Dansplaining / Safest Place to Live

Look on the bright side: The 3.55 million pounds of radioactive waste at San Onofre is being transferred to earthquake-proof vaults, and they’ve only almost dropped it once.

Note: This was written and went to press back in the happy-go-lucky days of late February, promptly receiving the World's Most Poorly Timed Article award. We suggest reading it from that perspective; a historical artifact of the Before Times.


First, let’s set aside the stuff that could reach us anywhere, like disease, asteroid impact, and global thermonuclear war. (Don’t you feel better already?)

A hazard model published by Boston College physicist Cathryn Meyer predicts that we’d have to wait hundreds of thousands of years (on average) for an F-2 or higher tornado to strike anywhere in Southern California. So no more losing sleep over that one.

You might think we’re safe from hurricanes, too, and you’d be right... mostly. A paper by meteorologists Michael Chenoweth and Christopher Landsea argues that a severe storm on October 2, 1858, was the only hurricane in recorded history to hit San Diego—the Daily Alta California reported that “the whole heavens seemed closing in . . . completely filling the whole atmosphere with thick and impenetrable clouds of dust and sand.”

How about volcanoes? The closest active one isn’t far from the county line. Five “fumarolic gryphons” on the southeast shore of the Salton Sea produce hot steam and toxic gas from an underlying magma reservoir. But they haven’t erupted in 1,800 years, and they’re right on top of the San Andreas Fault, so you know we’ve got bigger geological unrest to worry about.

The good news is, even an 8.0 magnitude quake from San Andreas wouldn’t cause much damage southwest of Borrego Springs. The bad news is, the much closer Rose Canyon Fault runs from Imperial Beach to Carlsbad, and a USGS scenario shows a 7.5 quake from it would cause “violent shaking and heavy damage” throughout Coronado, downtown, and La Jolla, and moderate damage all the way up the coast.

But before you start thinking about that cabin in Julian, consider that earthquakes are uncommon, and wildfires seem to get worse every year. Pretty much everything east of Chula Vista and El Cajon is marked “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone” on Cal Fire maps.

On the other hand... these inland areas are safe from tsunamis and sea level rise, which in NOAA simulations can completely flood the Silver Strand, the airport and Midway District, downtown OB, Mission Beach and Vacation Isle, all of Del Mar west of I-5 and the fairgrounds.

So maybe Poway is a safe bet. It’s in a Goldilocks spot between both fault lines, it won’t drown when the ice caps melt, its downtown areas are outside of (though still surrounded by) those fire hazard zones, and according to the FBI it has the lowest average violent crime rate of any incorporated area in the county.

But this is the age of big data; surely we can find a more specific answer than that. Digging into San Diego Police Department statistics and cross-referencing them with Ready San Diego’s fire hazard maps finds that all of our lowest-crime-rate neighborhoods (Sabre Springs, Miramar Ranch North, Torrey Pines) lie entirely within the red—except for one.

So congratulations, Burlingame! With a record low four violent crimes from 2009 to 2018, and a 20-acre non-fire-hazard zone south of Maple Street and east of San Marcos Avenue, excluding 31st to 32nd Street—these 108 residences are the safest place to live in San Diego. (Especially if any of them have an underground bunker.)


If you have a question about San Diego you want Dansplained, you can write to him at danswers@sdmag.com.

Dan Letchworth is the copy chief of San Diego Magazine. His print column Dansplaining explores San Diego trivia, and his theater review blog Everyone’s a Critic was a finalist for best online column in the 2019 National City & Regional Magazine Awards.

(1) comment

A Sneaky Emu

Interesting article Dan.

Though I find it odd you fail to mention a grave and very possible disaster that could befall our beautiful San Diego. In the event of a nuclear war with a capable state actor, the San Diego area would be the target of multiple nuclear strikes due to San Diego's concentration of Navy and Marine bases. An adversary like China would look to cripple the Navy's Pacific Fleet of which San Diego is a major home port. Coronado, Point Loma, Miramar, and Pendleton would be obvious targets.

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