Outraged that Rose Creek Bikeway is already being trashed soon after being opened, Pacific Beach resident and bicyclist Nanci Dalzell wants the City to be aware of it and correct it.
“In less than a month of its grand opening, this beautiful nature trail was defamed by homeless camps, graffiti, and excess trash,” said Dalzell about the new bikeway connecting with the Coastal Rail Trail leading to UC San Diego. Her remarks came during a recent weekend show-and-tell ride on the picturesque trail.
Noting portions of the new bicycling path are pristinely clean, Dalzell showed how other parts of it are being strewn with garbage and defaced by gang graffiti. She also pointed out where the bike path’s fence has been slashed to allow access to makeshift encampments with fire pits.
“The shelter system is broken and we need to always remember that a shelter is temporary, not permanent housing,” said Caryn Blanton, co-chair of Pacific Beach-based homeless provider Shoreline Community Services, about encampments. “We know there is a shortage of affordable housing. There is also a shortage of shelter space. The shelter system can be restrictive for some people. Many shelters ask for residents to agree to sobriety before entering a program. This excludes many of those who are most in need of being inside.”
Added Blanton: “Being in an encampment provides the safety of a group, a community of people who share a common problem and understand one another, autonomy and a certain amount of privacy. Due to the pandemic, services provided to those experiencing homelessness have been reduced and SDPD and SD County Sheriff’s Department have reduced enforcement.
“As of June, the County and the City have joined together to implement new initiatives to address issues of homelessness with a focus on those who need mental health services and addiction/substance use programs. A total of $10 million has been approved by the San Diego City Council towards these efforts and to support the Homelessness Strategies Department,” Blanton said.
“Homeless encampments are illegal and generally can be in violation of one or more state or local laws or ordinances. The most common are illegal lodging, unauthorized encroachment, and overnight camping,” said SDPD spokesman Lt. Adam T. Sharki.
“When complaints regarding homeless encampments are submitted to the City of San Diego, mostly via the Get It Done app, the Neighborhood Policing Division (NPD) is the unit assigned to respond. If an encampment has been identified, particularly in remote areas, and is found to be inhabited, efforts are made to first send out the Homeless Outreach Team to connect the individuals with shelter or services, prior to enforcement,” Sharki said.
“This graffiti has been here since the trail opened,” said Dalzell, posing next to a long tunnel covered end-to-end with it. She added, “It appears as fast as it’s covered. Some people say that’s art. You know what? It’s graffiti.”
City senior spokesperson Anthony Santacroce noted there are overlapping problematic jurisdictional issues with the Rose Creek Bike Path/Coastal Rail Trail. “This is a SANDAG project that is close to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (buses, trolleys) and Caltrans’ (regional transportation agency) assets mixing a bit of policy (homelessness) and operations (graffiti, trash, and lighting installation),” he said. “You can report graffiti and excessive trash or dumping along the bikeway by using the City's Get It Done app.”
Dalzell believes problems with the newly opened bike path require “supervision on a daily basis, double on weekends and quadruple on holidays.” She added, “It’s so lovely. But that beauty can be so quickly destroyed. I would never feel safe going down there with people getting high, etc.”
Dalzell appreciates that being homeless is not a crime. “But what about everything that results from them, like the drug and alcohol issues?” she asked. “We’ve got to differentiate between who needs the help, and who wants the help. Are we going to use the pandemic as an excuse?”
“Graffiti, homeless camps, public safety, poor lighting and no supervision or funding by the City to keep it safe,” were listed by Dalzell as bike path issues needing prompt resolution.
Regarding prospective solutions to those problems, Dalzell noted: “The City needs to make a commitment to fund and supervise keeping this clean.”
Continuing along the bike path, Dalzell comes to another problematic tunnel.
“We need better lighting in here, it’s too dark (even during the day),” she said.
“The City can evaluate installing lighting in the overpass tunnels to provide a safer riding experience,” said Santacroce. “However, if the lighting is recommended, the project would in all likelihood be placed alongside other unfunded requests awaiting future funding.”
And then of course there’s the problem with a pronounced lack of garbage cans in the bikeway area.
“Why do we not have any garbage cans anywhere?” asked Dalzell. “How can they (City) put so much money into this path here and not have garbage cans?
Unfortunately, there is also a jurisdictional issue with trash pickup in the area.
“The City refuses to do regular trash pickup or to put trash cans with scheduled pickup along Rose Creek,” said Karin Zirk, executive director of nonprofit Friends of Rose Creek. “All trash is picked up by volunteers or sometimes in response to a Get It Done request that is submitted by the public. I put in multiple requests every month.
“We’ve asked the City numerous times over the years to place City-provided trash receptacles and empty them at least weekly. The City has refused so far. The few trash cans that are currently along the creek were placed there by the Friends of Rose Creek and currently, we have one volunteer in her 70s who empties them weekly.
“The bike path is fully within the jurisdiction of the City of San Diego’s Transportation and Storm Water Department. Given how much traffic the bike path receives, and that a small pickup like a Ford Ranger can drive the bike path, I see no reason for the City not to provide trash cans with scheduled pickup,” Zirk said.
Concluded Dalzell about all the problems early on with cycling at Rose Creek Bikeway, “It’s like pieces of a puzzle and we’re just trying to figure it out.”