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.