North versus South. Many great battles were fought, countless lives forever altered and lost.

After many years, the latitudinal rivalry continues today, still affecting the lives of Southerners and Northerners alike. No, this isn’t an alternate history from a Turtledove novel about the Civil War – it’s about the continuing rivalry between Northern and Southern California.

Outside of the West Coast, nobody much knows – or cares – about the continuing rivalry between the Greater San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Los Angeles Basin. Even though much of the overt signs of the differences between the two regions is trivial, the undercurrent of animosity is very real and has been the source of great influence on the politics and policies of our great state. Nothing illustrates both the triviality and seriousness of the rivalry than our baseball teams and our transportation systems.

s765174404338914460_p561_i2_w1845By “baseball”, I mean the Giants and Dodgers, of course (apologies to the A’s, Angels, and Padres).  A carryover from a history that began in New York, Giants and Dodger fans have hated each other and their respective teams for about 120 years. Both came out west in the late 1950’s importing Major League Baseball and rabid fandom to the western frontier. My dad told stories about attending the ticker tape parade down on Market Street when the New York Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958 with my uncles and grandfather, the same year the former Brooklyn Dodgers played their first game in Los Angeles. From that point on, our family bled orange and black, flinching at the sight of blue and white.

The East Coast rivalry between these two teams boiled over into their new homes and culminated with the fight between Juan Marichal and John Roseboro, where heads were swung upon instead of baseballs. Then a funny thing happened: the Dodgers got really good and the Giants…well…let’s just say not so much. Both teams would build stadiums for their teams. One would become a classic, the other, not so much.

This state of affairs in the baseball world mirrored the economic and political fortunes of each of their respective metropolitan areas. In the late 50’s to early 80’s, the Los Angeles Basin would experience exponential growth and economic prosperity. The aerospace industry – bulked up and fully funded by WWII – made a smooth transition from war time to Cold War time. Hollywood would become the face of Los Angeles, but it was the aerospace industry that became the backbone of Southern California’s growth.

Alternately, the old ports of San Francisco and Oakland struggled. Great social upheaval connected to the social unrest born out of the Vietnam War, an aging infrastructure, and geographical limitations caused the economic and political influence for the state to move southward to the Bay Area’s shinier and hipper California neighbor.

During this time, my father was not a happy baseball fan. The Giants had great players from the New York days, but aside from one screaming Willie McCovey line drive that ended up in the glove of Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson in the 1962 World Series, Giants teams would be pretty bad for almost all of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Huddling in cold, drafty Candlestick Park, Giants fans would envy (and hate) their counterparts sitting in 72 degree weather watching historically great Dodger teams making the playoffs and winning championships.

In late 70’s the Giants – desperate for attendance of any kind – made a deal with the San Francisco School District to offer 2 free tickets to any student who got straight A’s. This was a major incentive for me. I would proudly present my report card to my dad, we would submit it to the Giants, and receive 2 tickets to watch my favorite team duel it out in the Bay Area fog. I had a great time with my dad, which is something the two of us could rarely say. Fandom for life does not necessarily coincide with success on the field. Final score by the end of 1989:  the Los Angeles Dodgers with 5 World Series Championships, the San Francisco Giants with 0.


Around the same time, both metropolitan areas had transportation decisions to make. Even though Los Angeles was growing at a faster clip, all of California was growing too. Mid-century planners knew that continued economic growth was dependent on a good transportation infrastructure. In 1947, both the SF Bay Area and the LA Basin would put their plans in motion. Geographically constrained and already dense, the Bay Area would spend the next 30 years and $18 billion (2016 dollars) to build a regional transit railroad named the Bay Area Raid Transit (BART). Southern California and, indeed, all of the rest of the state including many other communities in the Bay Area would take a different route.

The promise of the transportation future for a 50’s era planner did not look like the stodgy LA Red Line rail cars, but it looked like sleek, shiny and fast personal automobiles that would whisk riders from the suburbs to offices along miles of un-interrupted roads called “freeways”. They sold it hard and we bought it hard – to the tune of almost $6.5 billion (2016 dollars) a year to build new freeways from 1947 to 1961, for a grand total of almost $90 billion (2016 dollars) for those 14 years. When BART opened in September 11, 1972, my dad scooped up the family to ride on the train from Glen Park Station to Walnut Creek and back (without getting off). It seemed agonizingly slow. Cars along the Hwy24 freeway would match our speed or better but have no need to stop until they reached their destination. The train’s centrally controlled state-of-the-art computer controlled system did not work as advertised and ridership was dismal.

A Los Angeles motorcycle messenger making his routes in 1955 wearing a gas mask during a smog alert.

A Los Angeles motorcycle messenger making his routes in 1955 wearing a gas mask during a smog alert.

About the same time, Southern Californians were starting to re-think the whole freeway thing. The promise of a speedy trip from home to work only actually happened in off-business hours. In addition, because of Southern California’s unique atmospheric condition (aka, the inversion layer) and our inefficient use of gasoline in vehicles in slow stop-and-go traffic conditions, Los Angeles air pollution was the worst in the world. All of a sudden, the hip, shiny, futuristic city of Los Angeles looked more like a toxic, congested urban/suburban nightmare whose freeway-only transportation planning vision had been, unfortunately, copied all over the nation and the world.

In 2010, the San Francisco Giants won their first World Series since moving to their home by the bay. Ironically, I now live a mile away from Chavez Ravine, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it’s my Dad’s Giants I still follow. Watching Brian Wilson – the Giants closer at the time – freeze Nelson Cruz of the Rangers for the third strike to end the Series was one of the defining sports moments in my life.

After hitting some hard times, the Dodgers are good again and are currently the richest club in the Majors, but have not been able to get to another Series. In their rush to become the richest team they made a deal with a cable company for exclusive television rights to their games. Consequently, nearly 70% of Los Angeles County can not watch their home team, the Dodgers on television, including their excellent long time broadcaster who has been with the team since the Brookyn days, the indomitable Vin Scully. In the meantime, the Giants have won two more World Series. Older and perhaps less passionate about a multi-billion dollar kid’s game, I probably would have shared a chuckle with my Dad, who passed away in 1991, over the poor Dodger’s predicament.

Ethan Elkind notes statistics about declining transit riders in Los Angeles might be incorrect using cherrypicked data.

Ethan Elkind notes statistics about declining transit riders in Los Angeles might be incorrect using cherrypicked data.

Transportation in Los Angeles is in flux. We have made a commitment to try and rebuild our rail system but even though we have the largest transportation spending budget in the country 85% of Angelenos still drive. People are suspicious. But to be fair, we won’t know the full extent of the effect on our traffic until we are totally built-out by 2025.

The Bay Area has taken over economic lead from us. BART has become an integral part of their transportation infrastructure and was even given an outstanding achievement award by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in 2004. From inauspicious beginnings to a success story, the system is looking to improve and expand.

By the end of the 1970’s both the Dodgers and the Giants had reached a comfortable level of predictability. The Dodgers were predictably good even though they couldn’t quite bring home another World Series and the Giants were mediocre at best. The rivalry had become much more one-sided than any Giants fan would like to admit… i.e., Giants fans hated the Dodgers and Dodger fans just didn’t care about the Giants. Both teams would see a resurgence, of sorts, in the 1980’s with Tommy Lasorda’s Act 2, Fernandomainia and Oral Hershiser, with Kirk Gibson’s miracle home run propelling the Dodgers to two more Championships.

The Giants would have some pretty good teams in the 1980’s with an actual World Series appearance in 1989, bookended with the infamous “Earthquake Series” against the Oakland A’s.  Whisperings of change were in the wind at the end of 80’s with both longtime owners of each team considering selling the teams. It was in the next decade that the future of the rivalry would take a turn to the much-more-interesting realm, especially for long-suffering Giants fans.

In 1980, newly elected president Ronald Regan had a plan for ending the Cold War. He would outspend the Soviets investing in the American military industrial complex and drive the Communist state to the bargaining table in desperation and on the brink of bankruptcy. People thought he was crazy, but the Soviet state eventually crumbled. Reagan’s national plan also affected Southern California, as a wave of military spending bolstered the local economy and caused a second resurgance of economic prosperity. Traffic got worse, though. In 1985, we broke ground on a subway line that would go from Union Station, under Hollywood, and eventually end at Universal Studios. People thought we were crazy.

In the Bay Area, BART had finally completed it’s first built-out. The system was still very much suspect by commuters, but all of the bridges crossing the Bay were just packed. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard had started their electronic venture in a Palo Alto garage in 1938, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s for “Silicon Valley” to reach its full potential.

If you believe that things in life are cyclical, you might think that the Dodgers will pull themselves together in the next few seasons and be dominant once again, while the Giants will become complacent and bloated – or, perhaps not. You also might believe that Los Angeles itself will also come back to solve its transportation problems and once again be the major economic power in California while the Bay Area wanes under its own lack of economic and social diversity – or, perhaps not. Perhaps both areas decide to solve our state problems together and push each other to make better decisions. Regardless, we will have all the ingredients for a great rivalry.


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