City of the Dream, 1940-1970
CHAPTER TWO: Water – The Real Key to a City’s Survival
They continued to arrive by the thousands. And many of them would never forget a City bathed in the warm Southern California sun. Sailors and marines returning from battles at sea or from some fevered Pacific island could see, in the evening as their ships rounded Point Loma and headed for the inner harbor, the sun reflecting off the windows of buildings and homes on sloping hillsides. Above it all rose the friendly lights of El Cortez Hotel, a beacon high on the edge of the mesa and then the most dominant feature on the near horizon. Far behind it rose the mountains turning purple in the sunset.
To others away from home for the first time in their lives, and for the most part confined to military bases during training, the City they occasionally visited was merely a sea of busy people to whom a uniform was as common as a grain of sand. They would be glad to be away, to take their part in the great battles, or to endure lonely vigils at some distant place they had never heard of before. But they, too, would remember something, and many would return to make their homes.
San Diego was not a City locked up by severe Winters nor in Summer stilled by stifling heat. There were two bays, San Diego and Mission Bay, the latter undeveloped; miles of free beaches on wide ocean fronts; and Balboa Park, with its exquisite Spanish-Colonial buildings which had housed two expositions. The City’s business, social and civic life still revolved around its tiny Horton Plaza on Broadway. On its streets one eventually met everyone else. The City’s two largest department stores and chain department stores were in nearby blocks. Here were the theaters and the restaurants and the hotels. During the Great Depression financial institutions had largely drawn back to the center of the City. Most of its people lived on the broad mesa that rose a half mile back from the bay and stretched eastward from its great Balboa Park. Efforts to develop another section of the mesa, Kearny Mesa, cut off from the San Diego Mesa by the San Diego River and Mission Valley, had produced little results. Mission Valley itself was the location of dairies, some small farms and gravel and sand pits.
San Diego commanded a metropolitan area which included four smaller communities. To the east were La Mesa and National City. Before the war, the census of 1940 had given La Mesa a population of about 4,000 and El Cajon, a few miles further east, less than 1,500. To the south were National City and Chula Vista. National City had more than 10,300 and Chula Vista a little more than 5,000. Coronado, across the bay, had a population of 5,400. The only other incorporated communities in the County were Oceanside, with about 4,600, and Escondido, with about 4,500. The population in the unincorporated areas was less than 49,000. The total in the entire County was slightly less than 290,000.
By 1942, however, the civilian population of the City had grown to an estimated 276,000 and there were more than 390,000 residents in the County. San Diego had gone to war. Even the National Geographic magazine was impressed. An assistant editor, Frederick Simpich, wrote as follows, after a visit to the City:
“Workers by thousands, and yet more thousands, swarm steadily in. More than four times as many are busy here now as there were soldiers in our regular Army when the Spanish-American war began. … To shelter this ever-growing industrial army, Government scrapes down hills, lays miles of streets and water pipes, installs big sewage disposal plants, and builds not only rows and rows of houses, but whole new suburbs, complete with markets, movie houses, playgrounds, grassy lawns, and shrubbery. … Old residents, pausing from golf or gardening, rub their eyes in sheer astonishment at all this colossal confusion.”
The largest of the housing projects brought virtually a new town into being, Linda Vista, or “beautiful view,” on Kearny Mesa. The name was bestowed on the project by the Works Progress Administration at the suggestion of the San Diego Highway Association and several unmentioned individuals. There were to be 2,000 permanent homes, 1,000 temporary housing units, and 750 dormitories, over four square miles of the flat mesa. There were no garages or sidewalks. Linda Vista was dedicated by the wife of the President, Eleanor Roosevelt. The units were completed in 159 working days and the 14,000 persons who moved in protested that they had to go fourteen miles for a loaf of bread. A business section, schools and playgrounds followed quickly.
By 1944 there were all told twenty-three operating projects of more than 14,000 family units, and spaces for a thousand additional privately-owned trailers, which combined to provide shelter for 65,000 persons.
As far as many San Diegans were concerned, after the war the new arrivals could all go home, back to the cold Plains or the Deep South, or from wherever they came. There was a new saying in California, that “I’m here, now they can close the door.”
But business men had other thoughts. There had come to San Diego a civilian payroll which no one could have foreseen just barely ten years before. At a meeting called by the Chamber of Commerce and attended by all its directors and about a hundred other leading businessmen and industrialists, in December of 1941, a committee report was presented, which stated in part:
“We have these industries and payrolls. Our business and economic life has been geared to them. Some say: ‘Well, let them go, when the war is over.’ We do not subscribe to that opinion. Do our merchants recall the ‘business droughts’ when the Fleet was away on maneuvers? The Fleet has now been away for more than a year. Who is it that lines our counters today? Who is going to occupy the thousands of homes, which were financed by local investors and financial institutions? Who will occupy the store buildings and offices and hotels – use the telephones, gas and electricity, ride the street cars, buses, trains and commercial planes – pay rentals – pay grocery, meat, milk and other bills? What of the City’s water revenues?”
The Chamber committee answered its own questions and said it seemed “to us that we have no alternative than to bring about a retention of those payrolls and plan for the orderly development of a City and County to accommodate them.” Hence, it recommended the naming of a new string of committees.
Chairman of the post-war committee itself was Philip L. Gildred and it included Donald E. Hanson, Albert G. Reader, Phil D. Swing, Walter B. Whitcomb, and with the Chamber’s president, Hance H. Cleland, as ex officio member.
Think big, was the order of the day. One of the committee determinations was that San Diego should become a great air base as well as a great naval base:
“The true possibilities and knowledge of the Pacific islands ‘and China have been revealed by this war. Heretofore, except to a few individuals, they have been a mystery, and have hidden their secret. This war has revealed them as a storehouse – practically untouched. After the war there will result the opening of a vast development in these areas.
“The China Clippers, or their modernized version, will operate on frequent schedules between the Pacific Coast ports and South and Central America, Mexico, Australia, China, and the Pacific islands. Large ocean-going planes with their freight-laden glider trains, will be a common sight … our geographical location makes us the natural United States port for trade with most of these areas.”
Who were the people coming to San Diego? In the language of the day, as reported from Washington, “the Joads and the Negroes are on the march. Abandoned shacks and half-empty villages along the main highways of the Deep South give mute evidence of the drift of population to northern and West Coast industrial areas.”
The Census Bureau estimated that seventy-four percent of San Diego’s 165,000 wartime migrants came from outside the geographic region, the largest bloc coming from the west north central region and the west south central states. States in the first group included Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. In the second group were Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
The Census Bureau said that in the five congested areas of the West, San Diego, Portland-Vancouver, Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay, the Negro population grew from 107,000 in 1940 to about 228,000 in 1944. The President’s Committee on Congested Production Areas estimated San Diego’s Black population increased about forty-five percent, to about 7,500.
Big planes were rolling out of Consair, as Consolidated Aircraft was known, and the number produced and their departures were secret. The planes lifted off the City’s municipal airport, Lindbergh Field, for England, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands Indies, or to American Army or Navy bases somewhere in the Western Hemisphere, or across the Pacific to Honolulu, Manila, Indochina or Singapore. Fear of a surprise raid on this huge plant, by a landing force from Japanese vessels, or from airplanes launched from carriers, resulted in the erection of a high concrete wall facing the plant along Pacific Highway and the spreading of a long camouflage netting across the highway and the plant. From the air, Consair disappeared from the scene.
The Marine Corps, which had been looking for some years for a West Coast training center, moved quickly to acquire the lands of the Santa Margarita y Flores Rancho which were situated in San Diego County. The ranch was an original Mexican land grant. A Federal Court condemnation order gave the Marines immediate possession, on July 9, 1942. The final judgment, ten months later, gave the Marines 121,387 acres for which they paid the estate and heirs the sum of $4,110,035. A number of acres was added in later years. It became known as Camp Pendleton. Here were trained the Marines who would make the landings on Pacific islands, and move bases for bombing planes ever closer to the heart of Japan.
The crews to land invading Marines were trained at a great new base on the Coronado Strand, the Naval Amphibious Training Base. Warbred landing ships could slip right onto shore. A field on Kearny Mesa, which the Navy had acquired long previously from the Army Air Corps, was put into service in 1943 for use by the Marines as an air supply and logistics center. It was called Miramar, which in Spanish means overlooking the sea. By 1945 it had two 6,000-foot runways and another of 3,000 feet. The Marines also acquired land in El Cajon Valley for training parachute jumpers and named it Gillespie Field in memory of Archibald M. Gillespie, a Marine captain who had participated in the United States seizure of San Diego from Mexico. The parachute training later was abandoned and the field became an auxiliary to the Marine Air Station at El Toro.
The Navy also moved onto a mesa to the south, creating an airport on Otay mesa named Brown Field after a Commander Melville S. Brown who had been killed in an air crash near Descanso. It had three runways and more than a hundred buildings. An auxiliary landing field for North Island at Del Mar, which had been owned by the Navy for many years, was converted into a field for lighter-than-air ships which patrolled the coast for submarines. The Navy’s air arm also moved into active occupation of an old and virtually abandoned Army Air Corps auxiliary field in Imperial Beach which had been named in memory of Major William Roy Ream, the first flying surgeon to be killed in an aircraft accident. Other small and temporary fields and landing strips were in use throughout the County. The Navy also took over Camp Elliott, on Kearny Mesa, from the Marines, who were transferred to Camp Pendleton, and it became a personnel distribution center. Newly-filled land along the foot of Point Loma, created by dredging of the bay, was taken by the Navy for extension of the Naval Training Station.
Fort Emory, an Army installation to supplement the guns of Fort Rosecrans in guarding the sea approaches to San Diego, rose north of Imperial Beach on the Silver Strand which closed in the port from the south and connected the mainland to Coronado and the Navy’s air field on North Island.
The waterfront was being shaped by numerous wartime construction projects. The embarcadero was extended 3,000 feet to the vicinity of the Coast Guard Base; a $2,000,000 pier a thousand feet in length was constructed by the Navy near the foot of Broadway to serve the district Supply Depot, and almost $3,000,000 was being spent on a graving dock to accommodate cruisers as large as 10,000 tons, at what was then known as the Destroyer Base.
With so many new military establishments and thousands engaged in civilian war production, transportation in San Diego was chaotic for a time. Many street car lines had been abandoned during the Depression, the cars replaced with buses. It was too late to replace the power lines, to replace tracks or uncover those hidden under pavement, and the company scoured the nation for old buses and any street cars they could find to use on remaining tracks. Buses and cars were brought from Utah, Pennsylvania, and New York City, refurbished quickly, and put into service for the duration. They were crowded and often broke down, but to conserve rubber, with gasoline rationed only for necessary trips and pleasure driving a thing of the past, there was no other way to get around the City, its suburbs and adjoining communities. A report by the City Manager, Walter Cooper, said that street car and bus passengers increased from 2,306,518 in June of 1940 to 7,344,043 a year later.
Rationing boards were set up to control the distribution of food and some goods, as well as gasoline. Without a book of stamps a person was an alien in a controlled land. Manpower controls tied young workers eligible for the draft to vital war production. Zoning restrictions were eased to permit more than one family to occupy a home in single-family areas, or to take in boarders. Most of Balboa Park itself was still available for public use, including the expanding Zoo. The Zoo under its director, Belle Benchley, instituted emergency procedures to protect the 3,000 specimens and prevent their escape in advent of a bombing. Security guards were equipped with rifles and instructed to shoot if necessary. Gradually, as the first panic wore off, rules were relaxed and the Zoo became a place of pleasure for thousands of recruits and war plant workers. Permanent buildings, such as housed the Fine Arts Gallery, Natural History Museum and the Museum of Man in the California quadrangle, and three other structures had been taken over by the Navy as auxiliary hospital units. Exhibits were removed or stored for the duration. The Naval Hospital, which before the war had been caring for about 1,200 patients, by the summer of 1945 was caring for an average of 8,000 patients a day. In December of 1944, the hospital and its auxiliaries had more than 12,000 ill or wounded men. Before the bombs fell Major Fleet had warned a civic group in San Diego that the nation already was in the war then – embracing so much of the world – and that “it will be a long war, and there are many of you here today whose sons will be killed before it is over.”
Dimout regulations brought about the darkening of windows and the lowering of speed and dimming of headlights. One of the early victims of gasoline rationing was Major Fleet, the president of Consair, who lost his right to have gasoline for sixty days for exceeding the daytime speed limit of thirty-five miles an hour. The City’s official rent control committee soon ordered that rents must be lowered to the level of January 1, 1941. Landlords were forced to refund $75,000 to tenants.
Though civilian flight operations at Lindbergh Field had become subordinate to the military, a City that once felt itself isolated by lack of adequate railroad passes through the mountains and the difficult highway crossings, now believed that once the war ended the City would be freed by the dynamics of the new air age. While it had lost the service of United Airlines, another major carrier, American Airlines began service to San Diego, linking it with the East, on the recommendation of the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox. At that time Western Airlines was operating two daily flights into Los Angeles for connections elsewhere. Within a year of its leaving San Diego, United had returned. But flying was on a priority basis. The hopes of those who had longed to see San Diego an important transportation and shipping terminal rose again. The Chamber of Commerce aviation committee said it was not too early to begin developing airline connections with the Orient, the South Pacific and South America. In fact, according to William Sample, Jr., San Diego representative for American Airlines, the only reason then that the City did not have direct service to Mexico City was that Army regulations prohibited night landings at San Diego.
Three decades before San Diego had staged the Panama California Exposition, and built the grand array of Spanish Colonial buildings in Balboa Park, in an effort to capitalize on completion of the Panama Canal. The supporters of the Exposition had expected San Diego to become the first port of call in expanded shipping from the East Coast. Instead, the opening of the canal had merely shortened the distance, and the ships had gone right on by to the larger commercial and metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rising air traffic due to the war gave new hope that San Diego could become, if not a shipping center by sea, an air terminus of international significance. But those high hopes had a temporary setback when the Civil Aeronautics Authority closed down the airport, shutting off all airline connections, on the grounds of airline complaints of a dangerously cluttered field and inadequate management by the Harbor Department. The airport remained closed for two weeks, until it was cleaned up and made safe for landings and takeoffs. The harbor director, Joseph Brennan, acknowledged the conditions but blamed the Army and its Air Corps.
During the latter stages of the war, the runway at Lindbergh Field was strengthened and lengthened, by the Federal Government, for a new generation of big planes coming off the assembly lines, and a news article hailed it as a wartime dagger pointed at the heart of Japan and a peacetime guarantee of San Diego s leadership in the air.
A casualty of the times, in a long political struggle and then in the expending of energy in converting a City from peace to war, was Mayor Benbough, who died unexpectedly November 4, 1942, at the age of fifty-eight. He had surmounted all his enemies and had driven those who had opposed him from power. He had cleaned up the town and broken an alliance between a “blue- stocking” City Council and a City administration and Police Department which had contended that gambling and prostitution were natural and desirable in a City dependent so heavily on tourists and on a Navy enlisted personnel which at that time was composed largely of unmarried men.
A successor to finish out Benbough’s unexpired term was selected by the Council. He was the Rev. Dr. Howard B. Bard, pastor of the First Unitarian Church and a spokesman for the City’s more liberal forces. But the man who would succeed him and, too, gain power as a Mayor which was not defined in the City Charter, was sitting on the Council. He was Harley E. Knox, a dairy owner. In the election in the Spring of 1943 he was elected Mayor at the primary. Knox had been brought to San Diego by his parents in 1912, and after graduation from the old Normal Training School which had grown into San Diego State College, entered the dairy business in 1919 in Southeast San Diego. He had known the periods of drought and what they could do to San Diego. Short of stature, but determined in action almost to the point of pugnaciousness, he moved ahead in politics as in business, with singleness of purpose.
Another who felt the weight of San Diego’s wartime experience was the man who had done the most to make it a center of production for war, Major Fleet. Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor Fleet had become restless, even frustrated. War production experts were critical of his organizational setup and his management practices of making all decisions no matter how small or how large. They felt he stood in the way of faster assembly line operations. To a person of Fleet’s individualism, the situation was an unhappy one, and furthermore, wartime taxes were eating up the returns of growth.
He was summoned to the White House, and, he later insisted, he presented his frustrations to President Roosevelt and agreed to sell out. He said he told the President that though he and his associates owned approximately eighty percent of the corporation when the wartime tax act was passed, and after more than eighteen years of successful efforts, their investment had turned into a “load of polls.” Roosevelt decreed that the Army and Navy should select a buyer. Fleet agreed to remain as a consultant.
He sold a controlling interest to Vultee Aircraft, Inc., of Downey, California, which in turn was controlled by Aviation Corporation of America headed by Victor Emanuel, a director of Republic Steel. In 1942, Harry Woodhead, chairman of the board of Vultee, became president of Consair. The merger of the two companies into Consolidated Vultee, or Convair, was completed in 1943. Tom M. Girdler, chairman of Republic Steel Corporation, was the new chairman. 1. M. Laddon, who had designed the B-24, had remained as had other executives.
Operations were expanded to thirteen divisions throughout the nation, and peak employment reached more than 100,000, far beyond the small operation which Fleet had moved to San Diego from Buffalo, N.Y., in 1935. For the “little” company which he had founded in 1924, and which had then a gross sale of $211,000, Fleet received almost $11,000,000 for his and family interests.
Between December 7, 1941, and the summer of 1945, Convair divisions delivered 28,000 completed aircraft and approximately 5,000 equivalent planes delivered as spares, for a total of 33,000. Included were B-24 Liberator bombers and C-87 Liberator Express transports, trainers, liaison planes, PBY Catalina and P132Y Coronado flying boats and PBYA Privateer patrol bombers. The Convair plants at San Diego produced 6,724 B-24’s; the plant at Fort Worth, 3,034. The total of B-24’s produced, by Convair and other companies, including the Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run plant, was 18,481.
War production reached a peak and in some cases was beginning to decline by mid-1944, with American successes in the Pacific and the Allied invasion of the European mainland. The great naval battle of the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, fought and won by the American Third and Seventh Fleets, sealed the fate of Japan. The Allied invasion of Normandy began only about three and a half months later.
The defense of the West Coast had changed dramatically, from the first days of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Now there were seventy-five radar stations to alert defenses to any possible attack. The Fourth Air Force ranged far and wide. A million and a half civilians served as ground observers. And in the Pacific and European theaters, American air forces were winning control of the skies. Before the end of the year the defense system was slowly being dismantled. Before the end of the war, not one radar station was in operation on the West Coast.
As their plight had become more desperate, the Japanese had taken to drifting large paper balloons across the Pacific and the wind currents took them mostly into northern areas of the West Coast where rain-dampened areas refused to burn when bombs carried by the balloons detonated. There were some civilian casualties, however. One balloon came down in San Diego County, near Scissors Crossing, in the desert area, but the bomb, though dragged over the ground and dislodged, did not explode.
The persistence of many Japanese in collective farms to prove their loyalty to the United States resulted in the creation of a special Army division, and former internees fought in Europe with distinction. But it was only in 1944 that the first internees were allowed to leave relocation centers for coastal areas.
Though it appeared that before long some rationing might be eased, newsprint was still tightly rationed and newspapers had suffered advertising and circulation reductions. Unexpectedly a Federal agency approved the transfer of newsprint from a free circulation newspaper for a new daily, and awarded it additional newsprint. Clinton D. McKinnon moved in 1944 to found the San Diego Daily journal as a competitor for The San Diego Union and The Tribune-Sun, both owned by Ira C. Copley. The reason advanced by the Democratic Administration was that San Diego was a hardship case because its two newspapers nominally spoke for Republicans, and the Democrats had no publication to speak for them.
In 1944 the population of the City was estimated to be more than 286,000, and that of the County, 609,000. The big year for building was 1941 when construction permits were valued at $51,000,000. Afterward they declined and by 1944 they amounted to about $8,000,000. But the pressure of the times merely shifted to another phase.
That San Diego might face a crisis in water became evident as early as 1942. The rains were diminishing and a period of drought was unfolding. The net safe yield from the City’s reservoirs and from pumping of underground supplies was considered to be 26,600,000 gallons a day. That is, San Diegans could use that much water every day without endangering the supplies which had to be maintained to last over an extended drought. But daily consumption on occasion rose to 47,000,000 gallons daily. In July of 1943, consumption reached 57,700,000 gallons a day. Reservoirs were now only a little more than sixty-four percent full, compared with more than eighty-two percent the year before. The rains failed to come in October and then the rains that did come later fell in the wrong places and much water was lost to the sea or to unreachable underground storage.
The experiences of almost a century had taught that enough water had to be stored to last perhaps seven years. The year 1939 had been a wet season and the City’s reservoirs almost filled to capacity, and in some cases, at Hodges and El Capitan dams, planks and sandbags had been laid across the spillways to prevent unnecessary losses. Water had seemed to be so plentiful that the residents had forgotten history and had rejected proposals to build another storage reservoir, San Vicente, on a tributary of the San Diego River, and expand distribution facilities. However, voters did ratify a contract to acquire rights to have the City’s share of Colorado River water to be delivered through the All-American Canal to the base of the mountains, from where in time it could be lifted up and dropped down to San Diego.
But the City had grown so fast since 1939 that distribution facilities, as had been warned, proved inadequate and daytime watering was banned in sections of the City, particularly in Mission Hills, Point Loma and La Jolla. Another year passed and then the voters quickly approved $3,000,000 to build San Vicente dam and $1,300,000 for additional distribution facilities.
However, Samuel B. Morris, dean of engineering at Stanford University, and the City’s chief consultant on water problems, urged the immediate drawing of plans to bring Colorado River water to San Diego. The water report of 1937 had shown that if all of the possible sources of water available to San Diego were developed, with full conservation, the practical yield would only be 51,300,000 gallons a day. And more than that amount was being used already, on occasion, and a dry period was now in full swing, and there wouldn’t be time enough to build the reservoirs even if it could be assured they would be adequate.
It was clear to almost everyone now that the land no longer could support the number of people who wanted to live there. No matter how many dams were built to store the runoff of inconstant rivers, or how much could be pumped from the vanishing underground reservoirs, there still would not be enough water to support a life built on hopes of ease and opportunity. But the Colorado River itself was being called the “last water hole in the West.”
The City could wait no longer. Without more water there would be no shining city. San Diego was like the pueblos of New Mexico shining in the desert sun and which had lured Spaniards northward on a search for fabled cities of gold. But the pueblos, on approaching them, proved not to be burnished with gold but made of adobe which did reflect a desert sun. Would San Diego also prove to be a mirage to those who had seen it shine so invitingly in the warm Southern California sun, and bad vowed to return some day? Would it be a City limited in growth? It would be, without water from afar.
In California, growth had been accepted as a fact of life. Only the retired, who existed on limited incomes, had resisted the idea of ever-rising land values and the building of dams and roads to meet the continuing demands of new arrivals. A limit to growth had not been a part of the philosophy of the Americans who since the Civil War had joined a Westward movement which saw the quick founding of new towns, and the moving on again, until the shores of the Pacific at last turned the tide back on itself
Fred Heilbron, a plumbing contractor by trade; Phil D. Swing, an attorney specializing in water law; and Harley Knox, a Mayor who liked to say that he had arrived from across the tracks, had one thing in common: they knew that water was the key to San Diego’s future. They had known San Diego in the drought. And they did not believe, as did so many late comers, that the riches of Southern California came naturally. The real estate promoters liked to speculate on what would have happened if the Pilgrims had landed in California instead of Massachusetts. Their answer, of course, was that civilization would have gone no farther, that the European migrants would have been content to stay and that the Indians would still hold Manhattan Island. But to picture the Southern California seacoast as it would have appeared to the Pilgrims and actually appeared to the Spanish settlers, one had to take the present landscape and make some erasures. The palm trees would have to go. So would the oranges, the lemons, and almost all of the trees and shrubs that stayed green in the summer. To be sure there were Golden Live Oaks and willows in the canyons, but the native inhabitants had done nothing to alter the land. They had lived in ecological innocence, killing small game, collecting clams and gathering seeds. They moved, prospered and died off according to natural fluctuations. It was the Spaniards who introduced the trees and plants which were to so mark Southern California. The Spaniards’ greatest innovation was irrigation. When added to the California sun, water was the ingredient that eventually made it possible to support concentrated populations.
But Spaniards made no attempt to supply water for commercial agriculture; that remained for the Americans to do. Ever since, however, it had been a race to find enough water to keep pace with the demand. Swing, Heilbron, and then Knox, understood this. The future of San Diego was across the mountains. They knew also that the military services were using almost half of the water San Diego had managed to obtain through costly pumping and the acquiring of expensive reservoirs. The military services were paying for what they used; but money meant nothing when water was being used up faster than it could be replaced.
The Water Report of 1937 had stated that of the two ways San Diego could bring in its share of Colorado River water, the cheapest would be to take it from the All-American Canal, lift it by pumps over or through the mountains at 2,700 feet, and then deliver it to the City’s reservoirs by gravity flow. This would have cost, by the estimates of the times, $8,650,000. To bring it through the Colorado Aqueduct of the Metropolitan Water District, controlled by Los Angeles, and then deliver it to San Diego by a separate gravity-flow aqueduct, would cost at least $17,000,000, and perhaps much more, when all costs of joining the Metropolitan District and sharing its prior expenses were considered. San Diegans preferred the All-American Canal route, but the City and County joined in asking the Federal Government for a new study on comparative costs.
In 1943 a legislation drafted by Swing and approved by the State Legislature provided for the creation of county water authorities, and the San Diego County Water Authority consisting of nine public agencies was organized in 1944. It included the Cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Coronado, National City, Oceanside, and the Fallbrook, Helix, Lakeside, and Ramona irrigation districts. Heilbron, a City Councilman from San Diego, was elected its first chairman.
The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation warned publicly that it would be foolhardy for San Diego, or Washington for that matter, to rely on a continuation of the favorable conditions of the past four years. San Diego already was aware that the rains were decreasing. The Navy intervened. Rear Admiral W. L. Friedell, Commandant of the Eleventh Naval District, and Captain Alden K. Fogg, District Public Works Officer, asked for Federal assistance in bringing Colorado River water to San Diego in the shortest possible time. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal concurred. As a result President Roosevelt appointed an interdepartmental committee to present recommendations. The committee included representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation, War Department, Navy Department, Federal Works Administration, and the San Diego County Water Authority. One of its members was Swing, then general counsel for the San Diego Water Authority. As a former Congressman for the San Diego Imperial Counties district, he had been co-author of the Swing Johnson bill which had brought about construction of Boulder Dam and the control of the Colorado River, and the digging of the All-American Canal which had assured the prosperity of the Imperial Valley. Walter W. Cooper, San Diego’s City Manager, was named a consultant. Before becoming Manager, he had been a consultant on public utilities. Cooper’s role in the struggle for water was to be a limited one, as he was killed in the crash of an airliner approaching the Burbank airport in the San Fernando Valley, while returning from Sacramento. Mayor Knox was injured but recovered. To succeed Cooper, the City Council selected Fred A. Rhodes, at the time Director of Public Works, who had served before as City Manager and also as Manager of Operations.
In October of 1944 the President’s committee issued its report. It stated that the Colorado River offered the only available source from which an adequate and dependable supplemental water supply could be obtained and that the route by way of the Metropolitan Water District was preferable to the All-American Canal route in that it would be a gravity system requiring a minimum of critical materials, and could be completed in two years.
This meant that San Diego would have to merge its rights to Colorado River water with those of the Metropolitan District, and tap its Colorado aqueduct on this side of the mountains. While this would bring 50,000,000 gallons daily to San Diego, the report stated, the necessary tunnels should be built to provide for eventual delivery of twice that amount. Best of all, the report recommended that the delivery system be financed entirely by the Federal Government as a safeguard to Federal activities in the area, with seventy percent of the estimated cost to come from the Navy Department, ten percent from the War Department, and twenty percent from the Federal Works Agency. The Navy would be the contracting agency.
On November 29, President Roosevelt sent a message to the Senate advising that he had recommended that construction begin immediately. But the matter was not yet settled. A representative of the War Production Board visited San Diego, studied the situation, and indicated to Mayor Knox that he thought in view of the progress of the war San Diego could survive through the final years by a system of water rationing. After that, it would not be Washington’s problem. He departed for Washington by train. Knox got to Washington ahead of him by air, and began a round of arguments that the Federal Government could not afford to abandon the City to its fate. The Spring of 1945 came and the War Production Board, unmoved, formally interposed objections to construction of the aqueduct on grounds of material and manpower shortages. Under pressure, it later recommended a year’s delay. But a series of conferences in Washington finally resulted in an agreement to begin construction in ninety days, instead of waiting a year. The Navy assumed the task and contracts for construction of the Poway, Fire Hill and San Vicente tunnels were let on May 18, 1945. Construction started on September 12.
For those who were required to look even farther into the future, the Colorado River might not be the “last waterhole” for California and particularly for vulnerable San Diego. This became evident in the long, drawn-out struggle over division of its water and the rights of Mexico.
After years of debate and argument, the water of the Colorado had been divided by compact between Upper and Lower Basin states. The division had assumed that the annual flow of the river would amount to 18,000,000 acre feet and therefore a total of 7,500,000 acre feet was awarded to each basin, with the Lower Basin having an eventual right to an additional million acre feet of the surplus or unapportioned flow. This took care of 16,000,000 of the anticipated annual flow of 18,000,000. Time was to prove that the flow had been seriously over-estimated.
With the construction of Boulder Dam, and the regulation of the river’s flow, Mexico had moved to firm up its rights to water from the Colorado. Before the building of Boulder Dam, Mexico used only 750,000 acre feet a year. Under wartime secrecy a United States treaty was drawn which granted to Mexico a right to 1,500,000 acre feet a year, in exchange for water for Texas from the Rio Grande and an agreement to discuss division of the flow of the Tijuana River as it passed through San Diego County. The State Department, when the treaty finally was made public, hailed it as an important step in the Good Neighbor Policy with Latin America. California officially reacted with anger and dismay, charging that in view of an over-estimation of the flow, such a large diversion to Mexico would in the end have to come from water it had expected to use sometime in the future.
Mexico had increased its use since the construction of Boulder Dam to about 1,500,000 acre feet a year, but insisted this amount could have been used at any time if crops other than seasonal cotton had been planted in the past in the delta. California insisted that Mexico should be limited to the amount used before the building of the dam.
In 1921, Fred Heilbron, as a member of the City Council, had successfully urged San Diego City to stake a claim on the river. A legal claim in a can was placed on the bank of the river and marked with a stick and flag. By this act San Diego acquired a right to use 113,000 acre feet a year. Though the amount seemed relatively small, it could prove vital to the future, but in the view of San Diegans it was placed in jeopardy by Mexico’s own claim.
Secretary of State Dean Acheson defended the treaty as being in the interest of the comity of nations. California’s two senators, Sheridan Downey and the aging Hiram Johnson, fought its ratification to the end.
Proponents of the treaty were led by Sen. Tom Connolly, a Democrat of Texas, who wanted to trade off Colorado River to Mexico in exchange for additional water for Texas from the Rio Grande. But California felt betrayed by the opposition of Upper Basin states. Senator Eugene Millikin, a Republican of Colorado, charged that California had 49 gambled for water rights that do not now exist,” and the State had doled out allocations of Colorado River water to which full rights had not been established and to which Mexico, under the Colorado River Compact, must have first claim.
Though conscious that he was fighting a losing battle, Senator Sheridan Downey, a Democrat of California, who had entered the Senate after bowing to political demands of a welfare scheme called “Ham & Eggs,” became the champion of California and doggedly and persistently fought a Democratic State Department every step of the way. He accused the United States International Boundary Commissioner of not having made “a fair and decent” investigation of irrigated lands below the border on which Mexico based her claim and “deliberately tried to mislead the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
Johnson, who had only a short time to live, rose in the Senate and insisted that there was no difference between taking of land and the taking of water. Referring to the pioneers of Imperial Valley, he cried out, “I implore the Senate, I beg the Senate, to give them a square deal, rather than reach over into Mexico and give Mexico a square deal.”
The Senate vote for ratification was seventy-six to ten. The vote came on April 18, 1945, less than a week after the death of President Roosevelt and the succession of Harry S Truman. Truman obviously was anxious to see the treaty passed as quickly as possible. Another “last waterhole” would have to be found.
In the death of Roosevelt San Diego lost a President who since his early political days, as an Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had made himself aware of San Diego’s problems and had made many of the decisions which converted the City into a great naval establishment. His death and the end of the war would pose another problem in water for San Diego.
Return to Books.
CITY OF THE DREAM
Ch. 1 War – And the Shape of Things to Come
Ch. 2 Water – The Real Key to a City’s Survival
Ch. 3 Peace – The Shock of a Transformation
Ch. 4 The City – The End of One Civic Dream
Ch. 5 A Fiesta – Re-Living the Days of the Dons
Ch. 6 Cotton – The Promise of the Ships to Come
Ch. 7 The Price – Changes in the Land and the Sea
Ch. 8 The Auto – The Rise of Shopping Centers
Ch. 9 The Hopes – Tourists, a Bay, and the Park
Ch. 10 Downtown – The Tall Buildings Rise Again
Ch. 11 200 Years – What Kind of a City Was It Now?
Ch. 12 The Future – Renewing the ‘City Beautiful’