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Growing Up in the ‘80s : 10 Years of Good and Bad Recast San Diego’s Self-Image

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When San Diegans look backward at the 1980s, they may recognize it as an extraordinary period that forced them to come to grips with the city’s emergence as a major urban center.

Although San Diego began the decade as the nation’s eighth-largest city--and since has climbed two notches--it historically has occupied a smaller place in the national consciousness than some cities half its size. Indeed, as one local academic put it, San Diego has long been seen as “the spur on the boot of Los Angeles"--an unflattering perception that has spawned self-doubts and a kind of civic inferiority complex.

In dramatic fashion, all that began to change in the 1980s, a decade that teemed with 100-decibel scandals, horrors and delights that produced nationwide headlines and, along the way, warped and recast the city’s self-image.

“The ‘80s was the decade in which San Diego, for better or worse, came of age as a major city,” said Dennis Rohatyn, a professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego. “We may not want to admit it, but we’ve become a very big city with big-city problems, as well as attributes. There was a definite sense here in the ‘80s of turning the corner.”

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Any 10-year period in a metropolitan region of 2-million-plus people is all but certain to produce a welter of watershed events and individuals clamoring for the chronicler’s eye. Even so, the 1980s was a remarkable period in which San Diego news frequently was national news. Finally, the city began to shed its skin as a quiet Navy backwater--a process likely to be magnified as its explosive growth continues unabated into the next century.

From a financial scandal that ensnared the city’s mayor to a killing spree at a McDonald’s restaurant, from sporting spectacles to racial tensions to increasingly urgent efforts to avoid “Los Angelization,” San Diego was a recurring blip on the nation’s radar screen throughout the 1980s.

“If nothing else, the ‘80s put San Diego on the map,” said Sam Popkin, a political science professor at UC San Diego.

By the decade’s close, however, many San Diegans might well have chosen obscurity over the accolades and notoriety--fleeting though they often were.

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No matter where one looked in San Diego, there was change and activity in the ‘80s that rattled San Diegans’ psyches. As they adjusted to the rapid-fire transformations around them, the emotional pendulum swung harshly, making it increasingly difficult to find a safe, comfortable middle ground.

“This image of San Diego being a quiet little paradise eroded in the ‘80s,” noted Maurice Friedman, a professor of philosophy and religious studies at San Diego State University. “As we’ve gotten bigger, so have our problems.”

Or, in lawyer Phil Connor’s succinct summary: “The ‘80s were a cold slap of reality for a lot of people in San Diego.”

Gaze in any direction, and the changes wrought by the past decade--physical and psychological--are unmistakable. Try to recall a skyline that did not include the distinctive bayfront convention center, towering waterfront hotels and a handful of glittering downtown office towers. Conjure up memories of an era when J. David Dominelli, Sagon Penn, Craig Peyer and, yes, even Dunda, were not household names, when phrases such as the Golden Triangle, the trolley, skinheads and the America’s Cup had not yet entered the popular lexicon.

As recently as the 1970s, San Diego’s economy, in the words of Chamber of Commerce head Lee Grissom, was “a stool with one leg--the military.” Contrast that with a present economy in which tourism and military payrolls have been joined by the high-tech firms of Sorrento Valley, growing universities and bio-technical medical research that has ascended to worldwide prominence.

Hear the strains of the vigorous debate over whether San Diegans would ever forsake their suburban malls to shop downtown, a question answered emphatically in the affirmative by Horton Plaza. Remember when most San Diegans would have found it difficult to resist laughing at the idea of Soviets being welcomed into Balboa Park, as they were recently at the Soviet art festival.

“San Diego’s self-confidence grew tremendously in the 1980s, because we had successes in areas we had never tried or were terrified of before,” said former Mayor Roger Hedgecock, who lost his seat when it was shown that his campaign had illegally benefited from the largess of Dominelli, the founder of a failed La Jolla investment firm. “Some of the scandals and other problems we had are the birth pangs of a large, sophisticated metropolitan area. But there also was incredible progress and maturation. All in all, it was quite a ride.”

Few are positioned better to make that judgment, for Hedgecock spent much of the ‘80s on an E ticket roller coaster trip, often taking along his city in the passenger seat.

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Growing Pains

If there was a constant in the ‘80s in San Diego, a common thread that connected events as disparate as political and business scandals, robust economic expansion, major cultural advances and a downtown rescued from decay, it was growth. Growth was everywhere, touching off debates more acrimonious than any since the so-called Smokestacks-versus Geraniums mayoral campaign early this century that established growth management as the nucleus of San Diego politics.

As it grew to become the nation’s sixth-largest city, San Diego’s population rose from 876,000 to 1.1 million, while each year the county overall expanded by nearly 60,000 people--the size of a moderately sized town--to reach 2.4 million. An additional 1.5 million people reside just across the border in Tijuana. Four new cities were born during the decade: Encinitas, Poway, Santee and Solana Beach.

San Diegans embraced the positive byproducts of that growth--nearly 300,000 new jobs, a more cosmopolitan look and feel to the city--but bristled at its down side.

“Welcome to San Diego--Now Go Home” bumper stickers became commonplace on automobiles, whose drivers grumbled as their daily commutes were prolonged by growing congestion on streets and freeways. Median housing prices more than doubled, rising from $90,000 to $192,000. In short, in the ‘80s San Diegans spent more time getting to and from homes that they could less afford.

While some ardent environmentalists would have been content to slam the gates shut--just as gung-ho developers would have liked to fling them wide open--realists on both sides of the debate acknowledged the inevitability of growth and searched for ways to prevent it from destroying San Diego’s special charm. To buy time to search for answers, San Diego city voters in 1985 passed Proposition A, a managed-growth initiative demanding that 52,000 acres of the city remain untouched until at least 1995.

At times, though, that seemed a losing battle against unstoppable forces. Just as housing caps, developer fees and phased construction timetables are designed to limit growth, the popular images of sunny, warm San Diego continue to encourage it. Every January, for example, as frost-bitten Midwesterners tune into the nationally televised Shearson Lehman Hutton Open, each scene of a golfer putting in short sleeves makes hundreds think of heading west.

If growth was the decade’s backdrop, there also were frequent distractions--many of them interpreted as the side effects, often undesirable, of San Diego’s rapid expansion.

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Throughout the period, a series of wrenching episodes shook San Diegans’ faith in the slogan “America’s Finest City.” What could be more all-American than stopping at a McDonald’s for a burger and fries? And yet, 21 people who did just that on a summer day in 1984 paid with their lives because of a nondescript madman who told his wife that he was “going hunting humans.”.

On July 18, James Oliver Huberty, 41, entered a McDonald’s restaurant on West San Ysidro Boulevard carrying an Uzi semiautomatic rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a pistol, and opened fire. The blood bath, the worst single-episode slaying in the nation’s history, ended when Huberty was felled by a police sharpshooter’s bullet--the 22nd fatality of the day.

During the last half of the decade, there were more than 40 unsolved murders involving young transient women and prostitutes, most of whom were found dumped along remote back country roads--raising fears that Washington’s Green River Killer had relocated here.

And last August, John Merlin Taylor, a 52-year-old career letter carrier described as a model employee, shot his wife to death, then drove to work at an Escondido post office, where he shot and killed two co-workers and wounded a third before shooting himself in the head.

Often, events in San Diego mirrored national or statewide news and trends. Police were undermanned in the battle against crack cocaine traffic and street gang-warfare, as the city gained the unwanted sobriquet of “The Methamphetamine Capital of the World.”

Since the deadly AIDS virus was discovered in the early 1980s, 1,668 cases--999 of them fatalities, as of last month--have been recorded in the county.

Homelessness became a more visible problem on San Diego streets, and social and health programs suffered major funding woes, a function of growing need coupled with cutbacks during the Reagan Administration.

As in other large urban areas, San Diego’s infrastructure crumbled while the bill to do something about it climbed into the billions. In 1988, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued the city after it failed to meet a 1987 deadline for upgrading its sewage system. In order to comply with federal clean water standards, the city estimates it must spend up to $2.8 billion.

That, lawyer Connor quips, puts San Diego in the unenviable position of “having to spend $3 billion just to flush the toilet.”

San Diegans occasionally made cameo appearances in major national or international stories, as history hustled them on stage and just as quickly ushered them off.

When Corey Peake and Matthew Smith found a strange metallic shell in the rolling canyon behind their Tierrasanta homes in December, 1983, they did what 8-year-olds normally do--they began playing with their discovery. On this day, however, childhood curiosity had deadly consequences, as the shell--a World War II weapon remaining from when their neighborhood was a Marine artillery range--exploded, killing both and injuring Peake’s 12-year-old brother.

In 1983, Navy Commander Albert Schaufelberger of San Diego became the first American adviser killed in El Salvador. Two years later, Scarlett Marie Rogenkamp, a 38-year-old Air Force employee from Oceanside, was shot to death and then thrown from a hijacked Egypt Air jetliner in Malta, the only American killed in the hijacking.

Richard Morefield of San Diego spent longer in the spotlight, though hardly by choice: He was one of the 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days by Iranian militants and released in January, 1981.

Betsy Sneith of Santee delivered a healthy 7-pound, 1-ounce baby girl in September, 1984--an otherwise unnoteworthy event, except that it made her the world’s first heart-transplant recipient to give birth. The following year, Sneith died.

The what-if prospects were more pleasant to contemplate in the cases of San Diegans who won multimillion-dollar lottery jackpots in the ‘80s, for whom the decade was a time of personal transformation and momentary fame. An Escondido grandmother, a former heroin addict, an Iraqi immigrant, an 85-year widow and an Oceanside salesman who peddles sport shirts at swap meets were among the lucky gamblers.

More often, the kind of news that plucked San Diegans from anonymity had dark overtones.

Leslie Landersman, a 22-year-old newlywed and former beauty queen, was getting ready for another work week to end late one Friday afternoon in August, 1983, when a bank robbery suspect in Escondido abducted the young secretary, using her as a hostage in his attempted getaway. When police cornered the robber’s vehicle, a gun battle broke out and Landersman was killed--by a police bullet.

“Leslie Landersman didn’t just die,” a newspaper story said at the time. “She was in the wrongest place at the wrongest time.”

Some black San Diegans also questioned whether they were in the right place during the ‘80s, especially during a bitter and racially divisive debate over how the city should honor the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. After the City Council decided in 1986 to honor the slain civil rights leader by renaming Market Street, voters reversed that decision, approving an initiative restoring the street’s original name.

Then, a proposal to name the new convention center after King was scuttled when the San Diego Unified Port Commission balked. Although the state Legislature last summer renamed California 94 in King’s honor, some black activists have angrily suggested that the city’s slogan would more aptly read: “America’s Most Racist City.”

Racial tensions also flared in the trial of Sagon Penn, a young black man who was acquitted by two juries of the fatal 1985 shooting of a police officer and the wounding of another officer and a civilian ride-along. The verdict was founded on the premise that the wounded officer’s excessive force and racist language was at the root of the tragedy.

“Many blacks probably don’t have a real warm spot in their hearts for the San Diego cops--and won’t for a long time--because of that one case,” concluded USD social psychologist James Weyant.

Another trial that altered attitudes toward law enforcement drew nationwide attention as well. Craig Peyer, a 13-year California Highway Patrol veteran, was convicted of the December, 1986, murder of Cara Knott, a 20-year-old San Diego State University student whom he had stopped along Interstate 15.

During Peyer’s trial, nearly two dozen women testified that Peyer had engaged them in lengthy conversations after stopping them, mostly for minor equipment violations, near the scene of the murder. Chillingly, Peyer--with scratches visible on his face--had been interviewed by a local television news crew shortly after the Knott killing, giving advice on how women could avoid getting trapped in a similar situation.

Law enforcement’s image received other body blows throughout the ‘80s. In 1981, nearly 800 sheriff’s deputies walked off their jobs for eight days in a dispute over wages. On the other side of the jail bars, prisoners’ frequent allegations about deputies’ abuse culminated early this year in a Grand Jury report sharply critical of Sheriff John Duffy’s management of his department. Frustrated by growing opposition on that and other subjects, Duffy, who is currently serving his fifth four-year term, announced this month that he will not seek reelection next year.

Meanwhile, a shortage of jail space prompted San Diego County voters to approve a half-cent sales taxes to raise billions of dollars to build more cells. The jail measure, however, was overturned in court early this year, exacerbating an already serious jail overcrowding problem while county lawyers appeal the decision.

In the constant struggle to fund other public projects, San Diego’s political leaders reluctantly--but increasingly--went before voters hat in hand seeking higher taxes or spending authorization. Voters approved another half-cent sales tax to fund street and highway improvements, and permitted both the city and county to waive the so-called Gann spending limit that had been imposed in the tax-cutting heyday of a decade ago.

With ideology yielding to economic realities, San Diego politicians found themselves doing an abrupt philosophical turnaround during the 1980s. Many who had prided themselves in the early 1980s on building a much-praised trolley system without federal dollars, later increasingly turned to Sacramento and Washington for help in funding various programs--including the expansion of the trolley itself. Politicians who had once spoken dismissively of “government handouts” suddenly found themselves fighting for “our fair share” of state and federal funds.

The county, in fact, sued the state in a desperate effort to alleviate the tightening economic constraints attributable to Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 statewide tax-cutting initiative.

Some of the decade’s brightest chapters in San Diego were written in sports.

The Padres, who had never before finished in the top half of the National League Western Division, won the league pennant in 1984 with stirring playoff victories. Perhaps the decade’s most electrifying moment took place in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 1984 National League playoffs, when Steve Garvey hit the game-winning home run against the Chicago Cubs--an event that transcended sports to unleash the kind of mass pandemonium never seen here before or since. Relive it through Jerry Coleman’s call on KFMB radio:

“Gwynn waiting (on first base), with a lead, drifting off. Smith checks him out. Pitch on the way to Garvey. Hit high to right-center field, way back, going, going, it is GONE! The Padres win it! . . . Oh, doctor! You can hang a star on that baby!”

Although the Padres were soundly beaten by the Detroit Tigers in that year’s World Series, four games to one, it did little to dull the memories of Garvey being carried off the field by his jubilant teammates. What did chip the corners off that almost mythical image, however, were two paternity suits filed against Garvey this year by a former fiancee and another woman, prompting jokes that the diamond was apparently not the only place where Garvey did his scoring.

As the Padres ascended to the ranks of serious contenders during the ‘80s, the Chargers, one of the most successful and exciting pro football teams in the early ‘80s, slowly descended into abject mediocrity. When Super Bowl XXII was held here in 1988, the Chargers were on the sidelines--as they have been every year when games identified with Roman numerals are played.

At the Sports Arena, the San Diego Sockers have won seven indoor soccer titles in the past eight years, marking them as the premiere practitioners of that sport. And out at sea, San Diegan Dennis Conner lost the America’s Cup in 1983, the first U.S. skipper to do so, but then recovered it in 1987. Since then, more battles for the cup have been fought in court than on the water, with Conner’s successful 1988 defense off Point Loma--in a catamaran that his challengers from New Zealand considered an unsporting violation of cup bylaws--now being contested in New York courts.

On the down side, San Diego lost a professional sports franchise when the NBA’s Clippers moved to Los Angeles in 1984--though many smirked that there was little professional about a basketball team that compiled a 108-220 record during its four seasons here. Even so, as the decade ended, La Jolla millionaire Harry Cooper spoke of building a “sports palace” downtown to lure professional basketball and hockey back to San Diego.

It is one thing to lose a team to Los Angeles, another to contemplate seeing the city’s name disappear from that of an essential utility--a factor that figured prominently in local leaders’ battle to block the San Diego Gas & Electric Co.'s proposed merger with Southern California Edison. Despite Edison’s assurances to the contrary, many local leaders fear that the merger would cost San Diego jobs, eliminate a major corporate charitable contributor, increase utility rates and once again relegate the city to branch-town status.

The upbeat side of the decade was not confined to athletics.

In a city often maligned as one where more people go to the beach than to museums, the arts matured and expanded in San Diego during the ‘80s. For years confined primarily to the Old Globe Theatre, the region’s major live theater now includes the La Jolla Playhouse--increasingly seen as a testing ground for Broadway--and the eclectic Lyceum Theatre, which relocated in Horton Plaza when its previous site was razed.

The San Diego Symphony, which narrowly avoided bankruptcy in the mid-1980s, ended the decade in stable condition under a new music director--though still owing $4 million on its Symphony Hall. In the most visible arts endeavor of the decade, Mayor O’Connor’s huge political gamble in spearheading this fall’s Soviet arts festival paid off handsomely, producing a festival that drew some rave reviews and remarkable popularity.

The venerable Hotel del Coronado celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and 1987 saw the opening of the St. Vincent de Paul Joan Kroc Center for the homeless. More of a home than a shelter, the $8.6-million, 404-bed downtown facility was conceived long before President Bush began talking about his “thousand points of lights.”

Doctors at Sharp Memorial Hospital became proficient in stretching life beyond previous limits through an acclaimed heart-transplant program. The county’s first home-grown test-tube baby was born in 1984, and in 1988, the San Diego Wild Animal Park announced the birth of Molloko, the first California condor conceived and hatched in captivity.

The same year, however, the park’s reputation was sullied by revelations that keepers had beaten Dunda the elephant on the head with ax handles to “discipline” her. Across town at Sea World, the death of a killer whale named Kandu last August raised anew questions about the propriety of keeping killer whales in captivity. Marine keepers concluded that the 14-year-old mother of Baby Shamu had died in a freak injury caused when she attempted to dominate another whale during a performance.

Justice came slowly, but it finally came in 1984 for C. Arnholt Smith. In 1979, the one-time “Mr. San Diego,” a former financier and confidant to President Richard M. Nixon, was convicted of stealing $8.9 million from one of his companies. Five years later, Smith spent eight months tending rose bushes and mowing lawns at a minimum-security county jail.

Another San Diegan, Robert Alton Harris, spent the ‘80s on Death Row in San Quentin wondering whether the day would come when he would face the most severe penalty that the American system can mete out. Sentenced to death for the 1978 execution-style killing of two local 16-year-olds, Harris, his appeals nearly exhausted, could become in 1990 the first Californian to die in the gas chamber since 1967.

Erstwhile movers and shakers such as Roger Hedgecock, J. David Dominelli and prominent San Diego businessman Richard Silberman ended the decade in varying degrees of ignominy, either behind bars or facing that prospect. This year, Silberman was arrested in an undercover FBI operation and charged with laundering money that he purportedly believed came from Colombian drug traffickers.

The 1984 collapse of Dominelli’s La Jolla investment firm--in fact, little more than an $80-million Ponzi scheme--sent out tsunami-sized shock waves still reverberating in San Diego’s business, political and legal communities. Dominelli is serving a 20-year sentence on income tax evasion and fraud charges, and a few weeks ago, his former partner and live-in companion, Nancy Hoover, was convicted on charges that could produce a term of equal length.

Dominelli’s fall from grace brought others down with him. In December, 1985, former Mayor Hedgecock was forced to resign after he was convicted of felony charges that he had accepted illegal campaign donations during his 1983 mayoral campaign from former principals of Dominelli’s firm.

Hedgecock’s departure concluded what he often described as “the country’s longest-running political soap opera.”

Act I: After winning a special election to succeed Pete Wilson, who went to the U.S. Senate after 11 years at City Hall, Hedgecock quickly gained a reputation as a comer in statewide politics--an image that plummeted when charges of wrongdoing arose in early 1984.

Act II: Hedgecock rebounded as a political Houdini, winning a convincing November, 1984, re-election only seven weeks after being indicted. “One down and one to go,” the mayor proclaimed on Election Night.

Act III: Hedgecock’s displays of public bravado became less convincing as a first jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction. Conclusion: A guilty verdict in the retrial.

But then, a startling plot twist unfolded that could still change the ending: Jury-tampering allegations were lodged against a court bailiff, and Hedgecock appealed his conviction, seeking to overturn his one-year jail sentence. While the case is appealed, Hedgecock has become a successful radio-show host.

Indeed, as a symbol of the ‘80s in San Diego, one could do worse than to settle on Hedgecock: One step forward, two back, a halting half step sideways--then, finally, survival, progress, heady optimism.

There were other occasions when San Diego politics crept into national headlines. In 1982, Carlsbad dentist Ron Packard became only the fourth person in American political history to win a write-in campaign for Congress. In 1986, Maureen O’Connor defeated Bill Cleator--long a favorite of the business community--to become San Diego’s first woman mayor. Then in 1988, San Diego voters adopted district elections for City Council races after having rejected the idea four previous times. Combined with O’Connor’s victory, the advent of district elections seemed to signal an end to the old boys’ network that had guided local politics for years.

Abortion proved to be a galvanizing issue in San Diego in the late ‘80s, as conservative activists stepped up public demonstrations and local legislators found their futures seemed directly linked to whether they supported a woman’s right to make her own decision on the volatile question.

In October, Bonita nurse Tricia Hunter, a pro-choice Republican running in a staunchly conservative district, won the 76th District Assembly seat. Then, early this month, Democratic Assemblywoman Lucy Killea parlayed the national backlash against Catholic Bishop Leo T. Maher’s decision to deny her Communion because of her pro-choice stand into a dramatic upset in a strongly Republican state Senate district.

On the other side of the issue, those who oppose a woman’s right to an abortion sometimes crossed the line separating protest from lawlessness--notably, in the case of Santee fundamentalist minister Dorman Owens, who pleaded guilty last year to charges of witness tampering and concealing information about a 1987 plot to bomb an abortion clinic.

For many San Diegans, protecting the environment also became a more important issue throughout the decade. As beaches were closed by recurring sewage spills and by medical wastes washing ashore, and then, this year, as the damaged Exxon Valdez oil tanker docked in San Diego Bay for repairs, San Diegans began to put the earth on their short list of priorities.

Passionate about few things as much as their city’s normally temperate climate, San Diegans in the 1980s also sweltered through several miserably hot, humid summers, and endured an “El Nino” condition in the winter of 1982-83 that brought torrential rainfall and unusually warm ocean currents. The storms generated by El Nino in 1983 caused an estimated $2.8 million damage in the county, destroyed hundreds of feet of pier in Imperial Beach and Oceanside, caused a 35,000-gallon gasoline spill and reduced a 50-square-mile kelp bed to 2 square miles.

In the summer of 1985, the most destructive fire in the city of San Diego’s history roared through Normal Heights, destroying 64 homes and damaging 20 others. Although several thousand residents were forced to flee, there were no fatalities or serious injuries.

In searching for a context for the decade, many San Diegans invariably return to the 1980s leitmotif--growth.

“San Diego is a big city that doesn’t want to admit it’s a big city--but gets offended when others don’t admit it,” UCSD economics professor Richard Carson said. “I’m not quite sure what it’s afraid of.”

The answer to that, many would say, lies 100 miles to the north. Indeed, the spectre of Los Angeles looms large over its southern neighbor as a not-so-subtle reminder of the dangers, and delights, of big city life--and of growth.

San Diegans have always had a kind of schizophrenic attitude toward their city’s population boom. Long after San Diego ceased to be a quiet little border town, many residents, eclipsing reality with nostalgia, preferred to think of their city that way: an idyllic place to work and especially to play, more of a town than a city, a haven largely free of big-city problems such as street crime, smog and social unrest.

And yet, as some residents yearned for quieter days, civic leaders complained that San Diego was not getting its deserved recognition as a major city. They were indignant to learn that, outside of California, San Diego is widely seen as essentially a suburb of Los Angeles, and they chafed at Easterners’ sneering assumption that the city is populated primarily by narcissistic sun-seekers, naval officers and retirees.

Proposing a theory shared by others, UCSD political science professor Steve Erie argues that the area’s rapid growth brings with it a rootlessness and a detachment from traditional values, creating an atmosphere where business ripoffs and political scandals are predictable consequences, not surprises.

“San Diego operates on a frontier mentality, very much an anything-goes attitude,” Erie says. “That’s partly because everything is so new here. Absent the sense of constraint or roots that hold people in other places, a lot of people play it very fast and loose here. There’s a feeling that, if you screw up here, so what? You don’t feel the same sense of responsibility--or fear or embarrassment--that you do in a place where maybe your family has been for several generations.”

Some San Diegans have little patience, however, with those who search for the “whys” about San Diego’s evolving identity. Accept the city for what it is now, they say, and then move on, pausing to analyze the past only long enough to find the guideposts for the future.

“Whenever I hear people say they want San Diego to remain a small town, I just shake my head and wonder how the 6th largest city in the country--and the 4th largest county--does that,” county Supervisor Susan Golding said. “If we try to deny reality, our problems are only going to get worse. Sure, there are minuses to being a big city, but they’re far outweighed by the pluses, one of which is that San Diego is competing on the national stage as never before.”

“If you want to live somewhere where you don’t have to worry about drive-by shootings and can get to work every day in 10 minutes, move to Laramie, Wyoming,” added Port Commissioner Lou Wolfsheimer. “If you want the restaurants and the culture and convention centers and Horton Plazas and recognition of a big city, you also have to tolerate some problems. . . . In 1980, we were still hoping all these great things would happen. And, by God, they have!”

But it is George Mitrovich, whose former job as Dominelli’s publicist provided him with insights into both the highs and lows of the decade, who perhaps best captures the tenor of the ‘80s in San Diego.

“There’s a quote from Camus that says, ‘In the midst of winter, I suddenly discerned there is within me an invincible summer,’ ” Mitrovich said. “That’s a great quote for San Diego. It’s a city that has confidence about the future and takes its past in stride, sometimes irrespective of mounting evidence of problems that either exist or lie ahead.

“On the whole, maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” Mitrovich added. “If you allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the negative, you’ll be immobilized. That didn’t happen to San Diego in the ‘80s, and I don’t think it ever will.”


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