1st April  2004


Ocean Beach is, well, an ocean beach suburb of San Diego, which is a city of around three million people in the bottom left hand corner of the USA.  San Diego has a huge natural harbour, which made it a natural choice until recently for the major base for the US Pacific fleet.

The 100 odd Km drive from LA down to San Diego has about 20km of bush, mostly sparse undergrowth, the only trees appear to be those cultivated around buildings.  A sprinkling of Australian Eucalypts is evident in the twin cities of LA & SD.  I understand that this latitude (LA & SD) is the same as the NW coast of Australia.  The prevailing winds are the Easterly trade winds.   Consequently the rainfall (like that of most of WA) is very low (230 mm).  Both cities obtain most of their water from the Colorado Dam.

I stayed at a backpacker's hostel called the Ocean Beach Hostel, located in Newport Blvd.  Accommodation was $16/night, or $15 if I paid 2 nights.  Prices were due to rise by about $1 on 1st April.  There are mostly four guests to a room, adequate bathrooms, a kitchen that is cleaned out frequently, laundry, TV, etc.  It is centrally located on the main street, about 200 meters from Ocean Beach, one of the three main beaches in San Diego.

The internet is expensive in LA and SD.  Many places (coffee shops, hostels) have a machine that requires $1 for 10 minutes internet access.  As a consequence I obtained a monthly wireless access account with telephone provider T-Mobile for around US$40/month.  Wireless hotspots are in most Starbucks coffee shops, most Borders bookshops, and Kinkos.  The service is quite fast.  I was able to download 130MB in about 15 minutes.

There is a Starbucks across the road from the hostel.  It is so close that wireless access can be obtained from the front verandah of the hostel.  Unfortunately, the management does not permit electrical extensions to be made to the front verandah.

Most buildings in Los Angeles and San Diego are no more than 2 stories high, and stucco construction is popular.  This is no doubt due to the extreme hazard of earthquakes.  The stucco (sprayed concrete) is applied to a timber frame which has been covered with 9mm ply, paper and chicken wire.  Timber is a superior material in earthquake zones, due to the fact that timber structures are lighter and will suffer considerable deformation before collapsing.  The ply greatly improves the stability of the buildings.

From Ocean Beach I took a bus and trolley down to the Mexican border, and walked across to Tijuana.  Most US transport services offer a fixed price ticket which is for the duration of the journey.  In SD a ticket is issued that terminates at a specified time.  The trip took about an hour.  After leaving the trolley, passengers pass through two one-way turnstile gates into Mexico.

The first thing I noticed in Mexico were the beggars.  Some mutilated.   A sprinkling of children as young as 8 or 9, begging under the watchful eye of their mothers? some meters away.   The next thing noticed are the persistent hawkers.  They quote prices in US$, (There are 10.5 Pesos to the US$).  Apparently their prices are much higher than they expect to obtain, frequently they can be persuaded to offer the goods for less than half of their initial asking price.  Not wanting to carry goods for the rest of the day, I asked their best prices, (for later comparison) and continued on across the (dry) river bridge & into the town.

There were stalls set up at the outer edge of Tijuana, in a "shantytown" of shops, built arranged in narrow alleys leading off the main drag.  Goods were less expensive, and the hawkers a little less persistent.  Next there are a few trafficed streets with crossings, and the downtown district begins.

In downtown Tijuana (the CBD) prices are marked, frequently in Pesos.  Alcohol was much less expensive than in the USA (which is already much  cheaper than Australia).  For instance in Tijuana it cost $US8.00 for a bottle of Kahlua that sold for $US20 back in Ocean Beach.  Some Tequila was sold with a grub in the (sealed) bottle.  I was assured that Tequila was the "genuine" article, and not available back in the USA.  I was also told that US customs would permit me to return with only one bottle of alcohol.  I noticed a lot of chemist shops advertising to the tourist trade.  Viagra & various antibiotics were advertised.  I bought three tortillas for a dollar (even though it had meat and I am a vegetarian, but what the hell, this was Mexico).

I have met quite a few locals in San Diego.  The consensus is that Tijuana is a border town, and is not typical of Mexico.  I am impressed by the political nous of Californians.


A lot of Californians believe that guns cause crime, and that the crime rate in LA is very high.  Where possible I have disabused them of that idea.  My conviction is supported by the facts.  According to the 2002 census there were 13 million people living in Los Angeles-Orange county.  In the LA Times of 1st April, it was reported that there were 120 homicides in LA in the first quarter of 2003.  From this it can be calculated that the homicide rate is around 120*4/130= 3.7 per 100,000 of population.  In Australia, the comparable figure is 2.8 per 100,000.  I suspect that Sydney, with a gun homicide every week in a population of 4 million would be a considerably more dangerous a city to inhabit than LA.

When we consider rape and armed robbery the comparison is even starker.  In LA the data is 260 rapes, 3856 robberies in first quarter 2003.  In Australia 2002 the counts are sexual assault 17,850, robbery =20,961.  Granted that sexual assault might not be rape.
Rates per 100,000 are,

Robbery 120

It can be seen that, in LA the hazard of being robbed in LA is comparable to the likelihood of being robbed in Australia.  The data for Sydney is not readily available.  We are here comparing what is generally acknowledged as the worst city in California with the average for Australia.

I can only urge our prime minister to end this madness of treating adult Australians like children and preventing our law abiding citizens from purchasing weapons for protection in the event that they have fears that armed criminals might endanger their lives and property.  We mostly all know that when the criminals are on the doorstep it is too late to call the police, and we also mostly all know that the police are unable to solve or reduce the number of crimes.  (I say "mostly" because I am sure that those people who can afford to purchase armed protection are unconcerned, as would be those who have the political influence or wealth to live in an area that is well policed.)

Still, I suppose that John Howard only has to worry about disaffected voters.  It is unlikely that armed criminals would attempt to rob or murder the prime minister.  From his personal point of view, taking weapons out of the hands of law abiding Australians makes life safer for himself and his loved ones.  The fact that it makes life more dangerous for the rest of us is not his immediate concern.