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When It Rains, What’s to Stop It From Pouring?

Charles Hatfield, a starchy Quaker who billed himself the Moisture Accelerator, owns a unique place in San Diego County history at the intersection of meteorology and jurisprudence.

The year was 1915, and San Diego was experiencing a dry year and an eye-gouging public debate over growth (sound familiar?).

Badgered by the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club--primogenitor of the Building Industry Assn.--the City Council reluctantly agreed to pay Hatfield $10,000 to work his self-professed rainmaking magic.

In January, 1916, Hatfield built a 20-foot tower near Morena Reservoir and began producing smoke from a secret formula. What happened next is the stuff of legend.

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It began to rain and rain and rain. By official count: 38 inches for the month, still a local record for January. Dozens drowned, damage was great, and the resultant anger was enormous.

Hatfield demanded his money. The council refused. The city attorney warned that paying Hatfield might make the city vulnerable to flood-damage suits.

A court case filed by Hatfield languished for 20 years before a judge sided with the city. Hatfield had long since returned to his original job as a sewing-machine salesman.

He died at age 82 in 1958, just two years after Burt Lancaster starred as a Hatfield-like character in the movie “The Rainmaker.”

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The Hatfield experience is much discussed these days as the city of San Diego and water districts in East County and South Bay move cautiously toward signing a $139,200 contract with North American Weather Consultants, a “weather modification” firm from Salt Lake City.

The firm is said to have a proven record of squeezing more water from rain clouds by injecting a vapor of silver iodide crystals either from airplanes or land-based launchers. So what happens if things go awry and the city gets sued for causing a flood?

The San Diego city attorney’s office hopes that decades of post-Hatfield court decisions have provided immunity from lawsuits arising from discretionary acts, that is, from doing things that are not required by law, like trying to make rain.

If that doesn’t work, the city has another no-fault defense ready.

“There is no way anyone could determine whether the rainfall was augmented or increased by our activity,” said Deputy City Atty. Rudy Hradecky.

Pasta and Pulchritude

Course description for a fall class on Enhancing Your Sensuality offered by the San Diego branch of The Learning Annex: “Sex is like lasagna. It can be flat and boring or it can be rich, spicy, delicious and unforgettable, with everyone clamoring for more.”

Jack the Giant

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Part of the political allure of the slow-growth movement has come from its name: Citizens for Limited Growth, which conjures up images of little folk battling the two-headed behemoth of big money and big politics.

But now two San Diego City Council members who are carrying the council’s banner in the growth fight are trying to seize the high moral ground by pointing out that nearly half of the money contributed to the citizens’ group comes from co-chairman Thomas Mullaney, who owns 17 apartment units outright and a 4% interest in 24 others.

“I’m a little disillusioned to see that it is not really a citizens’ group at all,” said Councilman Judy McCarty. “Apparently this is just another business group with vested interests.”

Councilman Ron Roberts said Mullaney’s “Joan Kroc-sized” contribution “contradicts the image that these are all simple people with no vested interest of their own--the white knights fighting the evil development industry.”

“There is no question that the owner of existing units is going to benefit (by the Citizens-sponsored Proposition J),” he said.

Roberts and McCarty are vigorously stumping for the council-sponsored Proposition H.

Mullaney, who has contributed $68,000 to his cause, is crying dirty politics. He says he expected a personal attack by anti-J forces after they realized they could not win on the issues.

“I think this is an example of why the politicians and developers are not trusted in San Diego,” he said. “We’ve seen a definite shift in strategy from them: from the doom-and-gloom scenario to personal attacks.”

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Is he trying to feather his own nest through growth control?

“I’ve sold off two-thirds of my units in the last two years without buying any new ones,” he said. “Does that sound like someone trying to make money?”


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