December 16, 2001

The Ross Retort

Heisenberg and the Del Mar Fair Principle
"The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa."
--Heisenberg, 1927

The riveting Tony award winning play, Copenhagen, now on stage in Los Angeles, wonders about the uncertainties surrounding a mysterious brief encounter between seminal physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941, a time and an arcane subject apparently distant from sunny San Diego, but not so.

Heisenberg was working on The Bomb for the Nazi's, among other nuclear things, and the encounter occurred at Heisenberg's instigation a few years before Bohr, half-Jewish, fled Copenhagen and landed at Los Alamos. The play theorizes that the conversation had something to do with Heisenberg's idea about what physicists should do about The Bomb.

And, depending on who views whom, either Heisenberg, Father of the Uncertainty Principle, purposefully grossly overestimated the resources needed to build the device to undermine the Nazi program and tried to convince Bohr to do the same for the Allies, as he maintained after the war, or he goofed and thankfully botched the job.

Though applicable only on a subatomic level (you can't build houses or much else useful with it), the Heisenberg Principle is often used to remind us that the results of a study are effected by the fact the phenomena are under scrutiny, and that the position of the observer changes what is observed by an imperceptible but meaningful amount.

Which leads me the state of affairs between the People's Republic of Del Mar and the 22nd Agricultural District Evil Empire, a long standing feud that escalated last week with yet another study on the economic impact of the annual fair on the Fair City, this one in an equal and opposite direction from one touted by the Fair Board a few years ago.

The Del Mar-sponsored study suggests that because regulars stay away from Del Mar restaurants and shops during the annual Fair siege, and that fairgoers eschew hip noshes and toys in

favor of over-priced rides and hand-hammered woks, Del Mar eats about $400,000 a year in fire, cops and infrastructure support for the fairgrounds.

A study wrapped in baloney, said the Fair Board, characteristically countering with the "Job Thing"-the minimum-wage, no benefit kind that provide local kids pocket change for the summer. They also pointed to hotel occupancy rates generated by the racetrack.

And, even though the Fairgrounds, owned by the State of California, pays no property taxes, the racing season is a very real regional (with apologies to Del Martians for using the "R" word), economic anchor for tourism and the equestrian industry, which is exactly what it is supposed to be.

At issue for the region is what the nature of such an anchor ought to look like when it exists in the midst of native habitat, a propsed river valley park and next door to a swell beach community that wants to stay that way.

The argument over a few $100,000 municipal dollars in one direction or another is just a warm-up, and likely the first salvo, in negotiations over a new Fairgrounds Master Plan for the next 20 years, which last time out began and ended with city-wide protests over the idea of constructing a multiplex movie theater complex on their dirt lot along side the habitat sensitive and coveted San Dieguito River.

If those who want to see nothing but a dusty dirt lot along Jimmy Durante Road and a steadily declining racetrack on the border of Del Mar and Solana Beach are in luck, the Fair Board will do what it did last time out-take a lot of public testimony and proceed to draw up a similar megalomaniac plan that contemplates Times Square in the Valley.

It doesn't require a sophisticated understanding of Heisenberg's Principle to get that them's that commisson's the study, impacts the result. And so, from this observer's position, it looks like the City of Del Mar is not preparing for a quiet meeting over revenues, but for an all-out battle over the future of the San Dieguito River Valley.

Lisa Ross is a writer and communications consultant. She can be reached at