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Residents Propose Alternatives To Sharp Rocks On Imperial Avenue

Sherman Heights resident David Carpenter walks downtown along Imperial Avenue under Interstate 5 on June 22, 2016, where the city has installed rocks to deter homeless people from setting up camp.
Katie Schoolov
Sherman Heights resident David Carpenter walks downtown along Imperial Avenue under Interstate 5 on June 22, 2016, where the city has installed rocks to deter homeless people from setting up camp.
Residents Ask Mayor for Alternative to Sharp Rocks on Imperial Avenue
Residents Propose Alternatives To Sharp Rocks On Imperial Avenue
Back in April, the city of San Diego placed rocks along Imperial Avenue to deter homeless people from setting up camp. Unhappy with the installation, some residents proposed alternative solutions to Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

The Interstate 5 underpass along Imperial Avenue is a popular route that Sherman Heights residents use to walk downtown.

Some said it was too crowded with homeless people and dangerous for pedestrians. In April, the city of San Diego installed jagged rocks there.

Devonna Almagro drives through the underpass on her way to work every day.

“Women have been assaulted there. I understand one child was punched," Almagro said. "When families are walking by there, there’s feces, there’s human waste there. There’s urine, there’s trash.”

She said since the rocks were installed, she's noticed many more families walking there. But Almagro is far from pleased.

Almagro is the executive director of the Sherman Heights Community Center. She said when residents brought their concerns to Mayor Kevin Faulconer, they were told the city was going to install a “rock garden.” For her, the actual installation — $57,000 spent on hundreds of jagged rocks in cement — was a big disappointment.

“Believe me, I think if the mayor or the city would have approached the residents, about activating that site, what would you like to see, I think the jagged rock garden would have been the last thing on our list," Almagro said.

A city spokesman initially said the rocks were an effort to address safety concerns brought up by Sherman Heights residents. But in June, the Voice of San Diego obtained emails showing that the rocks were part of a larger effort to clean up the thoroughfare to Petco Park before the July 12 All-Star Game.

Now, some say the rocks have simply created other issues.

“I live at 25th and Commercial, and most of those neighborhoods have alleys in between the back," David Carpenter explained. "And we're just having a lot more homeless people sleeping in the alleys behind our homes. And it's dangerous. People have hurt themselves on the rocks.”

Richard Stevenson said he's one of those people. He was walking his skateboard along the street, instead of riding it. He said he was too scared to ride by the sharp rocks because he fell and injured himself a few weeks earlier.

"I've got bruises here, bruises there," Stevenson said. "All this stuff here is sharp. They're putting everybody's life in danger, you know what I mean? If a disabled person comes down here and falls, and hit their head on there, they're in trouble."

Homeless San Diegan Richard Stevenson on June 22, 2016, said he no longer rides his skateboard along Imperial Avenue under Interstate 5 because he says he fell and got injured by sharp rocks the city has installed rocks to deter homeless people from setting up camp.
Katie Schoolov
Homeless San Diegan Richard Stevenson on June 22, 2016, said he no longer rides his skateboard along Imperial Avenue under Interstate 5 because he says he fell and got injured by sharp rocks the city has installed rocks to deter homeless people from setting up camp.

The city declined an interview for this story, but gave us this statement:

"Everyone deserves to feel safe walking down the sidewalk, and the dark underpass and narrow streetscape on Imperial Avenue posed public safety risks for visitors and residents alike. There were many concerned about this, including downtown residents, baseball game attendees who walk to nearby Petco Park, and neighbors from Sherman Heights who use Imperial Avenue as one of their primary connections to downtown.

Some improvements, like removing street parking to widen lanes, were made in consultation with the Padres. Others, such as installing hard scape to improve sidewalk access so people no longer had to walk in the middle of the street, were suggested by City staff and implemented after getting a permit from Caltrans.

The City believes Imperial Avenue is now safer as a result, and will continue to reach out to homeless individuals to offer them supportive services to end the cycle of homelessness."
An example of an LED light installation proposed by Sherman Heights residents in a meeting with Mayor Kevin Faulconer, June 27, 2016.
Sherman Heights Community Center
An example of an LED light installation proposed by Sherman Heights residents in a meeting with Mayor Kevin Faulconer, June 27, 2016.
Almagro and Sherman Heights residents met on June 27 with Faulconer and three other city officials. One of the agenda items: to replace the rocks with a better alternative. The residents made proposals for a mural or LED light installation, similar to one that was recently installed in San Jose.

Almagro said Faulconer was receptive and open to ideas for a potential replacement to the rocks.

"When government and residents work together, beautiful things can happen," Almagro said. "We have ideas for what we want. We don’t only have issues, we have solutions.”

The Sherman Heights Community Center is actively seeking outside funding for the proposed alternative installations.