Peace east of Eastlake



One of my primary needs — along with sleep, food, shelter, and the Sunday Los Angeles Times — is quiet. Absolute, undisturbed quiet, preferably outdoors, with a great view. And in a world of boom boxes, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets just about everywhere, it's damn hard to find.

Sharp Chula Vista stands on a hill off Telegraph Canyon Road six miles east of my old apartment. When I first moved here in 1988, I found myself going to a doctor whose office was directly across the street from the hospital, at the end of a cul-de-sac called Medical Center Court. And I was surprised to discover that the views from the doctor's parking lot, looking south and west, were spectacular — flower fields, native xeriscape, canyons, the bay, the ocean, even Tijuana. (In my home state of Michigan, there are no hills, and thus we had nothing resembling a view.) And after 5:00 p.m., except for the occasional ambulance, it was gloriously quiet.

At that time, the hospital and medical office building sat alone on the hill. No more. A series of housing developments now surround the hospital. Medical Center Drive and Palomar Street have been extended. Schools, shopping centers, and gas stations have followed. The view from my doctor's parking lot is blocked by the unattractive spires of a townhome complex, though I can spot the McDonald's and Starbucks logos on the shopping center nearby. It's called "The Plaza at Sunbow," an upscale name for an ordinary strip mall.

All right, then, if I can't find peace at the hospital, I'll head east. Seven miles farther east, the Olympic Training Center stands near the shores of Lower Otay Lake, in the easternmost extension of Chula Vista. For years now I've driven out here, braving the twisty two-lane drive on Wueste Road, its sign blocked by foliage, to reach the center and its Olympic Path. From the path, which sits on a ridge well above the athletic venues, I can get my exercise and watch future medalists in action. It's astonishingly quiet, with few visitors during the week, even during the games in Athens. The lake is visible from the path, surrounded by purple-gold mountains and fields.

Despite snide remarks from some of the Olympic athletes and coaches — 2000 Olympic rowing coach Mike Teti told ESPN, "You think Harvard and Princeton grads want to live in Chula Vista?" — the center is still there, serene and unspoiled, the dominant sound the flapping of several dozen flags in the air around the plaza. The Olympic Path is a mile long, stretching from the plaza and visitor center to a beautiful desert garden; it's even been designated a nonsmoking area, unusual for an outdoor venue, ever since the fires of October 2003, which got awfully close.

But, to quote Bambi's mother, "Man has entered the forest."

It was inevitable that there would be development. The Olympic Training Center sits on land donated by Eastlake, the sprawling development to its immediate west. Every time I pass through Eastlake, there are new streets, new traffic lights, more shopping centers, and more people. If Route 125 ever gets extended south to Chula Vista, even more people will come, and we'll probably have to change the name of Chula Vista to "West Eastlake."

Olympic Parkway (an extension of Orange Avenue in "old" Chula Vista) zips me out to the center in 15 minutes, through as yet undeveloped fields, past a new high school campus that looks suspiciously like a shopping mall. From the plaza in front of the Olympic Training Center I can see homes now, lots of them, in the standard earth tones, identical boxes with tiny windows carefully arranged on hastily paved streets. The empty fields that surrounded the center are gone, Wueste Road is being straightened and widened, the hills are being leveled, and I can just about see the new Wal-Mart on Eastlake Parkway. As I leave the center, I can see a sign across the street: "Retail Space Now Leasing."

No doubt the developers will get closer and closer to Lower Otay Lake and the Olympic Training Center with homes, schools, malls, and roads. It may even be a pleasant place to live — a fine place to raise a family.

But where the hell will we go for quiet?

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