The 2016 All-Star Game is just around the corner, and there’s plenty of excitement surrounding Petco Park. Unless, of course, you happen to be homeless. In an investigation by Kelly Davis for Voice of San Diego, emails showed that the Padres coordinated with the city to displace homeless encampments near the ballpark. The most notable effort is the addition of rocks underneath the I-5 overpass crossing Imperial Avenue, which public works spokesman Bill Harris claimed were added at the request of Sherman Heights residents. VoSD says Sherman Heights had nothing to do with it.
In fact, Sherman Heights is never mentioned in dozens of emails exchanged between city staffers discussing the rock installation. Rather, the rocks were part of a larger effort to clean up the area prior to the July 12 All-Star Game and improve the flow of traffic to and from Petco Park. Early plans, emails show, called for rocks not only along Imperial Avenue, but also along two blocks of a wall lining Petco Park’s Tailgate Park as well as outside the New Central Library, all in an effort to deter camping and loitering near the ballpark during All-Star Game festivities.
But it wasn’t just for the All-Star Game. According to city liason to the team John Casey, the Padres reportedly pushed to have these “improvements” made ahead of Opening Day on April 4.
In a March 4 email, Casey told Marabian that the Padres were wondering if the rocks could be installed prior to Opening Day on April 4. Installation wasn’t completed until mid-May and was scaled back just to include rocks along the overpass wall. Original plans called for rocks curbside, too, so they’d be on both sides of the sidewalk.
The Padres, however, deny any desire to displace the homeless, claiming in a statement that they were simply concerned about fan safety en route to the ballpark.
In a statement, the Padres said they “did not suggest or request that rocks be installed and it was never our intent to deter homeless from the area.”
The statement goes on to say that the organization only asked that the city install “No Parking” signs and lights under the bridge and paint the curbs red.
“We made this request to the City given that the area was also dangerous for pedestrians walking to our games because they were forced to walk in the street around parked cars due to limited access to the sidewalks,” the statement says. “Ensuring that our fans can safely and efficiently travel to and from Petco Park is a top priority for the Padres.”
All told, the modifications cost the city $57,000, and all they did was move a troubled population into somebody else’s neighborhoods.
A spokeswoman for Councilmember David Alvarez, whose district includes Sherman Heights, said that while some residents appreciate the new walkway, others have complained that the rocks actually drove homeless folks further into their neighborhood.
Maybe that money would have been better spent trying to help the homeless instead of sweeping them under the rug.