University City History – built on pueblo land – a story of property, power and greed | San Diego Reader


From the San Diego Reader, by Bob Dorn, first published in 1982: How San Diego lost its pueblo land – property, power and greed. This article from the San Diego Reader includes a history of the University City area from the early 1800s to 1982, including changes in land ownership, land zoning, and land usage. The attached images (and more) were published in the 1982 article. An excerpt is included below. Read the complete history from the San Diego Reader at

Enter now the 1960s. the era when most of us became aware that land was scarce and growing scarcer, even here in sleepy San Diego. There was afoot in city hall a notion to divest the city (its citizens, really) of all the remaining 2100 acres of pueblo lands that had not at that point been subjected to a public referendum. It was a quixotic move, considering that the voters were getting a bit suspicious of their elected representatives. In 1961 an attempt to sell more pueblo land was defeated at the polls. Two years later the council and its manager, Walter Hahn, were careful to explain the matter more fully. Most of the 2000-odd acres proposed for sale in 1963 would go to Irvin Kahn’s University City Corporation to develop the area that now bears his company’s name.

Kahn had holdings all over the city’s north, but they weren’t contiguous; what he and the city’s elected and unelected officials wanted to do was trade away the unbroken, large pueblo lots to him for the smaller slivers and scraps that Kahn had collected. In addition, Kahn was going to buy outright some of the acreage. The city told voters that the Kahn properties it wanted to exchange for the pueblo lots would be used for park and school sites.

A sharp-eyed citizen raised the embarrassing question of how the city would “earmark” those pueblo acres to Irvin Kahn when manager Hahn was also saying publicly that “all sales will be through public auction.” A week or so before the vote was scheduled, Hahn attempted to explain that Kahn would “probably” be the highest bidder because he could develop the land at less expense than anyone else. The proposition went down to defeat in November, 1963.

Wiser, but no less committed to the University City idea, the council and its manager months later dragged the Kahn package out of the ashes, this time in a confusing three-part set of propositions. The first two propositions put before the voters in 1964 specifically listed what uses would be put to something less than 1000 acres of pueblo lands — a more palatable number of acres considering the defeat the previous fall. In the first proposition, some 600 acres — along Torrey Pines Mesa, an area east of Interstate 5, and parts of Sorrento Valley — would be opened up to research and development, housing, Scripps Memorial Hospital, and, in smaller amounts, railroad, utilities, and telephone easements.

Roughly 340 additional acres would be opened up in University City for Kahn. Each of the propositions carried the promise that schools would be part of the uses “and suitable provision shall be made for the preservation of park sites and open space for public use.” The council took a deep breath and went for broke with the third proposition. It asked voters to do away altogether with Article 14, section 219 of the city charter, that troublesome prohibition on pueblo sales without voter approval. Passage of the third proposition would have made passage of the other two meaningless and unnecessary. When the polls closed, the voters had approved research and development along Torrey Pines Mesa and Sorrento Valley, a hospital for Scripps, housing in those areas, and Kahn’s projects for University City nearby. However, the repeal of section 219 failed. There were still some 1,300 acres of pueblo lands whose fate remained more or less in the electorate’s hands.

Read the complete history from the San Diego Reader at at

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