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On Rapping Temecula, Sight Unseen

I have been censured by a class of Temecula journalism students for my recent report on the astounding suburbanization of the Temecula hills.

“The houses were clustered together in islands,” I wrote. “They infiltrated the valleys. They climbed the hillsides. They were almost all two stories--big, boxy, look-alike houses, the architecture Hollywood eclectic. I saw almost no signs of life. Cars were in some driveways, but few people were visible. Were they all commuters?”

Admittedly, I bypassed the town of Temecula itself, just as the freeway does. It is described by students of Paulette O’Donovan’s Temecula Middle School as quaint, busy, prosperous and growing, with many antique shops and good restaurants.

“You made some misleading statements,” wrote one student, whose signature was illegible, “without really investigating them. You made Temecula sound like one giant housing tract.”

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“I find your attitude about Temecula truly offensive,” wrote Katie McDonald. “I have lived in Temecula for a year now and it is definitely not just houses. The people here are just like anywhere else. . . .”

“Temecula isn’t all houses,” wrote Shanda Heider. “There are many stores and businesses and not all people commute either. . . .”

“Temecula is more than just a ghost town,” wrote Melissa Kendall. “There are many people around here who make up this community. . . .”

Ms. O’Donovan herself said my column “victimized” the town. “As the ‘nouveau petite’ who vehemently defend our life style, we don’t appreciate a big city columnist acting as though he can sum up the atmosphere of our town after spending only a few hours here.”

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I know how they feel. I have been defending Los Angeles for decades against the libels of Eastern journalists who write their diatribes on the basis of nothing more than what they can see between the airport and the Beverly Hills Hotel from a limousine window.

It is true, as I admitted, that I did not see the town of Temecula itself. But I suspect that the town is something of an anachronism, though it may retain its vitality and give its identity to the tracts that are swallowing up the surrounding hills and valleys.

That there is some symbiotic relationship between town and tracts I don’t doubt. As one student wrote: “Actually there are many available jobs in Temecula. A lot of the jobs are connected with building the numerous housing tracts. With homes come people, with people come businesses, and with businesses come jobs. That is how most towns start.”

Still, I suspect that most of the people who live in the tracts are either commuters or retired. I wrote about the Temecula phenomenon not because it is unique, but because it is happening all over Southern California. As I said, someday it will be one giant suburb from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

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A more despairing view of the Temecula neighborhood comes from Selma Hefley, who moved there with her husband 3 1/2 years ago. “It was just what we were looking for--no traffic lights, very few stop signs, no traffic, no commercial/manufacturing zones. It was more rural than Carson-Gardena/Torrance was 30 years ago when we moved there with our four young children. But, alas, the same thing happened here in three years as there in 15 years. . . . The rest of L.A./Orange County was sucked up into our wake. We are awakened every morning at 6 a.m. by giant earth movers, buzz saws, automatic hammers, compressors and generators powering stucco machines and personal ‘boom boxes’ set to the very loudest range, echoing in the empty houses under construction that have sprung up more numerous than the proverbial mushrooms across the ravine from us. . . . And the main crops on all vacant fields are real estate FOR SALE signboards.”

She also regrets, however, that I did not visit the town. “The old town buildings on Front and Main streets are almost the only genuine parts of the area left. The farm tractor/mud races have been shifted out of town as the open fields disappear under wall-to-wall houses . . . the wine and balloon festival, ditto.”

I am hoping to get down to Temecula again soon, perhaps to have lunch with Ms. O’Donovan in the town itself, if I can reach her. I don’t like to be unfair, and I am always willing to learn. A brief refresher course in journalism couldn’t do me any harm.

I’m going to miss the tractor/mud races, though.

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