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For several decades Mission Valley has been the subject of controversy as city planners, local citizens and developers have bitterly contested the future direction of this prize piece of San Diego real estate. At one time, agricultural production and dairy farms characterized life in the valley. After World War II, the city’s outward expansion began to encroach on Mission Valley, causing planners to debate the kind of development that should take place.
Originally, the intent was to see Mission Valley developed as a recreational area providing a variety of amenities that would appeal to residents and tourists alike. In 1953, construction began on the first of a number of hotels which later formed a nucleus called “Hotel Circle.” Westgate Park, a new home for the San Diego Padres baseball team, opened in 1955. Then, about 1960, plans were completed for a major department store chain, the May Co., to build a shopping center in the valley. The switch from recreational/tourist use to commercial use, engendered tremendous controversy and escalating land values as investors bought up Mission Valley property. In spite of objections, commercial interests won the battle to build the retail complex.
Within a few years, commercial development did, indeed, transform the valley, and today the area reflects a vast array of commercial and retail businesses, hotels, restaurants, and residential complexes. The issue of open space vs. development continues to be debated, not unlike the arguments of an earlier generation who struggled to resolve whether San Diego should be a garden city or a great commercial port. The Smokestacks vs. Geraniums controversy is still alive and well today.