Homeless enclaves at La Jolla pedestrian bridge concern residents and police
■ Quality of Life Team summoned to monitor problem
By Ashley Mackin
Responding to community concerns about safety on the pedestrian bridge over Torrey Pines Road and the homeless population sometimes found there, San Diego Community Relations Officer Larry Hesselgesser addressed the La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) at its March 12 meeting, revealing how the police can help with their Quality of Life Team, and how the public, in turn, can help police.
LJSA Chair Tim Lucas read a letter by La Jolla Shores resident Catherine Speyer, who was unable to attend the meeting. “The bridge has become a safety issue since we have to had to wade our way through homeless people sleeping on the bridge, defecating on the bridge and drinking on the bridge,” Speyer wrote. “The trash and human waste is disgusting.”
Shores resident Karen Marshal was at the meeting to express similar concerns.
Marshal said people often panhandle and sleep in the area shadowed by all the brush and vines there. The vines have grown over the protective fencing that domes the bridge to create a shaded area that casts a dark shadow — even during daylight hours — and is near the entrance on the north side of Torrey Pines Road, in front of Hotel La Jolla. Residents also complained of homeless
encampment and property left behind on the other side of the bridge, directly in front of The Children’s School.
Speaking with La Jolla Light, Children’s School Principal Evelyn Terry said she, too, worries about safety and parents have also complained about the tenuous situation. “The bridge has been used as a ‘home,’ even when the transient person is gone, with a bed created of cardboard and belongings, a stash of food and sometimes puddles of vomit.
“We have some families who walk across the bridge with their children to and from school,” she said. “I have received several complaints that the children found it ‘scary’ when they and their parents came upon someone sleeping on the bridge.”
Terry said in the past, she called the police non-emergency line, and was told to call back with a detailed description of the person when they were there, but had difficulty taking the time away from work to do so.
Officer Hesselgesser suggests contacting him directly so he may assign officers from the Quality of Life Team to the problem area. He can be reached at LHesselgesser@pd.sandiego.gov
“This isn’t your average homeless outreach team,” he told residents. “The Quality of Life Team deals with the criminal element of homeless populations. The ones that are panhandling and coming into your neighborhoods and burglarizing — those are the ones that the Team deals with.”
Within one day of hearing about the situation on the pedestrian bridge, Hesselgesser assigned the two-officer team to the site with Code Compliance officers and posted signs that read the transients and their property had to be removed.
“We post that the homeless people have three days to get their property or we come in and take it out. If the person is there, we will run their record and see if they have history. If they are arrestable, we arrest them,” Hesselgesser explained. “We don’t give any leeway.”
Though the Quality of Life Team covers La Jolla, University City, Claremont and Mission Beach, officers said they cannot find encampments without the public’s help.
“We’re here to help, we’re here to attack the problem when we hear about it, but we need your eyes and ears in your neighborhood, and we need you to call us when you see something that seems odd to you,” Hesselgesser said. “The days of our officers being able to drive around and proactively look for things going on are over. Unless we know that something is going on in your neighborhood that is not right, we don’t know to send an officer there.”
In encampment situations, Hesselgesser said the best thing to do is take photos of the situation or the person (when safe to do so) and precisely describe the location.
Though the transients and their property have since left, there is the possibility they, or others, might return.
Hesselgesser said the vines and plants that cover the fence dome create a semi-private area that is inviting to homeless people. “We would like those bushes to be cleaned up … When you take that element away from homeless people, you are going to make it so they don’t want to stay there. If the city comes and cleans out those bushes, we would all be better off. If it’s not as inviting, they will find somewhere else to go,” he said.
LJSA Chair Lucas agreed. “There shouldn’t be any vines or any plant material on that pedestrian bridge area because it creates darkness and it should be completely open for safety.”
Principal Terry added, “We are also concerned by the overgrowth of vegetation that makes the bridge less safe due to limited visibility.”
Though the responsibility of the vegetation overgrowth belongs to San Diego Environmental Services, he suggested citizens contact their local city councilmember to draw attention to the issue. “It’s going to take some phone calls from the public to get that cleaned up,” he said.
— Contacts for Concerns
■ Police Officer Larry Hesselgesser:
or call (858) 552-1631
■ La Jolla’s City Councilmember Sherri Lightner:
or call (619) 236-6611
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