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1985 Was a Year of Ups and Downs for San Diego County

December 29, 1985|JANNY SCOTT | Times Staff Writer

The last North County coastal crop duster died. One of the first backcountry traveling saleswomen was buried in Oceanside. The only one-room schoolhouse in the county prepared to expand after 110 years.

There was talk of a water theme park facing Mission San Luis Rey, and of building a community center over the ruins of California's first mission, San Diego de Alcala. Horton Plaza edged the homeless out of a longtime downtown hangout. They moved east. A new crowd moved in.

Shootings and arrests escalated along the Mexican border. Fire roared up through the canyons and devoured homes in Normal Heights. Police shootings continued to climb. Deaths on San Diego roads were up.

Perceptibly and imperceptibly, life in San Diego changed this year, the city's population swelling toward the 1 million mark set for February, 1986. The past slid out of sight, the future loomed into view. Over and over, San Diego shed its skin.

Swarms of balloons kept drifting into the sky--50,000 for Horton Plaza, 50,001 for the state lottery, 5,000 for UC San Diego's first quarter of a century. America's Finest City, beamed officials. World Class City. Giant Step into the 21st Century.

Through it all, the mayor surfaced and resurfaced, like a marathon swimmer crossing the English Channel: trial, hung jury, new trial, conviction, vow to resign, request for a mistrial, retraction of vow, no mistrial, resignation, sentence.

Finally, reincarnation: Roger Hedgecock, radio talk-show host.

Everywhere, it seemed, there was growth.

Buoyed by falling interest rates and encouraging demographics, developers were building like mad. Forty thousand building permits were expected to be issued in the county by Dec. 31--a record, and a sign of economic vim.

Condominiums carpeted the Golden Triangle. Horton Plaza flung open its pastel gates to 70,000 first-day shoppers. Across Broadway, the U.S. Grant Hotel reopened after a four-year face lift. This time, men in white gloves were manning the doors.

Even the city limits bulged, for the first time since the 1960s. The city annexed 3,956 acres on Otay Mesa. Officials predicted 70,000 jobs for the area in the next 20 years. A new Otay Mesa border crossing opened.

There were, of course, reservations about all this growth, which found expression in the collective balk that was Proposition A. The managed growth initiative passed Nov. 5 by nearly 17,000 votes, demanding that 52,000 acres of the city be left alone until 1995. Developers had spent $600,000 to defeat it.

There were other efforts to manage the side-effects of progress--new laws limiting satellite dishes so they wouldn't block the neighbors' view and non-essential lighting so astronomers could still see the heavens. The San Diego City Council opted to protect the San Pasqual agricultural preserve from a proposed landing strip for ultralight aircraft.

The pace of life seemed to speed up. Even along the border in No Man's Land, things grew more prickly. The U.S. Border Patrol reported narrowly missing its 1983 record number of arrests in the San Diego district. There were kidnapings, shootings, economic blackmail.

In February, U.S. Customs officials backed up border traffic for miles, meticulously checking every car, to pressure Mexican officials to solve the kidnaping of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was eventually found murdered. The wait to cross stretched as long as 7 1/2 hours; tourist traffic plummeted. Eventually Mexican officials brought charges against some drug traffickers.

In March, the United States closed nine border crossings on a tip that Mexican drug smugglers planned to kidnap an official. In April, a Border Patrol agent fired through the border fence at a rock-thrower, wounding a 12-year-old Mexican boy in the back.

In May, a suspected border bandit was shot in the forehead in an exchange of gunfire in a San Ysidro canyon. In June, Calexico police charged a Border Patrol agent with kidnaping a 14-year-old boy. In July, he pleaded guilty.

Five Border Patrol agents have been shot in the last 20 months.

"It's a war zone down there," said Border Patrol spokesman Gene Smithburg.

North of the border, the San Diego Police Department had its own problems with violence--illustrated in part by a Police Officers' Assn. survey that gave San Diego the highest police-killing rate per capita of 51 large cities over the last 10 years.

On March 31, Officer Thomas Riggs was killed and Officer Donovan Jacobs and a civilian riding with Riggs were wounded in a disturbing incident on an Encanto street after Jacobs pulled over a van driven by 23-year-old Sagon Penn.

Some witnesses said Jacobs provoked Penn into a fight, taunting him with racial epithets before Penn grabbed the lawman's gun and began firing. Penn awaits trial for murder.

Late May brought the shooting of Wayne Douglas Holden, a distraught 21-year-old UC San Diego student who went lurching through his father's quiet San Carlos neighborhood wielding a kitchen knife while wearing only an overcoat.

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