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South Cedros: A Cinderella Story

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 16, 1998


The other night I had the wonderful experience of attending a opening at Gallery X in Solana Beach. The featured artist was Rudolph Ciarfella, and this was definitely the place to be. Like the redevelopment district in which it found it's self, the art was distinctly modern while playing up on the strengths of past masters Dali and Picasso. Yes ladies and gentlemen a renaissance is taking place a block from Highway 101.

Redevelopment is something I have always championed, never having seen a contradiction between an anti-growth stance and a pro regrowth position. It is evident to me that the City of Solana Beach has invested in a large amount of municipal monoxidil. The transformation, in the last five years, of South Cedros is nothing short of miraculous. This rebirth is something other coastal North County cities should pay attention to. There is a lesson of sound fiscal policy, environmental stewardship and commercial savvy to be learned here.

It seems to me that the people shaping the future of Solana Beach have realized that uncontrolled growth only leads to unexpected blight. Now unlike the City of Oceanside who decided to bulldoze several blocks of downtown with the sole intent of severely increasing density, Solana Beach had the sense to work with what they had. The huge Manchester project in Oceanside is being done at the taxpayers expense. I would be surprised if the people of Solana Beach are as heavily invested in development.

It was nice to know that we could plan an Friday night out with having to park only once. Drive to the Coaster station get off in Solana Beach and walk to the gallery. We had planned to do dinner at the Wildnote Cafe, yet this stylish restaurant was packed so we opted for the very low key Sam's Ship Ahoy, again in walking distance. Had we wanted to, we could have gone to the Belly-up Tavern after the gallery for rockin' live music. And this is just the night life.

During the daylight business hours the Design District is just as impressive. Commerce here is distinctly high brow. One could say this is an interior designers dream.  And after a full day of looking at cool stuff, that you either don't need, or can't afford, you can ease the guilt by relaxing at the North County Yoga Center. If relaxing is not your bag there is Zinc Cafe across the street. There is also a place serving High tea.

Now I know there are other cities with Coaster close shopping districts, yet none have done it with the style of Solana Beach. Those lights that arch over South Cedros say you have arrived. No Walmart or Home Depot here folks. In regards to cities, you can judge a book by it's cover. Everything about the Cedros Design District whispers class.

It is my opinion that Solana Beach is shaping up to be the Laguna Beach of San Diego's North County. Hip and happening with a character all it's own. By encouraging small business you not only achieve an eclectic offering, you also develop a loyal shoppers base without having to develop beyond sustainability. This is not to say the city is not experiencing growing pains, the point is that growth should not be seen only in linear terms. More is not better. Redevelopment is both the prudent and environmental choice. Sorry Encinitas, but taste begets taste, and stripmall after stripmall shows neither taste or foresight.

I understand that cities have to look out for their best interests. What I don't understand is why they don't consider long term viability as one of those interests. If we, as a community allow the development industry to control regional policy we will be left with a culture of commerce and little else. Redundant development serves nobody except those slapping buildings up so fast the infrastructure halts to a stop. "If you build it they will come," is a self fulfilling prophecy that substitutes character with convenience, and deep pockets for deep ecology.

To the mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle I would like to add Redevelop. The latter actually includes all of the rest. By redeveloping we reduce the amount of open space destroyed, we reuse improved urban areas and an already existing infrastructure, and we recycle any building materials that give way for renovation. If you ask me sprawling stripmalls are completely devoid of any life outside of retail, and any history is buried beneath three inches of concrete. The quonsin huts of South Cedros have a story all their own, and speak of a time when self sacrifice was common. So here's to Solana Beach, thanks for designing a future that allows us all some breathing room.

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