CHULA VISTA — "I wouldn't want to live there," said Doris McCarty, a sales clerk in a downtown San Diego boutique. "In fact, I wouldn't want to live anywhere in the South Bay except maybe Bonita," an unincorporated hamlet hidden deep in the Sweetwater Valley.
McCarty admitted that her impressions of Chula Vista are based on occasional drives down Interstate 5 past the community on her way to Tijuana and a couple of round trips on the San Diego Trolley.
In other words, McCarty, a Clairemont resident, saw what thousands of others see of Chula Vista--the unsightly bayfront and a smelly marshland, the backs of buildings and trackside weeds. She has never been to Chula Vista proper, she admits, because "I don't know how to get there, exactly," and if she did, she wouldn't go, because "what's to see?"
It's an opinion, or non-opinion, that many San Diegans have: Chula Vista is four off-ramps or two trolley stops on the way to Tijuana. It is a pink inkblot that spills over four pages of Thomas Bros. map books. A virtual unknown, a territory unexplored by most San Diegans and virtually ignored by tourist guidebooks about Southern California.
Yet, unacclaimed and with apparent ease, Chula Vista became the fastest-growing community in California, and probably the nation, this year. The city accomplished this feat by simply doing what it has done since its incorporation in 1911. It reached out and annexed a nearby community, in this case Montgomery (population 23,500) on Jan. 1, thus achieving an annual growth rate of 27.6% overnight and regaining its status (with about 114,000 people) as the county's second most populous city by besting aggressive Oceanside.
The South Bay city has been gobbling up surrounding acreages with Pac-Man-like voracity since its creation as a "gentleman's suburb" nearly a century ago. It has grown from a 5,000-acre plot to a 30-square-mile metropolis by extending its borders eastward eight
miles, nibbling at the lush Sweetwater Valley through annexations that have surrounded rustic Bonita's village center and that threaten to outflank and envelop Sunnyside.
Within a year or so, Chula Vista Mayor Greg Cox expects much of the Sweetwater Valley and all of upscale Bonita to be within the Chula Vista city limits. Within the next decade or two, he expects the city to more than double its size, expanding to fill its present sphere of influence--69 square miles.
Still small by San Diego's 330-square-mile standard, Chula Vista has its eye on some of the 34,000 acres owned by United Enterprises (Otay Ranch), land that could extend Chula Vista city limits east to the outskirts of Jamul.
If the city's present steamroller expansion continues unabated, Chula Vista could grow to one-third of San Diego's size and take control of future development in most of the southeast sector of the county.
One recent annexation at the extreme eastern city limits is the first phase of the massive EastLake development, a 3,073-acre planned community that eventually will house 30,000 Chula Vistans. More importantly, it will offer 11,000 or so new homes at prices ranging from $50,000 to $300,000 to balance out the South Bay's abundance of moderate-rent apartments and subsidized housing.
Cox sees this expansionist policy as only a part of the city's manifest destiny. He believes Chula Vista deserves both quantity and quality. He sees his city as a pleasant, well-managed, receptive contender for new industry and commerce, with affordable land prices and a wealth of space to offer, two commodities that aspiring North County competitors are running short on. The mayor believes the city is on a roll that will leave other fast-developing areas in its dust and will catapult his city out of the South Bay backwater stereotype.
It has been nearly 100 years--99, to be exact--since Chula Vista experienced its first building boom.
Early-day real estate promoters touted Chula Vista as the flower of the West, Pasadena's twin sister, Paradise by the bay. Those 1880s hucksters also could have used the merchandizing slogan adopted by today's EastLake developers: "City Close, Country Quiet."
Chula Vista's 5,000 original acres were cleared of brush, and 40-acre "blocks" were created, containing 5-acre sites reserved for estate homes and a surrounding income crop of fruit trees. Broad streets, 80 feet in width, were graded and lined with plantings of evergreens, pepper trees, oleanders, eucalyptus and palms. Developers bragged that more than $50,000 was spent on civic improvements to create "the finest spot on the globe."
In May, 1887, land sales began and eager buyers lined up to pick their special spot, much as homebuyers today are lining up for new housing in the eastern Chula Vista suburbs.