The tiny affluent neighborhood called Del Mar Mesa doesn’t have sidewalks on most streets. Instead, ranch-style fences follow a gravel or dirt pathway along the winding streets.

“This is perfection,” said Gary Levitt, chairman of the neighborhood planning group, pointing to one of the pathways. “It’s the spirit of the community.”

Just south of Highway 56, the affluent neighborhood is described by Levitt as a rural escape from the metropolis surrounding it. Horses and rattlesnakes appear as common as fancy cars and gated driveways.

And for the most part, Levitt said, Del Mar Mesa can take care of itself. The roughly 220 homeowners plan to pay for their own smooth streets, weed-free pathways and community park.

“I don’t think we have anything to complain about,” Levitt said.

Then we arrived at the neighborhood’s only sidewalk. This, he said, was “an example of bureaucracy not working for us.”

Levitt said the city had the sidewalk installed without consulting the neighborhood planning group. Though the community plan called for a dirt pathway following the rest of the neighborhood, Levitt said city engineers required developers to build a concrete sidewalk to avoid erosion concerns. “It is always a battle to fight for the original vision,” Levitt said.

I’m spending the week in City Council District 1 to get to know the issues, meet the residents and cover the council candidates. Levitt’s story highlights a stark contrast to how many residents view the role of city government. Levitt wants less from the city while so many others, like La Jolla resident Tom Goodman, want more.

Goodman, a former superintendent of city schools, moved to La Jolla in 1998 and has grown increasingly frustrated with the state of its streets.

“All they want is taxes and to build legacy projects,” Goodman said. “Many La Jollans feel they don’t get their fair service or treatment from the city.”

Of course, this discontent isn’t entirely new. Some La Jollans have pushed for decades to secede from the city. Goodman said he now supports that sentiment because the city hasn’t kept up with basic repairs to roads, sewers and water pipes.

“I think we could garner enough revenue and provide all the services better than the city of San Diego,” he said.

So this is one of the key dynamics facing four City Council candidates vying to represent Levitt and Goodman in District 1. They’ll have to figure out how to appeal to residents who want more and less.

I’ve been meeting with residents of District 1 to understand the issues they care about and how they think city government could improve their quality of life. I’m writing throughout the week and then taking their stories to the four candidates campaigning to represent them.

So far, most of our conversations have focused around roads. Goodman wants streets fixed. Other residents have urged for better public transit, more bike paths or new roads to relieve congestion. (I’ll be digging into those issues at more depth tomorrow.)

But in Del Mar Mesa, roads aren’t seen as the problem they are elsewhere because they’re maintained by homeowners. The big issue, Levitt said, is just getting to city to work with residents.

“We can find money as a community to make things happen,” Levitt said. “I don’t know if it’s a money thing. We have a community that wants to work.”

The latest example, Levitt said, involves a patch of 980 acres of preserved land at the eastern end of the neighborhood. The community wants to outline strict pathways and then form a nonprofit to pay for maintenance, fences and signage.

“The problem at the moment is that we officially can’t do that,” Levitt said. The community needs permission from the city and other regulators to act as the land’s caretakers.

In this area, the residents of Del Mar Mesa aren’t unique. As our Rob Davis noted last month, preserved land across the region has been ignored by authorities. Land set aside more than a decade ago for endangered species is often left susceptible to abuse.

Now, Levitt said, the challenge is just getting authorities to talk about a solution.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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