San Diego's most wretched neighborhood

North to Mira Mesa

“I think residents of Mira Mesa have something to be proud of."
  • “I think residents of Mira Mesa have something to be proud of."
  • Image by Robert Burroughs

It is a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in April and a small crowd has gathered in the Mira Mesa shopping center mall, the hub of a community that is as far from the consciousness of most San Diegans as it is from the core of the city. The shopping center is the scene of special events on weekends all year long. At various times there are flower displays, kids’ days, judo and karate demonstrations, and auto shows. But this afternoon is special; it is “I Love Mira Mesa Day.”

Jude Leack: “It felt like there was a new neighborhood every six to nine months.”

Jude Leack: “It felt like there was a new neighborhood every six to nine months.”

About forty people sit listlessly as Gail Dinkel of KCST-TV (Channel 39), the emcee for the event, tries her best to liven up the group. She introduces Supervisor Roger Hedgecock, one of several politicians representing the area who have come to pay tribute to the community. ”I remember coming out here for the first Mira Mesa Day, when it was a desert and we had a lot of parents and kids and no services,” Hedgecock recalls. “Now when I look around Mira Mesa and see what a great place it is to live, it makes me realize why I love local government.”

Nancy Ajemian: "We don’t need macho kinds of approaches.”

Nancy Ajemian: "We don’t need macho kinds of approaches.”

The crowd is unresponsive; the only audible reaction to Hedgecock comes from a seventeen-year-old girl who complains loudly to her girlfriend, "I'm so hot."

Next up is Assemblyman Robert Frazee, who begins by saying, “I think residents of Mira Mesa have something to be proud of in celebrating I Love Mira Mesa Day.’ ” Again the teen-age girl says loudly, to anyone who will listen, “I’m so hot.” Frazee talks about the housing shortage in the state and tells his audience, “Mira Mesa is a sign of real hope for our people in California. We need to have more Mira Mesas.”

Two-bedroom homes sold for as little as $14,900.

Two-bedroom homes sold for as little as $14,900.

Of course, there will never be another Mira Mesa, and there are plenty of people who would disagree with Frazee that the place represents a sign of hope; that is, unless the hope is that it won’t happen ever again.

Mira Mesa’s problem is not just that there isn’t much for its kids to do....

Mira Mesa’s problem is not just that there isn’t much for its kids to do....

The panoramic view of this community from Interstate 15 suggests a mirage. After miles of nothing but mustard fields and dense chaparral, there suddenly appears a mass of hundreds — or is it thousands? — of brown rooftops, each one identical to its neighbor. It is an incongruous vision, a blemish of sorts.

To drive the streets of Mira Mesa for any length of time is to understand fully the meaning of the word monotony. About the only variation in the houses is their height — some are one story and some are two stories. All of them come in earthen tones with dull white faces and brown-shingled roofs. There is a surreal quality to these houses. Could they actually be movie props with nothing behind the facades? They are lined up like dominos along flat, straight, long roads. Up one and down another — each street looks the same as the last one. Drive them for more than twenty minutes and you will swear you are an unwitting participant in some huge maze experiment.

The streets extend out onto the land like vast tentacles which each year grow longer and gather up more and more earth. At their western terminus, though, the community stops abruptly; beyond that edge lies a great frontier. As far as the eye can see there stretch flatlands and gullies blanketed with sagebrush and weeds. The only sign of civilization on the horizon is a string of telephone wires running north to south. Mira Mesa is an island. And for some it is the realization of the American Dream: middle-class homes in suburbia — surely the last community that will be so built in San Diego — with two cars in nearly every driveway.

There seem to be no deviant neighbors here, no flamingo pink or azalea blue houses. Every yard features the same assortment of vertical Australian pines and hedges of English boxwood. There are no overgrowths of banana trees and climbing ferns, no winding, hidden pathways, no spontaneous or whimsical flourishes — only neat hedgerows and concrete arrows pointing to front doors. Nor is there rubbish in the gutters or junker cars reposing garishly in driveways with greasy parts strewn about. Mira Mesans are seemingly as homogeneous as the houses they inhabit.

The lack of imagination that went into designing the homes in Mira Mesa — particularly those built by Pardee Construction Company, the single largest developer of homes there — gained notoriety as early as 1970, one year after construction began. when Time magazine ran a photo of a typical Mira Mesa street of Pardee homes to illustrate a story entitled “Housing: The Swing Back to Ticky Tacky.” The article explained that many builders around the nation were cutting corners in the construction of their houses because the soaring costs of labor, land, materials, and mortgage money were making it impossible for many buyers to afford larger, more expensive homes. The Time story quoted Pardee vice president Vance Meyer, who said of one of his two-bedroom models in Mira Mesa. “It’s liveable, but it’s more of a shelter house than anything else.” San Diego’s assistant city planning director, Ken Klein, recalls that the Pardee homes were like “six-cylinder cars with no options.”

Ticky Tacky houses in sprawling tracts lend themselves to the inevitable jokes about coming home at night to the wrong house. Judy Clark, who has lived in Mira Mesa for one and a half years, actually did come home to the wrong house. “We had just moved in,” she recalls, “and I was driving home at night and I couldn’t find my house. I thought I was on the wrong street, but I wasn’t. What I finally ended up doing is putting a white fence in the front so I could recognize it. It just looked like every other house.”

Ask city planners their opinion of Mira Mesa’s aesthetics and they wince noticeably. Gordon Wilson is the planner who works with the Mira Mesa community planning group. He says of Pardee, “They’ve been very astute at recognizing where the demand is and supplying it.” But he added. “You can provide housing for that income bracket and do it more aesthetically.” Wilson speculates Pardee built so few models because “they had a good thing going — they were selling like mad and why not keep doing it? They could crank them out like a cookie cutter. ” Pardee’s Mike Madigan, a former aide to Mayor Pete Wilson who now oversees most of Pardee’s San Diego operations, says the homes were simply “an attempt to build an affordable house and meet the market demand.” He admitted Pardee could have offered greater variety and built more models, but to do so would have increased the cost of the homes. City planning director Jack Van Cleave adds that part of the problem is the terrain itself. “There is nothing to break up the flatness of the area,” he says. “I have concluded in my own mind that what is needed out there is some architecturally identifying features. Ideally you get this through height.” The height Van Cleave desires seemed to be imminent when the city approved the plans in 1978 of evangelist Morris Cerullo for a multimillion-dollar, multipurpose, and multistoried religious complex to be built in Mira Mesa. But the project has never materialized and the community remains devoid of any structures more than two stories high.

But for young couples looking to buy their first home and raise a family in the early Seventies, Mira Mesa did indeed represent the American Dream, a house in suburbia with a garage and front and back yards for gardening and barbecuing and living the Southern California lifestyle as portrayed in Sunset magazine. And buying into the dream was not an impossibility a decade ago; two-bedroom homes sold for as little as $14,900. For those early Mira Mesans, though, the dream must have often seemed like a nightmare. In its brief history, the development has been beset with so many problems that it has served as a model for San Diego city officials on how not to build future communities. “The joke at that time was to call it Mira Mess-a,“ says Ken Klein.

Mira Mesa was embroiled in controversy as early as 1970, when then-Councilman Bob Martinet, along with other members of the city council, voted to adopt an ordinance rezoning the land from agricultural to manufacturing use. Martinet and some private business partners had owned twenty-eight acres there, which they sold before the council vote to Fed-Mart for about $560,000. Suspicions arose that the Pacific Beach councilman was able to tip off FedMart to the impending change in zoning and thus demand an inflated sum for the land. After his vote, Martinet said he hadn’t realized his property was to be included in the rezoning. City Attorney John Witt later ruled that Martinet had not been guilty of a conflict of interest.

Mira Mesa was and still is a community of families; the area has in some years had the highest birth rate in the city. A special census taken in 1975 found that nearly half the population was eighteen years old or younger. The average household size is 3.28 or 3.8 persons, depending on whose figures one uses, as compared to the city wide average of 2.52 persons. A community with all those kids would, of course, require adequate schools and parks. The lack of them was to be the biggest complaint of residents and was to give a migraine headache to the city for many years to come.

Unfortunately for the people who moved to Mira Mesa in its early years, it was built at a time when San Diegans were consistently rejecting municipal bond issues that would finance new schools and parks. In fact, by 1968, one year before residential development began in Mira Mesa, there was no more city money with which to build schools, and the school district hadn’t passed a bond election since 1966. It would be many more years before another bond election would win voters’ approval. The first community plan for the area, written in 1965, specified how many schools, libraries, parks, fire stations, and other city facilities would be needed, but did not mention how they might be financed or how they might keep pace with the community’s growth.

That growth was far greater than city planners ever dreamed it would be, though they should have had an inkling of its magnitude when Pardee Construction Company reportedly sold its first 109 houses before they were even built. City planning director Van Cleave says the city believed Mira Mesa would grow at a gradual rate, but when the Federal Housing Administration lifted a loan moratorium soon after construction in the fledgling community started, “development took off like a rocket.” Mira Mesa’s population in 1970 was estimated at 600. The next three years it zoomed to 3200, 10,800, and 16,900 respectively. (Currently it is more than 37,000 and by 1995 will be at least 70,000.)

With the rapid growth came what Jim Clapp, SDSU professor of public administration and urban studies, calls a “crisis of expectations” among the home buyers, who were discovering that the community didn't have enough schools, parks, fire and police protection, and other city services they depended upon. The city and the school district established policies in 1970 and 1971 that required developers either to pay a dollar amount to the city for each elementary school pupil in their tracts or to provide school facilities for the children. The developers frequently opted for the latter, and for many years children in kindergarten through sixth grade attended classes in temporary portable facilities or in houses converted for classroom use. The youngsters had it better than the junior and senior high school students, however. In all cases the latter were forced to attend schools in Clairemont or Kearny Mesa. And since the school district provided no bus service and San Diego Transit had no routes to Mira Mesa until 1972, parents were forced to drive their children the ten to fourteen miles at their own expense. The junior and senior high students had to forgo extracurricular activities unless they had a parent willing to make the lengthy drive to pick them up at irregular hours.

Mira Mesa residents lost patience, and early in 1972 they began calling for a building moratorium in their new community until essential services could catch up to the population. George Pardee protested that a building moratorium would put his company out of business in Mira Mesa. Pardee owned fifteen percent of the land and had built more than fifty percent of the community’s houses at this time. In 1971 alone he sold more than 1000 houses in Mira Mesa, a quarter of them to military families.

The issue grew more volatile when the city council convened three times in 1972 to consider establishing a two-year building moratorium. At one of the meetings, some 3000 sign-carrying construction workers listened over a public address system in the Community Concourse to the proceedings. They contended that a building moratorium in Mira Mesa would result in 2700 on-site workers losing their jobs.

The council finally voted not to halt building in Mira Mesa, but instead to adopt a formal policy that permitted growth in phased steps in undeveloped areas only after a thorough cost-benefit analysis. The policy stated that environmental impact studies would be required on all areas under consideration for development or redevelopment, and along with the earlier policy requiring compensation or the construction of school facilities for elementary school students, its effect was to force developers to provide many of the services formerly financed by the city. New communities, therefore, had to become more self-sufficient, which increased the developers’ costs, which in turn were added on to the price of their homes.

The new council policy slowed growth in the city, but did not solve Mira Mesa’s school problems caused by earlier uncontrolled growth. In 1972 another school bond issue was rejected by San Diegans, so that even though there were two junior high school sites and one senior high school site selected in Mira Mesa, there was no money to build on them. A school district official estimated there were 921 secondary students in Mira Mesa that year — all attending schools outside the community. And elementary school pupils were still housed in six temporary facilities, most of which were on double sessions to alleviate overcrowding. Angry Mira Mcsans, led by a resident named Phil Henry, presented to school officials a petition bearing 2500 names favoring de-annexation from the San Diego Unified School District. The petitioners hoped to establish a Mira Mesa School District, but ten months later the state board of education turned down the request.

In June of 1974, San Diego voters defeated Proposition Z, a $92 million bond issue that would have provided about $30 million for school construction in Mira Mesa. Approximately 300 frustrated Mira Mesans then met, with Phil Henry again at the forefront, and voted in favor of another attempt at de-annexation from their school district. However, Henry soon resigned as chairman of Mira Mesans for Schools after he came under fire for soliciting donations from several developers and large land owners in Mira Mesa to aid him in the de-annexation drive. Leonard Frank of Pardee said Henry asked his company for $10,000, and spokesmen for at least three other firms reported being approached by Henry for money. All said they gave none.

De-annexation became a moot issue in November 1974, when voters changed their minds and approved Proposition XX, which provided funds for the construction of twenty-two new schools, including five elementary schools and one combination junior-senior high school in Mira Mesa. In the next two years the schools were built, with a junior high school added later. Today Mira Mesa has five elementary schools, one junior high, and one senior high school, which includes grades nine through twelve.

The lack of schools was probably Mira Mesa’s most critical problem in the early Seventies, but certainly not its only one. For example, for at least the first five years of its existence, Mira Mesa had only one road, Mira Mesa Boulevard, going into and out of the community. The rush-hour traffic congestion at the Mira Mesa offramp of I-15 was legendary.

Commercial establishments were slow to appear, making it necessary for residents to drive to Clairemont or elsewhere for many items they needed. Recalls nine-year resident Mike Blechynden, “If you wanted a Coke, you went to Poway.” Denise Stewart, a resident of Mira Mesa since 1971 and the former owner of a local newspaper there, says it was several years before Handyman opened in Mira Mesa. In the interval, she says, residents had to drive to FedMart in Clairemont Mesa to buy curtain rods, screws, gardening tools, and the countless items a family moving into a new house discovers it must have. Similarly, it was 1974, five years after residential development began in Mira Mesa, before the community had its first department store — Walker Scott.

For many years the community had but one church. Good Shepherd Catholic Church. Other denominations met (some still do) at nearby Miramar College. Early fire protection was headquartered in a converted house. Response time was as much as fifteen minutes on some calls. (The maximum approved by the American Insurance Association is four minutes.) Presently there is a temporary station serving Mira Mesa and the small nearby community of Scripps Ranch. According to the latest community plan for the area, fifty-four percent of the fire zones in Mira Mesa and eighty-one percent of the Scripps Ranch zones are not covered in the required response time by the present station. A permanent facility is planned in the future at a location in the heart of the community. Police protection has also been a common complaint as the area has grown. Generally there are only two officers patrolling the entire community, with backup help in Scripps Ranch, Rancho Bemardo, and Rancho Penasquitos. The community plan recommends another police beat be added and suggests that eventually a substation be added.

It wasn’t until 1975 that Mira Mesa received its first social service agency, Harmonium, Inc. Primarily involved in counseling juveniles, it remains the only such agency in Mira Mesa today, with the exception of a group serving the community’s Filipino population. But even more startling in a community where children are as prevalent as the brown-shingled roofs is the fact that the initial construction of the community’s only recreation center was not completed until 1977, eight years after the houses were built. Mira Mesa’s only library didn’t open until the same year.

Who lives in Mira Mesa? The special census taken in 1975 concluded that eighty-three percent of household heads earned at least $10,000, compared to fifty-three percent city wide. The senior-citizen population was a mere 2.6 percent, compared to a city wide ratio of 17.66 percent. More than eighty-six percent of Mira Mesans were white. Blacks and Latinos appeared in significantly lower proportions than the city as a whole, but Filipinos, at 4.59 percent of the population, represented almost four times as great a ratio in the community as they did citywide. Rose Deleon, a social worker with Operation Samahan, the Filipino social service agency in Mira Mesa, said she believes the percentage of Filipinos in the community has probably doubled since the special census was conducted. Deleon attributed the substantial Filipino population to the nearby naval air station, where many Filipinos are on active duty, and to the fact that many Filipinos bring their relatives here. The special census also found that twenty percent of all household heads were in the military, and that single-family units made up ninety-six percent of the housing units, compared to fifty-eight percent citywide. In short, Filipinos notwithstanding, Mira Mesa was and still is primarily a community of young, white, middle-class families.

On Saturday afternoons, one of the busiest places in Mira Mesa is the youth fields west of Miramar College. There are not nearly enough fields in Mira Mesa, and these off Black Mountain Road are the property of the college. They are scraggily and uninviting, carved out of a rugged expanse of scrub and weeds, the antithesis of Mira Mesa’s new homes with their neat yards and symmetrical, smooth streets. Today, like every Saturday, all the fields are in use. On one is a game between two girls’ softball teams. The field has no grass, and the dirt is so dry that when the players run, little puffs of dust kick up around their feet. On each baseline are two wobbly wooden dugouts. dingy white paint peeling off, with holes broken through the backs of them. Chunks of broken glass, scraps of paper cups, and cigarette butts litter the areas behind the first-base dug-out. A handful of parents watch the game from the wooden bleachers behind home plate.

To the north, on the other side of an asphalt patch that serves as the police academy’s driving course, is a cluster of about six more fields, where Little League, Pony League, and Pee Wee League teams are doing battle. A rock-strewn, dusty path with many dips and bumps connects the two areas. Two Little League teams are playing on one of the fields, which is composed of equal parts hard dirt and stubby weeds. A scorer’s box perches behind home plate, a fist-sized hole in its rear. There are no bleachers, so parents and friends of the players sit on their team’s side of the field in folding beach chairs. The infield is hard and the outfield has sprouted weeds several inches high in some places. Most of the other fields are in similar poor shape.

The shortage of playing fields and their ragged condition is only one of several youth-related problems facing the community. Even though several schools have been built in recent years, two of Mira Mesa’s elementary schools have among the four largest school enrollments in the San Diego Unified School District. It’s hardly an encouraging sign that Mira Mesa led the city in initial entrants into kindergarten during the 1977-78 school year. There still are not enough parks in the area, and some that exist are rather spartan in appearance. The entire community is served by only one recreation center, which understandably is badly overused. The center’s director, John Walter, says there arc only twelve to fourteen hours a week of open gym time. The rest of the time is devoted to organized classes and group activities. The facility also has been plagued by groups of older kids whom residents, police, and Walter identify as troublemakers. That particular problem, however, is now confined mainly to weekends.

The only public tennis courts in Mira Mesa are located at Miramar College and Mira Mesa High School. There is no YMCA, no Boys Club. The community’s library, like its recreation center, is only three years old, and like the center, it is already experiencing problems keeping up with the demands for its services. It has the highest circulation of books of any San Diego branch library, according to Ellen Calahan, branch librarian. The turnover of children’s books is “remarkably higher than anywhere else,” and the Mira Mesa branch needs a full-time children’s librarian, Calahan says.

The concern for attention to all the young people was reflected in a community survey undertaken by Harmonium in 1977 and 1978. It found that residents felt the biggest needs for the community were more parks and recreation facilities, more youth counseling, and more child-care centers. Harmonium’s Jude Leack claims Mira Mesa’s problem is not just that there isn’t much for its kids to do, but also that because in so many households both parents work, young people are often left unsupervised. The result, he says, is a large number of truancies and daytime burglaries committed by juveniles.

It’s difficult to determine precisely how much juvenile crime there is in Mira Mesa because the community’s crime statistics are lumped together with those of Scripps Ranch, Rancho Bernardo, and Rancho Penasquitos. But figures compiled by the special census in 1975 revealed a fairly low, though rapidly increasing, crime rate. Juvenile detective Scotty Cowan agrees with Leack that most of the burglaries are in late morning and early afternoon, and he says of those committed by teen-agers, “I would blame parental control for ninety-nine percent of them.”

Leack and Harmonium’s executive director, Nancy Ajemian, are critical of the police department’s relationship with Mira Mesa youths. Leack accuses cops of resorting to a selective enforcement policy when dealing with juveniles. “Some people have called it a selective harassment policy,” he says. Sometimes, Leack claims, police use “very poor judgment” and detain teen-agers by using “strong-arm tactics.” Adds Ajemian, “They tend to pick out the black youngsters. We don’t need macho kinds of approaches.”

The police, as might be expected, deny the accusations. One beat cop says he has “too many big things” to cope with to be harassing kids. Juvenile detective Bud Pry says, “Some of the people at Harmonium aren’t aware of what’s going on out there except what they hear from the kids.” Leack contends that police publicly admitted at a community forum four months ago that they have a selective enforcement policy whereby they hold certain youths and question them. There is a fine line between crime prevention and selective harassment in such a policy, and he thinks police sometimes cross that line. Leack offers an ironic anecdote to point up the tensions between police and teen-agers, especially black teen-agers. About two weeks ago police and fifteen to twenty teen-agers, mostly blacks, met to air their thoughts. A sergeant who was present had to leave the meeting quickly — it seems he had to assist in the arrest of a couple of kids suspected of an armed robbery nearby. Leack says the sergeant then returned to the assemblage, but so too did a group of friends of the suspects just arrested, who claimed they witnessed the bust and that the police had unnecessarily used a nightstick on one of their friends. “It was quite a heated session,” Leack says.

It’s Friday night in Mira Mesa, but like every other Friday night, there aren’t many possibilities for a restless teen-ager without a car. There’s not much going on at the fourplex movie theater, and only a handful of kids are gathered outside the Mira Mesa Bowl. A little further away, at the north end of the community, is Supercade, a modest pinball parlor tucked in between a lounge called the Mira Mesa Inn and a beauty salon. There is usually activity here. A sign at Supercade’s entrance reads: “WARNING! Because of complaints by neighbors to our landlord the S.D.P.D. are leaning hard on Supercade to try and close us down for good. So it’s inside or gone! Anyone 'hanging around’ is gone for good.”

Owner Jay Malolie says Supercade has been in business for a year. Many residents in the area think the kids loitering outside the arcade are a nuisance, he claims. “They drink, they smoke,” he says matter-of-factly about the kids. “We just keep them from doing it in here or around here.”

Inside, pinball machines line each wall of Supercade, with an air hockey or foos-ball game or pool table placed in the center. A wooden table and benches near the rear of the game room are available for those who aren’t playing. Scratched in the table is a sampling of youthful grafitti: “Snort cocaine,” “No, shoot it,” “Killer buds,” “Do bongs,” “Stay high forever.” The faces on the fifteen to twenty kids at Supercade on this night range from intense concentration on the pinball games they are playing, to sullenness or a languid indifference. Fourteen-year-old Kathy Nelson sits on the grafitti-marked table and stares across the room. “Here you really don’t have anything to do but play pinball and talk,” she pouts. “And he’s [Malolie] always pressuring you to spend money.” Because she is too young to drive, Kathy says Supercade is the only place to go for kids like her living in northern Mira Mesa.

Leack and Ajemian warn that there is another problem simmering in Mira Mesa among young and old alike — racism. “I think the challenge in the community is going to be how to get along,” says Leack. “Many, many Filipinos are coming to San Diego now as a result of the political situation over there.” A significant number of them have settled with relatives in Mira Mesa, creating, according to Leack, “anger and outrage” among some of the community’s Anglos, who complain the Filipinos don’t mingle with the rest of the residents. “There’s a lot of rednecking — real nasty stuff,” he says. Samahun’s Rose Deleon agrees the Filipinos are somewhat clannish, but that’s because many of them are unfamiliar with the food, language, and customs of the United States. She says they arc subjected to name-calling not only by Anglos (‘They take it seriously, even if it’s a joke”), but also by each other. New arrivals from the Philippines are derisively called “fresh off the boat” by long-time Filipino residents of the community. And something new recently has been added to the lexicon of descriptive phrases in the area — Manila Mesa.

Racism also is a problem among students, according to many persons. Says Deleon, “In the schools, there are a lot of tensions, especially in the high school.” The problem isn’t confined to just Filipinos and whites, either. Leack mentions an incident in the past year in which a gathering of about fifty black and white youths fought outside the area’s movie theater — some with baseball bats — and were “divided distinctly along color lines.” Leack claims there are now one or two places where kids meet “to have it out. They are pretty well designated sites, if not actual battlegrounds,” he says.

Leack complains that he has tried to organize crime-watch programs in various neighborhoods, but the transiency of Mira Mesa’s population — due in part to the number of military families and in part to the tendency of upwardly mobile young couples to move out when they can afford to — has frustrated his efforts. “It felt like there was a new neighborhood every six to nine months.”

Nancy Ajemian, Leack’s colleague at Harmonium, counters that not everyone is in the military and not everybody expects to move elsewhere. Among some veteran residents — those who moved to the area in its infancy and struggled to obtain adequate schools, roads, and other facilities, and who have seen many of their efforts come to fruition — there is a genuine sense of pride in calling Mira Mesa home. “There is a group here,” she says, “who literally love Mira Mesa, with the canyons, the brush, and mesas. They just sort of quiver when they talk about it. ” For every booster, however, there is a detractor. People who have never set foot in Mira Mesa seem to have an opinion — usually negative — or a remark — usually sarcastic — ready at hand. They have seen the place from a car window while traveling Interstate 15, and that'sail they need to know. If Mira Mesa has a controversial, soiled reputation, who is to blame? A former city planner, who desires anonymity, points to “stupid” families who were foolish enough to buy homes in an area where there were no services. San Diego State professor Jim Clapp points to city planners and the city council that endorsed their recommendations. They should have anticipated the problems that were sure to follow. “There's been a long history of lax land control in this city,” Clapp says. The reason, he believes, is that wealth calls the shots, “and in Southern California, that’s real estate. I think it’s translated itself into political power. ” The current planners — Gordon Wilson, Ken Klein, and their boss. Jack Van Cleave — point to a naive and pro-growth council. “I think everyone felt the bigger the population, the better you would be,” says Klein. Van Cleave recalls that when construction began in Mira Mesa, the city had not yet even adopted a general plan. The Pardee company was allowed to proceed because of “a whole series of events, of policies, and lack of policies.” Pardee’s Madigan? “The problem wasn’t with the developers. They were doing what they were asked to.”

Even if it weren’t for the economic constraints against building another development like Mira Mesa — large numbers of inexpensive single-family dwellings — it’s unlikely that such a project would ever be approved now. “Something good came out of Mira Mesa,” says Van Cleave. “It changed the priorities of the city, the school board, and everyone’s way of thinking.” Wilson concurs. “You might say we’ve learned our lesson. It’s been difficult for us and difficult for the community. But Mira Mesa now isn’t really so bad off — not like it once was.”

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