(Editor’s Note: Adrian Florido and Sam Hodgson are getting to know a different San Diego neighborhood daily. They spent Friday in San Pasqual and will go to Nestor on Monday.)
Friday morning, photographer Sam Hodgson and I dropped in on Nancy Chrystal and her husband Don, who have been living in a trailer in the San Pasqual Valley while they replace the home that the 2007 Witch Creek Fire destroyed. We wanted to know more about life in this agricultural enclave in the northeastern-most corner of the city of San Diego.
“You have to talk to Michelle Burkhard,” Chrystal told me. “Michelle knows a lot about this community.”
So she gave us Burkhard’s phone number and I gave her a call. We’d only been in San Pasqual for a couple of hours.
“You’re driving a little white Prius, aren’t you?” she asked.
“It’s a small valley,” she said.
After getting directions, we drove down Bandy Canyon Road, one of San Pasqual’s winding rural thoroughfares, and pulled up to Burkhard’s one-story adobe house that enjoys sweeping views of the entire valley.
It’s hard to imagine that this community is in the same city as Hillcrest or Mission Beach. It’s so isolated that you can’t get high-speed internet access. You can’t get cable television, which means you can’t watch a Padres game. Burkhard can’t even listen to one on the radio, because she lives at the base of a hill that blocks out the signal. At the hilltop cemetery nearby, all the graves are still dug by hand. Until last year there was a dairy there, whose workers would deliver milk so fresh you could skim the top off.
“It’s just a different little world,” Burkhard said. “It’s a wonderful world.”
But it’s changed in recent years.
“The thing about San Pasqual,” Burkhard said, “is that there isn’t really a sense of community since the fire. It destroyed the store and a lot of the houses, and the people who lived in the houses were renters who didn’t come back.”
What’s interesting about the San Pasqual Valley is that most of the land is owned by the city of San Diego. In the early 1950s, the city was sued by private farm owners in the valley who were concerned that the city’s construction of the Sutherland Dam along the San Dieguito River basin would strip them of their water rights.
The city lost the lawsuit, and in order to complete construction of the dam it bought the farmers’ land. It gave them long-term leases so they could continue to farm there, and not long afterward incorporated its private land as part of the city proper.
In the process, the city became the owner of several dozen homes, mostly along Bandy Canyon Road. It rented them to farm workers who made their living in the fields.
But when the 2007 Witch Creek Fire destroyed some of those homes, the city decided not to replace them. So a chunk of San Pasqual’s population could not come back.
Driving along Bandy Canyon Road on the way to Burkhard’s house, you can see where those homes once stood. The road is pocked by vacant parcels that will stay that way. On some of them, the foundations that once supported the houses are still visible through the overgrown weeds.
I’m reporting from San Pasqual today as I explore a different San Diego neighborhood each day this week. Have a story idea for me? Email me at email@example.com or call me at 619.325.0528 and follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.