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Classic Leucadia is the best growth plan
By LOGAN JENKINS San Diego Union Tribune
July 3, 2003

You'd recognize it with one fleeting glance in the fog. 
The line of eucalyptus, the railroad track beside Highway 101, the throwback auto courts. 
You could be no other place. 

Named after a Greek island – the poet Sappho is said to have leaped to her death from one of its cliffs – Leucadia has had a classic edge ever since a band of English colonists arrived in 1885 to create a Hellenic outpost overlooking the Pacific. (Beware of Brits bearing Greek street names.) 

With its Bohemian dash, Leucadia has become an archetype of California's ever-restless coastal culture, a linear bazaar of more than 200 businesses – antiques stores, tattoo parlors, super-casual restaurants, holistic health offices – and homes, cheek to jowl, for the richest and the poorest.

But this timeless town cannot bask in endless summer forever. If it doesn't work at becoming (not just being) itself, chances are good much of it will be scrapped and rebuilt as . . . Carlsbad. 

To Leucadians, this would be a fate worse than the one Sappho brought upon herself. 
"Doing nothing is not an option," cautions Peder Norby, the engaging director of the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association. 

We're sitting at an outside table at the Pannikin with Peter Eberle, at 33 already an experienced hand at massaging downtowns. (Eberle has worked in San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz, the latter a big soul sister of Leucadia's.) 

Eberle is working on a master's degree in business at San Diego State University. "I wanted to take some time off," he said, believably. 

But during his summer break he's helping Leucadia wade into the mainstream of Main Street, a national preservation organization with 1,700 city members (4,000 more are guided by the philosophy). 

The Main Street credo is that downtowns should not sell their souls to attract business. They should build upon what's already there, not what some snake-oil salesman tells a credulous city should be there. 

We're talking over the traffic noise of Highway 101. It's early morning and the Coaster hurtles by, a reminder that a controversial rail trail, which would be a boon to Leucadia, is twisting in the wind as we speak. 

On the east side of the track, a trailer park goes about its somnolent business. 

Anyplace else, this park would be a trashy eyesore. Not from the Pannikin's vintage porch. Norby and Eberle merely shrug. That's Leucadia. 

If Ken Kesey were still alive and moving to North County, you know he'd settle in Leucadia (or maybe Del Dios, if he wanted a lake view). Down deep, Leucadia is the SoCal town you love to Haight. Only Encinitas with its five-headed political structure – and rapturous love for its history – could appreciate this renegade town for what it is. (Just to the north, Carlsbad is intent on wiping out Ponto, a miniature Leucadia.) 

By stark contrast, Vista allowed downtown redevelopment to turn into a form of self-mutilation, tearing out its soul – most notably, its adobe community center, the Peto feed store, the Delpy House, the Red Barn – and trusting developers to give the city a new identity, enriched, of course, with sales tax. 

What it will receive in this Faustian bargain will be a nondescript mall; a gaudy multiplex; big-box stores; franchise restaurants; and a hideously expensive artificial stream. 

Encinitas, on the other hand, took the Main Street approach to its downtown, which suffered when Interstate 5 came in and sucked commerce away from Highway 101. 

Working around the margins, Encinitas became more itself: Facades were brightened, a historic sign was erected, and traffic was slowed, but not impeded. 

Business receipts are up 12 percent since the improvements kicked in, Norby reports with ill-concealed pride. 

If Leucadia doesn't work to preserve itself, it will lose relative value and fall prey to radical change, Norby repeats. Eberle nods in agreement. 

To survive, Leucadia has to slow (not impede) traffic – narrow 101's lanes, build a roundabout, do something. All the while, it must remember who it is. There's talk of bringing back facsimiles of the Noah's Ark animal statues that years ago signaled the entrance to Leucadia. Done right, this could be cool. 

Two positive projects are stuck in limbo: an upscale hotel on the northern border, and a retro Art Deco gas station. The new La Costa owners evidently are waiting for the post-9/11 economy to turn around before building the luxury hotel. The delay of the gas station, which was warmly embraced by locals, is a mystery. (Build it and they will cruise.) 

What a big bang there could be for relatively few bucks: The eucalyptus along 101 have thinned appreciably. More trees could be planted. The auto courts could be showcased as the offbeat treasures they are. Leucadia's brilliant palette of colors could be enhanced with new coats of paint and brightened facades. 

In the end, Leucadia's best defense against the bulldozer is what's always been right there.

Logan Jenkins


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