Opinion: The 1960s plan to make Santa Cruz into Detroit and Los Angeles

Since the late 19th century, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara were described in superlatives for natural beauty and agricultural prestige. Yet for a time after World War II, both counties made efforts to become a Los Angeles car culture of freeways, heavy industry and suburban sprawl. Santa Clara “succeeded,” but Santa Cruzans formed groups to Fight the Blight.

In 1950, the San Jose City Council announced it intended to become the “Los Angeles of the North.” Land speculators swarmed Santa Clara County, buying up cheap farmland to be revalued as urban subdivisions. Longtime farmers, trying to keep their prestige as the nation’s quality fruit capital, gained protections through a 1954 Santa Clara County zoning amendment for agriculture-only districts.