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April 30, 2001



The directions to Hollywood and Vine:

From Interstate 5, drive east on Highway 56, south on Carmel Country Road, east on Shaw Ridge Road. Rattle past several well-seasoned houses -- and fresh construction pads.

When you arrive, check your compass. Carmel Valley, zippered with tracts, is down below, to the northwest. South, unmolested miles of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. East, hundreds of acres of city-owned sagebrush fan out. West, on the narrowing mesa, the Meadows Del Mar golf course (pushing 2 years old) is carved between pristine hills. An empty building pad awaits Something Big.

So there you are. You're standing square on the back of the 2,000-acre Del Mar Mesa, a place too close, too beautiful, for time to forget forever.

A couple of weeks ago, developer Paul Metcalf stood up at a meeting of north San Diego planning groups and touted the new community his company (Johnson-Beucler) -- and many others, including Westshaw and Pardee -- are creating on the mesa.

"This is the only area in all of San Diego -- and maybe all of California -- that has a five-star resort and no 7-Eleven," Metcalf said.

One of the five uneasy pieces in the North City Future Urbanizing Area, Del Mar Mesa is special in that it's being developed at its old density (one house per acre is the max). Unlike Black Mountain Ranch and Pacific Highlands Ranch -- "subareas" that required the public approval of zoning concessions -- no vote was needed to make Del Mar Mesa pencil out. Over 10 tense years, the environmentalists and the developers found common ground, more than half of it open.

At the meeting, Metcalf said that Del Mar Mesa will be heaven for horses. Trails lead to Los Peñasquitos Canyon, a vast playground for equestrians.

"You're rubbing salt in our wounds," a Carmel Valley resident moaned.

Like Carmel Valley, Del Mar Mesa used to be good for dry farming and nothing else. In the 19th century, the Knechtels and other pioneers planted beans and found shade underneath stands of eucalyptus.

Today, at Hollywood and Vine -- the real Hollywood street sign was stolen and placed at the mesa junction until it in turn was stolen and a wooden sign put up -- you sense a sophisticated sort of Tobacco Road.

The locals are a hardy, heady, eccentric lot -- Liz Curtis, CEO of Sharp Community Medical Group, keeps horses and flamingos; like her neighbors, Nancy Czekala, a research endocrinologist with the San Diego Zoo's Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species, has hauled water to her own tank every week or so; Remington Jackson, a retired financial analyst who moved out there from Del Mar two decades ago, likes to venture out in his green 1929 Model A.

Jan Hudson -- TV producer and ardent horsewoman -- says she feels like a newcomer. Her family has lived on the mesa's west side for 14 years.

A decade ago, two dozen families lived there. Ten years from now, roughly 600 new families will have settled in.

But before that, a mean horsefly must be swatted away.

An old-timer is balking at dedicating Shaw Ridge Road -- a section of which runs through his property -- to the city. Until this irksome case is resolved in court, a cloud hangs over the mesa's east end.

Traffic is another potential storm. Eventually, cars could flee a completed Highway 56, head up to the mesa and connect with Carmel Mountain Road. To discourage auto assault, the mesa's roads will be narrow, about 28 feet. The hope is to calm traffic to the point it's comatose.

And that five-star resort Metcalf predicted?

Lowe Enterprises, which owns the Hotel del Coronado, may fill the big empty space by the golf course. Negotiations are ongoing.

The other day, I asked resident Jackson if he regretted the way things are working out on the mesa.

He smiled and said something only an old, wise person could think of to say.

"They can't take the 21 years away."

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