TROOPS TO BOSNIA?
(San Diego Backgrounder)
OCTOBER 31, 1995
KEVIN STARR, California State Librarian: San Diego wanted an industrial base, but it didn't want to sacrifice the aspects you have--had of a privileged resort enclave. And so by joining the Navy, you had an industrial base, but there wouldn't be messy strikes, there wouldn't be an unmanageable work force. It was a solution to keeping San Diego at once pastoral and industrial.
TOM BEARDEN: Starr says the city pursued that course because most San Diegans at the time were rather conservative.
KEVIN STARR: It's a Navy town but it's also a very refined town. I attribute that to the kind of middle, upper middle class Midwesterners who came here to settle San Diego and, and who brought their values of order and, and Mid American point of view to this city.
ANNOUNCER: (San Diego Historical Society Footage) San Diego, California, with its ideal year-round flying weather, land-locked harbor, and municipally-owned flying field.
TOM BEARDEN: The Naval bases and San Diego's mild climate also attracted the aircraft industry. Both grew explosively during World War II. The war brought thousands of people from all over the United States. The biggest aircraft manufacturer was Consolidated, which built the famous PBY flying boats and enormous factory right next to the city's airport. The Navy stayed on after the war, and so did tens of thousands of military veterans and aircraft workers. They made an indelible mark on the city's politics.
KEVIN STARR: The commanding rear admiral of the 11th Naval District was--was sort of like the doge of the city. You can't have this much authority, this much structure, this much federal spending in such a heavy organized way as the United States Navy without having that exercise, oh, a sort of sea anchor, if you will, to San Diego politics.
TOM BEARDEN: Is that still true?
KEVIN STARR: I think so, yes. I think San Diego is still--its elected officials are very sensitive to the military, and the military here is very sensitive to the elected official.
TOM BEARDEN: During the war, Consolidated, later renamed Conveyer, employed one out of every five workers in San Diego. That dominance continued post war. Until the 1980's, the biggest problem at the plant was finding a parking spot. Not so today. The parking lot is being torn up. Where the cavernous buildings once bustled with thousands of workers, the machinery they used to produce all those airplanes is lined up ready for auction. Today, the products of San Diego's military aircraft factories can be found only in museums. Cutbacks in defense spending have virtually eliminated aircraft production here and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs have simply disappeared. Only a skeleton crew remains. Evelyn Williams is winding down a 40 plus year career here, tidying up the stock room files and waiting for the bulldozers.
EVELYN WILLIAMS: They're going to tear these buildings down, I understand, and the Port District will be taking it back.
TOM BEARDEN: What's it going to be like to walk out that door for the last time?
EVELYN WILLIAMS: I'll probably cry. I'll probably cry. Because you stop and you think, this has been our home more our real home with our family and our loved ones, you know. We spend more time here than we do at home.
TOM BEARDEN: But just down the freeway a whole new industry is in the mist of explosive growth. The Qualcomm Company is setting up a production line to build a new generation of digital cellular telephones. It's one of a number of high-tech companies expected to take up the slack left by the declining aviation industry. In fact, electronics recently supplanted aerospace as San Diego's No. 1 manufacturing activity. The new companies probably wouldn't be here if the University of California's San Diego campus hadn't opened in the mid 60's. Irwin Jacobs is CEO and founder of Qualcomm. He originally came to San Diego to join the UCSD faculty.
IRWIN JACOBS, CEO, Qualcomm: It's important to have a major research university in the area to both set the kind of intellectual climate to help you attract people, and, of course, to train students to help staff new companies.
TOM BEARDEN: Observers say the academics, who migrated mainly from the Northeast, also made San Diego's political scene somewhat less conservative. The majority still votes overwhelmingly Republican but tends to be liberal on cultural issues. The biggest challenge now facing San Diego is working out the evolving relationship with Tijuana, the rapidly-growing megalopolis just across the Mexican border, a few miles to the South. San Diegans once studiously ignored Mexico and are now finding it difficult to adjust to the city's growing Latin population. Kevin Starr goes further. He says this once insular city's economic future lies in looking not just to the South but in all directions.
KEVIN STARR: This location is the destiny of the city. This is exquisitely beautiful but also an enormously serviceable port. The strategic location on the Asia Pacific Basin, fronting Latin America and fronting the American Sunbelt. That's the destiny of San Diego, and in a way, it was predicted by the Spanish founders here in 1769.
TOM BEARDEN: There is no doubt that San Diego's destiny also still includes the U.S. Navy. The Naval training center where hundreds of thousands of young sailors receive their basic training will be closed. New ships and new activities will more than replace that loss. Two weeks ago, the Navy commissioned the USS Steed'em in Los Angeles. The brand new destroyer promptly sailed off to San Diego en route to her new home port. It's part of the government's plan to make the city the Navy's West Coast super port. San Diego will ultimately experience a net gain of 5,000 military personnel.