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The Northern Reaches


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the beachSHELLEY HAYES CARON lives in the historic Marron adobe near Route 78 and College Boulevard. It’s been in her family since the mid-1800s. Her great-grandfather, John Chauncey Hayes, was a prominent judge and local newspaper publisher. He recognized the lure of Oceanside and advertised railroad excursions to bring potential investors to the city. It was Hayes who petitioned for the first “Ocean Side” post office. And the Hayes family later donated 1 mile of beach south of the Oceanside Pier, as well as land for the South Oceanside School and a Methodist Episcopalian church. One wonders how Judge Hayes would feel about his great-granddaughter’s fight the last few years to protect the adobe from the impact of a planned freeway interchange.

While Caron ultimately prevailed, the debate highlights what has become a contentious battle between accommodating growth and preserving the culture and habitat of North County.

The arrival of the train in the 1880s brought European and American settlers to northern San Diego County and led to the incorporation of Oceanside and Escondido in 1888. Small agricultural communities sprouted up throughout the region, raising crops of citrus, avocadoes, beans, tomatoes and flowers. Del Mar made a name for itself as a tourist destination. The Santa Fe Railroad promoted its development, Rancho Santa Fe, to Hollywood celebrities and Los Angeles executives who were interested in becoming gentlemen farmers.

For much of the 20th century, these unincorporated towns were treated like the red-headed stepchild of the county of San Diego, which was happy to collect taxes but reluctant to offer any financial benefit in return. Finally, in 1952, Carlsbad incorporated, after an unsuccessful attempt by Oceanside at annexation. Del Mar followed suit in 1959. San Marcos and Vista in 1963. Poway in 1980. And in 1986, Encinitas and Solana Beach.

After Interstate 5 opened in the mid-1960s, there was a huge appeal to move to North County and enjoy its leisurely rural lifestyle. The commute to San Diego via the new superhighway was carefree. Crime was not an issue. The biggest fear was that the developers who had transformed Orange County into urban sprawl would soon turn their sights southward to northern San Diego County.

As more people began discovering North County, many cities started on a path to develop anchored employment in their communities to ease traffic congestion and create a tax base to pay for infrastructure and services. Towns such as Carlsbad, Vista, Rancho Bernardo and Poway thrived, while others, like Oceanside, languished. Each remained relatively isolated, content to deal with issues internally. It was the issue of unbridled development, coupled with traffic congestion, that finally brought these cities to the table in 2002, when the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) board of directors called for the preparation of a Regional Comprehensive Plan (RCP).

In subsequent months, Poway Mayor Mickey Cafagna, chair of SANDAG, and Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, chair of its regional planning committee, navigated the region through the laborious process of developing a sweeping plan to balance the county’s growth with the fast depletion of developable land. Finally, in 2004, the RCP was released.

“This was the first time in the U.S. that all cities in a county got together and agreed on a growth concept plan,” says Cafagna. “Most cities don’t want growth of any kind. It’s hard to put those cities together, but we were able to do it.”

At the heart of the program was a philosophy of “smart growth,” which translated into building mixed-use urban centers—stores and restaurants on the first floor with offices and housing above —near transportation corridors. The higher, four- to six-story buildings riled some elected officials in coastal communities who felt the design compromised the charm of their towns. The RCP was tied to a regional transportation plan developed by the SANDAG transportation committee, chaired at that time by Solana Beach Councilman Joe Kellejian. He had previously served as chair of the North County Transit District. Kellejian dubbed the plan “Extreme Makeover: Transportation Edition.”

Much of North County’s economic success has been driven by tourism, under the skillful direction of Cami Mattson, director of the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau. For 21 years, she has diligently worked to brand the region as an area for upscale resorts on par with Laguna Beach and Santa Barbara. She has introduced the term “San Diego North” with the hope of converting everyone from saying “North County,” in order to link the region to the rest of the county. “It makes more sense to be connected than fragmented,” Mattson says. “San Diego North is like Tuscany to Rome.”

Today, few can dispute the economic success North County has experienced, with a strong tax base that has underwritten the high quality of life. But at what cost?

Those declaring NIMBY—not in my back yard—have emerged as the conscience of growth. They have raised environmental questions about the Gregory Landfill in Fallbrook, a gravel mine in Rainbow that would be used to feed the thirst for roads and foundations, the mega-power lines planned for Ramona and Rancho Peñasquitos.

“I’m one of the few people who like NIMBYs,” says San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins. “They force local government and the media to do a better job. North County is an incubator for them.”

One high-profile NIMBY is Diane Nygaard. In 1998, she and her husband found a house on Ocean Terrace Spinnaker Ridge in Oceanside with a breathtaking view of Mount Calavera. Before putting in an offer, Nygaard inquired with the cities of Oceanside and Carlsbad to see if there were plans that might spoil the panoramic view.

“I was told thousands of acres would never be touched,” she says. “Six months later, bulldozers appeared.”

Nygaard parlayed the experience into a passion. In 2001, she founded Preserve Calavera, with the mission of protecting wildlife corridors and to establish funding to buy more open land. Her acquisition late last year of a 134-acre area in the Buena Vista Creek watershed, south of Highway 78 and west of College Boulevard, helped protect the Marron adobe. Nygaard was able to accomplish this in partnership with Preserve Calavera and San Francisco–based The Trust for Public Land. She says more money is going to be available for future purchases.

“Previously, national trusts haven’t been interested in buying land in North County because it’s been too expensive,” says Nygaard. “Now they’re starting to come because there are more endangered plants and animals here than anywhere else in the U.S. They can’t protect the species unless they can protect the land underneath them.”


Last year marked the departure of two prominent North County politicians. Racist Tom Metzger, unsuccessful Democrat congressional candidate in 1980 and founder of the White Aryan Resistance, finally pulled up stakes in Fallbrook and returned to his native home in Indiana. And 50th Congressional District Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (a.k.a. federal inmate 94405-198) departed his home in Rancho Santa Fe, after admitting he took more than $2.4 million in bribes from federal contractors. Republican Brian Bilbray won a special election in June for Cunningham’s seat, and then was reelected for a two-year term in November on a platform of cracking down on illegal immigration.

Like Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network, many North County residents are shouting, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” The maddening issues are interchangeable: growth, illegal immigration and gang violence.

A week before Christmas, Gemway Jewelers in the Weigand Plaza Shopping Center on El Camino Real in Encinitas was having a going-out-of-business sale. One shopper asked an employee the reason. The clerk replied, “Our landlord doubled our rent to $75,000 a year. They don’t care if we’re moving. They want to redevelop the shopping center and put shops on the first floor and apartments above. It’s all the Encinitas City Council’s fault.”

Politicians are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, trying to please their constituents and a higher power.

“All cities are being driven by state mandates for additional housing,” says new Encinitas Councilwoman Teresa Barth. “The El Camino corridor is the next place for mixed use. Many developers are going that way.”

Last November, Barth joined Maggie Houlihan as the newest pro-environment member of the council.

“The pressure to develop and redevelop is huge,” Houlihan says. “People are salivating to tear down and rebuild Leucadia. Without the original beach cottages, the houses on Third Street that are built in the shape of boats and the Self-Realization Fellowship, Encinitas would cease to exist.” The councilmember says there’s even been discussion on exploring the possibility of developing on protected habitats.

The drive to strengthen city coffers by inviting new business has resulted in communities such as Carlsbad and Encinitas stepping on each other’s toes.

“Today, each municipality robs from the other,” Barth says. “We’ve seen it here in Encinitas Ranch, where the income is flat because of the Forum. We have Linens & Things and Barnes & Noble on our side of Leucadia Boulevard. And the Forum has Bed, Bath & Beyond and Borders on the other side.”

encinitas at nightThe impact of growth from surrounding communities has resulted in a cityhood movement in Rancho Santa Fe. Citizens to Protect the Ranch is launching a petition drive this year because of residents’ desire to slow traffic through the ranch, attain their own law enforcement and have local control over the permit process.

Cities throughout the North County region are scrambling to institute plans that are consistent with the General Plan to develop mixed-use and address the problem of affordable housing.

“Poway has a serious problem with affordable housing because land is rural and prices are high,” Mickey Cafagna says. “SANDAG predicts there are going to be another million in San Diego before 2030. It’s a difficult challenge. Sixty percent of that million is coming from within. There is a responsibility to provide housing for children—but there is also quality of life.”

Fallbrook residents are up in arms about congestion. The Fallbrook Community Planning Group is fighting plans of the “three Ps”—developers Passerelle, Pardee and Pappas—who are seeking to build at least 2,500 homes plus shopping centers, office and industrial space and an 80-acre Palomar College extension campus. The group is negotiating for 1,400 homes, the college and industrial space.

“We have no obligation to try to absorb new residents,” says group chair Jim Russell.

Jackie Emig, who bought a 2-acre avocado ranch with her husband a few years ago, agrees. “Development will ruin Fallbrook, but hopefully not in my lifetime. Do we need affordable housing?” she asks. Emig, whose son is a sheriff, is also distressed by the amount of gang activity associated with the presence of agricultural workers.

Brian Bilbray handily defeated Francine Busby largely because of the immigration issue, which played out in the national media last fall when three Escondido councilmembers proposed an ordinance to fine landlords who rented to illegals. Mayor Pfeiler was the only one who voted against it because, she said, it was for the federal government to handle. Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood agrees but plans to handle the problem in a different way.

“Many illegals are subleasing a room in a house. Sometimes there are nine or 10 cars parked outside at night,” Wood says. “It is more logical to handle it by enforcing an occupancy ordinance than to say they are illegal. The federal government needs to take care of immigration issues, not us.”

City leaders are reluctant to talk about the issue and would like to think the gang problem is worse in neighboring cities. Lieutenant Derek Clark of the North County Regional Gang Task Force in San Marcos says no one city has a monopoly.

“Gang members are becoming transient,” he says. “It’s not like the old days, when everyone was situated in one neighborhood. They have vehicles and might rent a cheaper apartment a mile away or move closer to their families to take the heat off. The problems are generally in the older, more depressed neighborhoods. New, top-dollar neighborhoods don’t have gangs. From my experience, gangs from every city are involved in long-term criminal enterprises—drugs, narcotics, firearms. These are essentially businesses we are attacking.”

County Supervisor Bill Horn is frustrated.

“We can’t seem to get our hands around it,” he says. “I tried to get the Oceanside City Council $5 million for a 10-point program for gang prevention. They view it as a racial issue and are in denial that it is a problem. Mayor Wood says, ‘What gang problem?’ I started the North County Regional Gang Task Force in 1995 and stationed it in Oceanside. The new council wanted us to leave. Now they want us to come back.”

Economy & Business

For 15 years, Ted Owen was president and publisher of the San Diego Business Journal. In April 2004, he left to become president of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.

“I had heard that all the growth is in North County,” Owen says. “Until you come up here, you have no reason to know what’s going on. Now I believe it.”

golf course in rancho santa feWhat was a few years ago primarily an agricultural economy has morphed into a hub of manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, defense, high-tech, biotech, healthcare, education, banking and finance, action sports, transportation and marketing communications. Major companies such as Genentech, Invitrogen, Ecke Poinsettias, Geico Direct, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Rubio’s Restaurants, TaylorMade Golf and Callaway Golf call North County home.

There’s so much demand that it is increasingly difficult to secure land. Only smaller plots, from 5 to 10 acres, are available.

For Gary Knight, CEO of the San Diego North Economic Development Council, the emphasis is on retention, not attracting new businesses.

“We provide resources, such as specialized training programs, venture capital and opportunity for expansion, to keep companies in North County,” Knight says. “Additional space is freed up through redevelopment.”

The SDNEDC operates a Center for Entreprenomics that fosters new business owners, with a special interest in the Hispanic community. Another priority is to deal with the problem of an aging workforce, particularly in construction trades, by encouraging students to explore job paths other than those requiring a four-year degree.

All three colleges in North County, including Palomar, have embarked on training programs designed to fulfill needs of the local workforce, such as English, customer service and special-events planning. Genentech, in Ocean Ranch, works with California State University, San Marcos and MiraCosta College in training students for its needs. CSUSM started a biotech program a couple of years ago that blends science with business.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support from people such as Joe Panetta of Biocom, Steve Mento of Conatus, Tina Nova of Genoptix and Jerry Caulder, who is a local biotech legend,” comments Dr. Al Kern, associate dean of extended studies at CSUSM. “Genentech and Invitrogen are huge supporters.

“We have a lot of smart students. We need them well-prepared, lab-ready and business-savvy. That’s the type of programs we’ve developed. That is how we, as a university, can contribute—by providing companies with well-qualified graduates.”

Chambers are forming partnerships with schools, too. This year, the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce is collaborating with the San Marcos Unified School District to produce a monthly publication called “Excellence in Education,” inserted in the chamber’s own publication, Business Buzz, which will link the chamber, the schools and the community at large.


Among its distinctions, Oceanside is said to have more chapters of the Red Hat Society than anywhere else in the United States. Last year, a group of enterprising Del Mar women who were 50-plus put their own spin on the concept by founding the Blue Thong Society—a reference to their love of surfing.

The lagoons and coastline are the pulse of the region for beachgoers, sandcastle sculptors, kayakers and, of course, surfers. Stop by VG Donuts in Cardiff on a Saturday morning and you’ll see three generations in the same family taking a break after enjoying a few sets. If there’s any problem, it’s that surfing, like traffic gridlock, has become so congested, and at times contentious, that many serious surfers opt to stay away from the beaches until dark.

Maybe it’s something in the water, but the North County coast draws world-class athletes of all kinds, including triathletes who participate in Camp Pendleton’s World Class Race Series, which offers a rare chance for civilians to experience the military’s pristine beaches. The back country provides opportunities for hiking, camping, horseback riding or touring wineries in Bonsall, Fallbrook, Pauma Valley and Escondido.

There are scores of world-class golf courses, including a new municipal course, The Crossings at Carlsbad, scheduled to open in July. Those who view shopping as a competitive sport can be found at the Forum in Carlsbad, the Cedros Design District in Solana Beach and the new Nordstrom’s Rack at the Grand Plaza in San Marcos.

Headline entertainment can be found at any time—in the local casinos, the Poway Center for Performing Arts and the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. There is also the Welk Resort in Escondido, Avo Playhouse and Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista, New Village Arts in Carlsbad, Star Theater and Sunshine Brooks Theater in Oceanside and North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

Crowds from throughout North County converge on the venerable Belly Up Tavern, one of the few clubs still in operation after more than 30 years. Part of that popularity is due to the mix of local talent with headline acts, from reggae and Latin jazz to blues and rock.

North County has an active group of seniors who keep in shape by ballroom dancing to live music performed by big bands. Since the TV program Dancing with the Stars became popular, dance instructor Mel Carrillo says he has as many people on his waiting list at Palomar College as there are students in his classes.

Locals have easy access to historical societies and educational and cultural opportunities, such as the Surf Museum, Museum of Making Music, Escondido Children’s Museum, the Art Center at Fallbrook, Mingei International Museum, Niki de Saint Phalle Sculpture Garden and the Oceanside Museum of Art, which is undergoing a $5 million expansion that will be completed later this year.


The population of North County is projected to increase from 805,568 in 2004 to 1,084,593 in 2030. That growth extends beyond new movement into the region to include the children of existing residents. Like it or not, North County will continue to see an increase in high-density housing and an accompanying increase in traffic. But there is relief. Joe Kellejian’s “Extreme Makeover: Transportation Edition” begins to come into fruition this year.

The Sprinter will move out of the station in December, running 22 miles between Escondido and Oceanside with 15 stops.

Interstate 15 will become a freeway-within-a-freeway with managed lanes, able to include a toll road for single-occupancy vehicles and bus rapid transit—some nonstop, some with stops. An 8-mile stretch of movable freeway lanes also opens this year. This will enable more southbound lanes in the morning and more northbound lanes in the evening.

Work on the I-5 and I-805 merge should be completed, offering 19 lanes across, and arterials with access lanes will take drivers from one city to the next without getting into the freeway lanes. All I-56 traffic flowing into I-5 will have a local-access option—making it possible, for example, for drivers to take a local-access lane from Del Mar to Solana Beach without getting on the freeway.

The northbound HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes that currently end at Del Mar Heights Road will extend to Lomas Santa Fe. In addition, the Lomas Santa Fe on- and off-ramps will be redesigned, and the bridge over the freeway widened.

Interstate 76 will be expanded from Melrose to Mission Road, and eventually through to I-15. Finally, Twin Oaks Valley Road will be connected behind CSUSM to open I-15 to Encinitas via Rancho Santa Fe Road and San Elijo Road.

Amid all of this construction is the emergence of the San Dieguito River Park, which will establish a permanent open-space corridor stretching over 55 miles from Volcan Mountain near Julian to the ocean between Del Mar and Solana Beach, where the lagoon is currently undergoing a three-year restoration. The park will provide a riverlong system of trails that will connect recreational and educational opportunities.

“The San Dieguito River Park is the noblest thing we’re doing up here,” says Logan Jenkins. “It’s our great adventure—something we can give to future generations. We will be known for saving rather than selling the land—we are reversing the process.”

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