By Karen Billing
Carmel Valley will turn the ripe old age of 30 in 2013.
In 1983, Pardee Homes was issued the first building permits for a place called North City West, an area mostly populated by farmland that would eventually be known as Carmel Valley.
The Carmel that appears in the community’s name and is extremely popular on street names (Carmel Mountain, Carmel Creek, Carmel Canyon, Carmel Country, Carmel Vista, Carmel Center, ect.) is a nod to the Carmelite Sisters of Mercy, who ran a dairy farm and monastery in the area.
Carmel Valley’s master plan commissioned in 1974 attempted to reduce sprawl by confining development to the mesa tops and leaving the canyons untouched. Open space preservation versus high-density development is still a challenge for local planners today as they aim to stay true to the community’s original vision.
Here are some remembrances of Carmel Valley’s earliest years from some longtime residents:
In 1980 I got a desperate call from the registrar of voters asking me to serve at a new precinct because I was one of only two registered Democrats in Carmel Valley. The polling place was the widow MacKenzie’s yellow house at the fork of Carmel Valley and Black Mountain Roads. There were eggs for sale stacked at one end of the room and someone brought honey to exchange. I noticed in the big ledger that my neighbor Josie, who lived on Del Mar Mesa at the corner of Hollywood and Vine with her retired K-9 Corps Dobermans, had first voted in 1936, presumably for FDR. The voters lingered to catch up on each other’s stories, including their newfound admiration for one of the candidates, “that fellow from Iowa” John Anderson, and no one objected because it was all so good natured.
In the early 1980’s there were probably only a little over 100 people who lived in this area east of I-5.
They were mostly farmers, horse people, some UCSD students and a handful of others who didn’t want you to know who they were or what they did.
The only business here at the time was the Shell gas station on Carmel Valley Road. There was a single dirt road that ran south of the Shell station to Arroyo Sorrento Road where Anne Harvey, myself and a few others lived. We both still live on that road. I remember my wife saying some of her friends wouldn’t visit because the road was so bad and I thought to myself that’s one of the reasons we live out here.
If you liked rolling hills and sagebrush we had plenty of both, we would see deer, coyotes and bobcats on a regular basis. I still have a photo of a mountain lion walking past my home in the middle of the day.
At one point I saw a notice in the paper that a new city was going to being planned here and San Diego was holding a meeting for community volunteers to start a Community Planning Board to add input. I went to that meeting and walked out being elected as the first chairperson. Be careful what you volunteer for.
When I moved here with my wife Linda, North City West had just been named Carmel Valley and SR-56 was a two-lane Carmel Valley Road. That was in March 1991. Shortly thereafter, wanting to be involved in the positive development of a great new area, I ran for the Carmel Valley Planning Board. I won the election by one vote because I voted for myself! Three of us ran and the tally was 8-7-6. Clearly, I was the most popular of the three of us by a wide margin!
During the six years that I served as director and/or president of the Carmel Valley Planning Board (1992-98), we saw over 100 projects come before us. Today, most are built and the board had the vision to approve only those projects that were truly “good development.” Sure, there were challenges like parking demand exceeding supply, a “walk-able” library that became a “drive-to” library and fights over what was deemed “good development.” The truth of the matter is that Carmel Valley has morphed into a very successful area, one that is home to great companies, great people and great organizations. It is a real hub of the legal, biomedical and communications technology sectors. We have open space, freeway access, superb schools and very high demand for living or having a business in Carmel Valley. Our hotels have been very successful, thanks in large part to both new and repeat business from the local community.
For 22 years, Linda and I have lived just off SR-56, the road that everyone said (myself included) would destroy Carmel Valley. Both our daughters attended Carmel Valley elementary schools, middle school and high school and have had wonderful academic and athletic experiences.
When I studied urban planning in college (prior to attending hotel school), I never thought I’d have the opportunity to actually make decisions on what entity might go into the community that I chose to live in for over 20 years. At the end of the day or 30 years, we have some great leaders in this community and we should be proud of what Carmel Valley has become even if the name is confusing and all the streets are named Carmel!