The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1974, Volume 20, Number 4

Book Reviews

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Yesterdays in Escondido. Text by Frances B. Ryan, sketches by Lewis C. Ryan. Escondido, Ca.: Frances and Lewis Ryan, 1973. 190 pages. $8.95.

Reviewed by Eloise Perkins, columnist for the Escondido Daily Times-Advocate. Mrs. Perkins is the author of Buffalo Bill, the Life of William F. Cody and Kit Carson, the Scout Who Led the Way.

The book is a sequel to Early Days in Escondido, which Mrs. Ryan, a native of Escondido, and her husband published in the same format in 1970.

Probably the most interesting section to historians is that entitled “Water … power… The best rains down from heaven.” In it Mrs. Ryan writes of her father, Albert Beven, and his involvement in the development of the Escondido Mutual Water Company (EMWCO.)

Besides her father, she had uncles, aunts and other relatives taking part in this phase of Escondido Valley’s history. Since much of her knowledge is firsthand, or at worst only secondhand, she should write with authority.

The section on water opens in 1906 at the time EMWCO was taken to court by the city of Escondido, which insisted that the company was a public utility and had to serve water users whether or not they owned stock in the company. EMWCO won that one.

Today the company and the city still are involved in litigation, this time as co-defendants. Several bands of North County Indians are suing them to secure additional water delivery, storage rights, and damages for all the years water has been diverted from the San Luis Rey River.

The building of the company’s Rodriquez Tunnel (1910-13), which included blasting through 1,900 feet of solid rock with dynamite, using manual labor, and candles to see that the tunnel was straight, proved a major feat in early-day engineering. To gain time, both ends of the tunnel were worked, alternating blasts and settlings. The two sections met within inches. The tunnel, six feet high and five feet wide, has never clogged in the years since water was diverted into it in January of 1913.

Water, however, is not the only phase of Escondido life in the first half of the 20th century described in the book. There are sections on transportation, landmarks, schools, churches, home life, businesses, entertainments, pageants, and Grape Days. The latter was Escondido’s yearly celebration when vineyards covered much of the area. Attended by thousands from throughout the Southwest, it was said to be second in importance only to the Tournament of Roses at Pasadena.

Avocados replaced grapes as the leading agricultural product of the region and the festival became a thing of the past.

This book gives one a taste of life in another era, but unfortunately hasn’t room enough to give much data on any one thing. As a springboard for a researcher, to give a hint of the variety of important happenings in the area, the book is a valuable work.

Politics of Land, Ralph Nader’s Study Group Report on Land Use in California. By Robert C. Fellmeth, Project Director. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1973. Appendices. Index. Notes. 715 pages. $15.00.

Reviewed by David A. Williams, Professor of History, California State University, Long Beach and author of David C. Broderick, A Political Portrait, co-author of California, A History of the Golden State.

A number of years ago, when Ralph Nader first burst on the public scene as a vehement spokesman for the modern day muckrakers there were many people who thought that his day in the sun would be brief. But from that time to this, he has shown little evidence that he and his commitments are fading. On the contrary, Ralph Nader has built a veritable conglomerate of reform activities which regularly produce reports and ongoing programs designed to bring abut the changes and reforms which he and his associates think desirable. The work proceeds under the general direction of Nader’s Center for Study of Responsive Law, initially funded by a judgment won by Nader against a corporate giant which was the target of one of his early studies. In the typical operation a staff is assembled and directed to focus on a specific problem or topic. The group assigned usually produces a written report, which more often than not is published by the Center. Earnings from such publications coupled with contributions by sympathetic supporters and organizations provide for an ongoing reform program. By now the list of publications exceeds a dozen titles. Typical of this list is Politics of Land, Ralph Nader’s Study Group Report on Land Use in California.

This study was directed by Attorney Robert C. Fellmeth, a long-time Nader associate, who supervised a staff of almost forty people (assisted by numerous volunteers who contributed bits and pieces of information) which worked more than a year. Specialists in law, land economics, conservation, ecology, biology, were represented in the group assembled, and they proceeded to do the things which researchers traditionally do as they looked into the relationships between political power and land ownership and use. They produced a 1200 page report which was subsequently released by the Center and eventually published with an “Afterword” by Fellmeth in which he commented rather critically on the reaction of the California media to the report.

The book is divided into two major sections, the first entitled “Resources”, the second “Development.” Each is divided into chapters which bear such descriptive labels as, “Who Owns California?”, “Power Politics”, and “The General Overseers.” The appendices, notes and Index comprise a substantial two hundred and two pages and provide a rather impressive body of evidence that Dr. Fellmeth and his staff did their homework. Among the items included in the appendices is a list of major landowners and holdings in California which provides in broad strokes an illuminating picture of the big land holders in the state. Another tabulation reveals the connections between lending institutions and land ownership, a third provides biographical profiles of individuals who staff the State Board of Agriculture and still another lists incidents where wildlife were killed as a result of pollution.

The point in this diverse mass of information is to buttress the case which the staff makes. In essence it is alleged that “public and private power colludes against the unorganized” general citizenry of California and that private interests, especially the land interests of California “to a significant extent, have bought, intimidated, compromised, and supplied key officials in state and local governments to the point where these interests govern the governors.”

How well Fellmeth and his group have proved their case is something which every reader will have to decide, although there should be little disagreement with the proposition that there is much food for thought in these pages. Informed Californians have long known of specific instances which tend to substantiate their views. As Mr. Fellmeth points out in his “Afterword” on the media treatment of the report, it has been criticized, but usually in nit-picking comments which are unworthy of the critics. I believe a substantial criticism could be made by pointing out the lack of historical perspective in the volume, perhaps a reflection of the fact that no historians were involved in the investigation. And it seems reflective of that same lack of historical perspective that an earlier investigator who worked over similar ground (Henry George, Progress and Poverty, 1879), is not mentioned in the book.

But having said that much, one must in fairness point out that Fellmeth and his associates have produced a substantial piece of research and their findings should not be dismissed by ignoring them or by burying them in carping criticisms. Every observer of the modern California scene should delve into them.