Only last summer, Oceanside was celebrating itself--unveiling its gleaming white Civic Center, gazing dreamily on its upscale coastal developments and talking loftily about the dawn of a golden age of redevelopment.
Since then, like artillery shells dropping in from nearby Camp Pendleton, damaging events have exploded upon the seaside city:
* The economic recession and massive deployment of Camp Pendleton Marines to the Middle East have strangled city revenues and put many downtown businesses in a slump.
* A potential $5.8-million city budget deficit was discovered, the result not only of economic factors, but also of city mistakes and a breakdown in communication between the city staff and City Council.
* The city's growth-control law, Proposition A, suffered a clear setback after a Superior Court trial. So far, the city has spent $1.5 million defending the law, which is now headed for a second costly trial early next year.
* A slow-growth majority won election to the council in November, throwing the city into near political pandemonium with fractious council members at open war with one another. Three top city officials--the city manager, redevelopment director and police chief--have resigned amid political pressures from the council.
* A citizens' revolt, ignited by council turmoil and proposed budget cuts, may lead to a recall campaign against the council's new majority.
Maybe these problems are only a passing storm. But they reveal the stresses of a shifting political balance in a city divided between a pro-growth establishment and slow-growth residents.
"The power structure in Oceanside has changed," said Lou Lightfoot, the city's former planning director and now a land-use consultant to developers and public agencies.
There are two radically different visions of what this political change portends for the century-old city of 125,000 people.
Mayor Larry Bagley--now a virtually powerless minority council member--fears that after a decade of progress in drawing investment, Oceanside may suffer if developers of commercial and industrial projects spurn the city's new political regime for cities with more open arms.
"The message has gone out: 'Don't invest in Oceanside,' " said Bagley, a three-term mayor who has decided not to seek reelection. But until his current term ends, he said, "I am going to fight. This city has come too far in the last 10 years for them to throw it all down the tubes."
Bagley's outlook, while shared by some local bankers, developers and other interests, is not universally accepted.
His political archrival, Councilwoman Melba Bishop, the council's longtime outsider who now holds all the cards, proclaimed: "We've seen enough Taco Bells and El Pollo Locos" win rubber-stamp approval in Oceanside.
"It'll be harder to pull the wool over our eyes. . . . We're going to be more choosy," she said, exulting that with the election of slow-growth colleagues Nancy York and Don Rodee, "the powers that be downtown are shaking in their boots."
While the slow-growth troika may be victorious after years of election batterings, it still inherits a community that's generally split between east and west.
To the west is the city's downtown, where businesses have been bullish toward residential growth as a way to create a market for goods and services. In the San Luis Rey Valley to the east, subdivisions and strip shopping centers have sprouted with sufficient congestion to start an anti-growth backlash by residents there.
"What we have may be a separate economic situation in Oceanside--a bedroom community of commuters and the downtown interests," said Gene May, an Oceanside resident who is the vice president and manager of the Corporate Banking Center for San Marcos National Bank.
However, at the moment there is too much confusion and conflict in Oceanside for most civic leaders to step back and pontificate. The City Council is straining to solve a budget crisis, even though some members cannot even talk civilly to, or about, one another.
Meanwhile, the community is wondering what the collision of ideologies and personalities bodes for the city's future.
At their first official council meeting two weeks ago, the new majority fired four members of the seven-member Planning Commission, seeking a new commission majority to reflect Oceanside's slow-growth order.
Then, Bishop, York and Rodee wrested control over council committee assignments from Bagley, and unceremoniously yanked him as the city's 10-year representative to the San Diego Assn. of Governments, an influential regional planning agency.
Saying he was "hurt" by being pulled from Sandag, Bagley in an interview said, "People have been offended, outraged by the arrogance of these three people."
But the new council team isn't shrinking from its actions, and York said: "Basically, what we needed to do was get the attention of the people."
"There isn't any rancor or vindictiveness toward these guys, even though they've treated us horribly over the years," she added.