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The Ross Retort


March 5, 2004

Hello Chips, Goodbye Chads



 Thanksgiving was an international revelation at our house, the beginning of a new family tradition.


A  multi-national  cornucopia  of immigrants from Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Wales and Turkey made  our holiday a true American celebration. These folks appreciate Red White and Blue like few natives do.


But, the Tryptophan tranquility from our hormone-free-range turkey and the easy peaceful feeling from heart-felt conversation did not last long.


Last weekend, the City of San Diego hacked down a precious old stand of trees at Torrey Pines State Beach to begin another American tradition, the

destruction of an historic place to make way for a wider and

modern bridge over Los Penasquitos Lagoon.


At the same time, a more recent tradition of hammering Torrey

Hills with road clogging projects continued with a proposal by Home Depot to build a

mega-store at the Sorrento Valley and Carmel Mountain Road intersection, a stones throw from the lagoon.


Clearly visible from across the fragile body of water on every side, a 125,000 square foot big box store surrounded by an ocean of parking spaces would create a perfect eastern bookend for the ugly duckling concrete project on the coast.


I think that I shall never see a sight so forlorn as the felling of those  trees.  Especially  because their replacement will be a concrete  retaining  wall  bolstering a  highway  project  best  described as  a  butterball  turkey  promoted by  a  stubborn  mule.


Digging in his heals, Councilman Scott Peters persuaded environmental activists to reject the Torrey Pines Community


Planning Board’s demand for a full environmental impact study before going forward.

He convinced them that a longer and narrower bridge that would maximize lagoon flushing and minimize runoff from the highway was financially impossible no matter what a biological study showed. Without full public review, we will never know.


The Sierra Club still suffers the fury of the Torrey Pines Association and members of the Torrey Pines Planning Board for what they call a colossal sell-out, the first time in memory the club did not insist on an Environmental Impact Study.


But, the specter of a 10-acre Home Depot in Sorrento Valley is an economic as well as an environmental hair-raiser. Where Home Depot goes, other big boxes follow, threatening to change another San Diego institution from a beehive of technology incubators to another Outlet Mall. 


Since the 1960’s, Sorrento Valley has been home to high tech and biotech start-ups because of reasonable rents, flexible industrial square footage and landlords who appreciate the peculiar build-out needs of those industries.


The Home Depot people face a gamut of approval hoops because the site is in the Coastal Zone, and the Torrey Pines Community Plan prohibits a regional shopping facility. Confining

appropriate uses to light industrial and scientific research was meant to encourage incubator  businesses close to  UCSD.


This means a hard charge at the San Diego Planning Commission and the City Council to amend the Torrey Pines Community plan, and a harder sell to the California Coastal Commission.


But, this is the same crowd that  thought  a  coast  highway  widening project  that  could  accommodate  three lanes of traffic in the future was OK if the city only striped for two lanes, now.

Even if 100 feet up the way the road narrows to two anyway.


And, as Torrey Hills residents understand from their constant battle to keep commercial development in scale with residential neighborhoods, community plans are hardly worth the paper they are written on when deep pocket special interests take aim.


Sorrento Valley has been in dire need of a good Master Plan for decades. No one should be surprised that given the cast in concrete 30 foot height

restrictions and an easily pierced community plan that building big box stores might seem very tempting to property owners.


For a cash-strapped city, short term revenues from sales taxes often carry

more allure than the more ephemeral benefits gained from fostering new technology businesses.


And so, sometime after the holidays, expect one more San Diego tradition along with your New Years champagne: another battle for decent environmental planning and the

protection of what is left of historic San Diego.


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