By Bud Emerson
A recent road trip through central and northern California, Oregon, Washington, west of the Sierras and east of the Cascades, and on into British Columbia opened my eyes to the incredible beauty of the West Coast. We avoided interstate highways as much as possible, concentrating on federal/state/local parklands and small cities.
What did I learn? Our efforts here to protect natural environmental resources and a small town quality of life are critical to our future and that of our grandkids. Visitors who experience Torrey Pines Reserve and the San Dieguito River Valley Park, as well as the other lagoons on the North Coast and beaches, will exclaim our foresight just as much as I do the parks, bays, mountains, and lakes north of us. Visitors who appreciate the charm of Del Mar, Solana Beach and other coastal towns are appreciative of our efforts to preserve our small town village qualities.
Of course, we could not avoid hitting some cities with a radically different ethic about growth and planning. Too many small- and medium-size cities allow unrestrained Kearny Mesa-ish sprawl. Our instinct in these situations was to get out of town as quickly as possible.
Coming home to Del Mar’s contentious deliberations about sidewalk cafes was reassuring. We are still talking about the right stuff. In every city of charm we visited, sidewalk cafes were in abundance, adding much to the character of their downtowns. And, in our conversations with locals, we learned that every small town had a community involvement process for quality control. Although there seems to be a consensus in favor of sidewalk cafes here, what was missing in this case was the quality control that our design review process has provided so well for so long.
It could be argued that our design review process, in place for decades, has been the key quality control mechanism that has enabled our community to become one of the most desirable (and valuable) small towns in the west. Even though our review process is notorious for its rigor, most projects are approved and those who experience it eventually realize that it has added value to their property.
The bottom line for my road trip is that our vigorous efforts to preserve natural environmental assets and small town character are well placed. I come home proud to live here, hoping that visitors will enjoy our community as much as we enjoyed theirs.