areas; but, we have red tile roofs!
It is classic urban sprawl. But, if you look closer, you will begin to
see that we are reclaiming older areas-a different approach to new
development, including the preservation of open space and sensitive
habitat and we are forging a renewed interest in the public realm. The
current theme in the city of San Diego is the "City of Villages."
Although it is today's current wisdom, it really has been going on for
some time. (MORE ON THIS ON SATURDAY.)
Some history: The first settlement in what is now Old Town was laid
out in accordance with the Laws of the Indies, promulgated by the King of
Spain in the 1500's for towns in the "New World." Roger Showley, resident
San Diego Union-Tribune urban affairs writer, best described
planning in 1848, after California became part of the United States, this
"Subdividers and speculators were the defacto city planners of the
west; they bought the land, laid out the streets, sold off lots to
individuals and developers, and walked away with the profits. However,
there was no one to tie the entrepreneurs' dreams together. And the
consequence was erratically placed connector streets, sparsely located
parks, and an unrelenting series of grid-shaped neighborhoods."
California became a state in 1850 and the city of San Diego was
incorporated. In 1853, the U. S. government sent Army surveyors to plat
the newly acquired territory. After laying out what was then called New
Town (today's Marina area of Centre City), two of the surveyors resigned
their commissions and began to speculate on the land they had just
mapped. In 1868, Alonzo Horton arrived in San Diego from Wisconsin via a
short stay in San Francisco. He purchased 960 acres of what is now Centre
City and Hillcrest for $265 and laid out the land for development with
small blocks connected by wide streets. This was done in order to
maximize the number of corner lots available for commercial purposes. In
conjunction with Horton's's activities, the city fathers acquired 1400
acres for City Park (now Balboa Park). This was a little less than one
acre for each resident of the city.
In 1880, the city, with a population of 2,600, anticipated being the
western terminus of the transcontinental railroad and the maritime gateway
to the Pacific. A building boom and population explosion ensued. The
buildings (Gaslamp Quarter) were the latest in architectural design and
subdivisions were laid out to accommodate the anticipated population. The
Hotel Del Coronado was built in 1888, the population soared to 40,000, and
the downtown was developed to be the hub of a city of 100,000.
But, Los Angeles was selected as the railroad terminus and by 1890 the
population had dwindled to 16,000.
Again, from Roger Showley:
"Comprehensive planning here was born of a desire in 1903 to relocate
"George Marston, founder of the Marston Department Store chain (now
part of the Macy's chain by way of Broadway Stores), prompted the Chamber
of Commerce to form a civic improvement committee.
"Marston first underwrote the cost of retaining Samuel Parsons, Jr.,
consulting architect for New York's Central Park, to prepare a master plan
for Balboa Park. He also convinced the civic improvement committee to
hire John Nolen ' . . . to lend some direction to San Diego's unmanaged
growth . . . .'"
Nolen's Plan for the Improvement of San Diego, published in
1908, was a classic City Beautiful plan. It called for improvements to
the waterfront and segregating industrial and recreational uses. It also
called for creation of a civic center-something we are still
discussing--and a system of parks, boulevards, and civic spaces.
Unfortunately, we did not do very much of what Nolen advised.
In 1893, Irving Gill arrived in San Diego. As described in the AIA
Guidebook, San Diego Architecture, Gill's arrival marked the
beginning of the modern era in San Diego. Ultimately, Gill added an
ingredient that defined San Diego's best architecture. He took his cues
from the region, not from distant sources.
You will hear more about Gill later this evening and on tomorrow's tour
you will see his work and the work of his contemporaries and colleagues,
Louis Gill, Richard Requa, Emmor Brooke Weaver, Hazel Waterman, William
Hebbard, and Frank Mead. It is important to take note of some of Gill's
clients--Alice Lee, Katherine Teats--women who were among the ranks of San
Diego's early developers.
In 1915, the Panama-California Exposition opened in Balboa Park to
celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. John Charles Olmstead did the
park master plan; Bertran Goodhue was the architect for the exposition
buildings. The Spanish revival style of architecture was the theme for
the exposition, a style that was being promoted all over Southern
California in an attempt to establish its desired history. This official
style for all public and private buildings was enforced through a city
design review process that continued until the mid-1950s.
Civic leader George Marston, espousing Nolen's plans, campaigned but
lost the race for mayor in 1913 and 1914. His opponent, banker-developer
Louis J. Wilde, tagged him "Geranium George" alluding to Marston's stance
for civic beauty rather than favoring smokestacks, jobs, and economic
growth. After Wilde defeated Marston, the year-old planning commission
resigned under pressure and the "smokestacks vs. geraniums" taunt has
challenged planning and community development ever since.
While the city fathers talked about industry, the focus was on "clean"
industry. Clean was not only in relation to the manufacturing process
(continues to today with high-tech and bio-med) but, also, clean in terms
of avoiding unions and strikes. Hence, we went after and convinced the
Navy to make San Diego its major port on the West Coast.
In the 1920s, concern for the future of San Diego arose. ". . . the
City hired Nolen for $10,000 to prepare a city, harbor, and parks plan.
The plan was presented in 1926. At an American Legion speech, Will Rogers
urged, "Now, you have a real plan, prepared by Nolen. Don't let any
prominent citizen get up and talk you out of it." Nolen's ideas became
the cornerstone of all master planning of the city for the next 42 years.
The second world war brought tremendous growth to San Diego and all
planning was geared to support the war effort. New developments of all
kinds were established throughout the city. The construction of accessory
units was strongly encouraged. Linda Vista was the site of a new town
patterned, in part, on the plan for Radburn, New Jersey. In addition to
retail, the town center contained recreational uses and public services as
well. The town center, dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt, is considered to
be the first of the modern shopping centers. Only fragments of the
original development remain.
The postwar period was marked by rapid growth to accommodate the
returning veterans as well as the workers who had been recruited for
defense work and who chose to stay here. The city focused on
defense-related manufacturing, which declined greatly as a result of the
end of the cold war.
The rapid growth led to a questioning of the Spanish Revival design
requirements for all construction and, to facilitate growth, the City
Council removed them for they had been enforced only sporadically after
the war. Planning focused on zoning land for new development and the
public works projects that served it.
Post-war development led to a change in the region's architecture and
the development of the San Diego School of Modernism, led by Lloyd Ruocco.
Homer Delawie, Bob Mosher, Roy Drew, Ward Deems, Richard Wheeler, and many
others put their mark on the San Diego landscape. But, as with most
communities, San Diego seemed to double in size every ten years by virtue
of its rapid population growth. Most of the development mirrored the
tract development occurring everywhere, coupled with the flight from the
inner city that also occurred everywhere.
Mission Valley had been the northern edge of city development until
WWII. It was the site of truck farms and dairies that served the city and
was unofficially viewed as an open space preserve. Pressure to open the
valley for development grew after several resort hotels and golf courses
displaced some of the agricultural activities.
In 1958, intense pressure from the May Company Department Stores
resulted in the City Council's approval to rezone and allow construction
of the Mission Valley Shopping Center. This action accelerated the
displacement of farming and hastened the decline of downtown. At the time
of the Council's action, Arthur Jessop, a downtown merchant, said, "We
might as well tattoo on the Council wall, 'Here died planning in San
The changes to Mission Valley and concerns over what was happening led
to a planning effort that culminated in the early 1980's. The result is
that the valley is now a model of integrated land use, transportation, and
environmental planning. Although many would have preferred retaining
Mission Valley as farm land and open space in the pre-environmental era of
the 1960s, that was not an option.
In 1966, the city adopted its general plan by ballot. Opponents had
placed it on the ballot because they called planning "a step in the
creeping socialism that was sweeping the country." In the subsequent
vote, voters supported planning, the plan, and an independent planning
department. But, perhaps the biggest beneficiary was the concept of
community involvement. Realizing that a number of the city's communities
were bigger than many small- and even medium-sized cities, it was
recognized that the citywide plan had to be tailored to the needs of
As a result, a process for establishing elected community planning
groups was instituted. There are now over forty such groups in the city.
By the 1970s, the city was being overwhelmed by new development.
Canyons and hillsides that characterized San Diego were being bulldozed to
accommodate new subdivisions. Public facilities and services were not
keeping pace however. A week after residents of new areas moved in, they
typically demanded that construction stop until something was done; and,
in spite of some new office buildings, downtown continued to decline.
In 1971, Pete Wilson was elected mayor, partly on a platform of growth
management and Centre City revitalization. He directed city staff to work
with the community to resolve the problems associated with rapid growth.
In 1973, Hamilton Marston and his aunt, Miss Mary Marston, grandson and
daughter, respectively, of George W. Marston, approached the city with a
proposal. They would put up $10,000 (the same amount paid to John Nolen
for the 1926 plan) if the city would look at the region and its future
challenges and opportunities. It was not to be a plan but, rather, a
reconnaissance and a sketchbook of ideas that the city could consider.
Temporary Paradise and the Growth Wars
Kevin Lynch of MIT and Donald Appleyard of U.C. Berkeley were
retained. In 1974, they presented the report, Temporary Paradise? A
Look at the Special Landscape of the San Diego Region. In the report,
which is a milestone in the recent planning history of San Diego, Lynch
and Appleyard wrote:
"If San Diego cannot hope for Los Angeles' giant size, it can easily
imitate it in other ways-spread out its dry suburbs, channel its streams,
fill its valleys and lagoons, choke its roads and darken its air, sharpen
the social gradient, harden the border. Could we rename it San Diego de
Los Angeles? . . .
"The city should begin to take thought for the long-term quality of its
environment . . . Most of all, we hope that San Diego takes charge of its
The report called for the region to understand and manage its growth;
and, in 1975, the City Council adopted its initial growth management
policies, calling for the timing and phasing of new development and
requiring new development to pay its own way with services coordinated
with residential construction.
Also that year, the City Council formed the Centre City Development
Corporation (CCDC) to oversee the redevelopment of downtown.
Though it was in formation for many years, a new general plan was
adopted in 1979 that incorporated and refined many of the growth
management policies and principles from Temporary Paradise?
Passage of Proposition 13 in June, 1978, sharply limited property tax
revenues for California cities. This, in turn, limited the funds
available for facilities and services in older areas. It also limited the
funds available for developing the guidelines to ensure that infill was
sensitive to the existing neighborhoods. At the same time, an economic
slowdown made it easier for infill projects to occur in the urbanized
areas than for new development in the planned urbanizing areas. As a
consequence, the older neighborhoods felt threatened and overwhelmed by
new development. Then, as the economy gradually picked up, development in
outlying areas appeared to be making up for lost time. Where 5 - 7,000
residential units per year were expected in normal economic cycles, San
Diego suddenly started to see 12 - 15,000 residential units annually.
The establishment of the University of California in the late 1960s led
to the growth of high-tech and bio-med activities. The roots of this
began around the turn of the century with the establishment of the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography in a building designed by Irving Gill.
Scripps grew into UCSD and UCSD has spun off the research and
development that is a major factor in San Diego's economy and our culture
and one of the factors that put us on Richard Florida's Creative Class
We were a city that tied for #3; we have now fallen to #12. Housing-or
the lack thereof-is the critical factor. San Diego ranks as one of the
most expensive housing markets in the country. This housing-cost number
is exacerbated by the fact that, coupled with transportation costs, San
Diegans spend a greater share of their income on those two items than is
spent anywhere else in the country. A factor in all of this is that we
pay in sunshine dollars.
Our housing shortage--estimated to be around 80,000 units to meet
current and projected needs--is not being resolved for a variety of
Major Development Influences
During the boom time of the 1980s, growth was the focus of most
planning, but planning was taking place on other fronts as well.
Planning for fixed rail had been going on since the mid-1970s, but the
new general plan gave the mayor a city policy on transit to go along with
those being advocated by the regional transit agency, the Metropolitan
Transit Development Board (MTDB). The first leg of the east line of the
San Diego Trolley opened in 1986 and the south line, in 1991. Both the
east line and the south line have been extended twice and more extensions
and new routes are being incorporated currently.
Horton Plaza, the centerpiece of downtown redevelopment, opened in
1985. It has served as the catalyst for new housing and commercial
development and has reinforced the convention center and the Gaslamp
Quarter. Yet downtown revitalization led to the loss of older transient
In the mid-1980s, the city developed a single resident occupancy
program (SRO) that resulted in building the first new SRO in San Diego in
75 years and in the United States in 60 years. The program required an
ordinance; but, the more difficult aspect was overcoming preconceived
ideas of what SRO's were, how they functioned, and how to make them
function better. The city won an Innovations Award from the Ford
Foundation for this effort.
En route to the '90s
The 1990s brought a shift to planning in San Diego. A downturn in the
economy slowed development activity to a snail's pace. Many of the
regulatory schemes developed in the 1980s to slow growth were questioned.
In fact, the role of planning itself was questioned because of the
over-emphasis on regulation not within the context of an overall vision or
The city has come to understand that San Diego and the city of Tijuana
are part of the same region. Efforts to work together have been
undertaken but have never- until now-taken hold. In the late 1960s, a
joint planning effort was funded by the federal government. However,
because the U. S. government feared that any document that included
recommendations for both countries would be an infringement on the
sovereign rights of each country, the joint effort did not go further than
the initial stages.
After the publication of Temporary Paradise?, various efforts
for transborder planning occurred but they, too, did not take hold because
there was no official sponsorship. In 1993, Mayor Susan Golding and the
mayor of Tijuana, Jamie Hector Osuna, signed a binational agreement to
work together on joint issues of land use and transportation, public
safety, the environment, and economic development. The agreement has
forged strong working arrangements between the two cities.
In 1994, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Temporary
Paradise?, C-3 kicked off a program, Toward Permanent Paradise, to
reacquaint the community with Temporary Paradise? Neil Morgan,
former senior editor and columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune,
wrote in his introduction to the C-3 effort:
"San Diegans have trouble agreeing on what we want the region to become
because we can't agree on what it is now. So many issues span the region-
environment, social, transportation, business-that it is hard to solve
problems without regional consensus.
"San Diego county suffers from decades of incremental decisions. No
issue ever goes away. To make plans, we rarely look beyond a year or two,
which in planning is a minute.
"We talk a lot about the imperative for leadership and reform but not
much happens. Even civic fear and dread no longer produce old-time
consensus. It's everybody for themselves (sic). There has been much talk
of vision, so many panels and task forces and master plans that were soon
forgotten that we have grown wary of depending on them to fix things.
"San Diego needs audacity. Too few of us devote personal energy to our
communities and make individual sacrifices for the good of the community.
If we're going to stay, we must wake up and get serious."
In the late 1990s, planning returned as a formal function to San
Diego. Community pressure and a recognition of the enormous changes
facing the region caused the initiation of a number of comprehensive
SANDAG began a regional comprehensive plan process and, together with
MTDB, created the TransitFirst plan, an initiative to make transit
everyone's first choice for travel. The county of San Diego began a
comprehensive general plan revision. The city of San Diego initiated its
City of Villages General Plan Update and the city of Chula Vista also
began an update of its general plan. Discussions are currently underway
about the best way to establish a regional governance model to tie it all