Chula Vista approves closure of struggling Harborside Park

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Chula Vista is closing its Harborside Park for at least three months to determine the future of the park, which in recent years has become a campground for the homeless and the scene of allegedly illicit activity.

City Council on Tuesday approved the park’s temporary closure after a three-hour discussion, during which they heard dozens of public comments from speakers on both sides on public safety and homelessness issues. The board vote was unanimous, with board member Steve Padilla absent.

“There’s no perfect solution,” said Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, who accepted criticism from supporters and opponents of the park’s closure, who said the city hadn’t done enough to help. homeless people.

Located on Oxford Street between Broadway and Industrial Boulevard, the park is bordered by a county family resource center, a Walmart, a San Diego trolley station, and Harborside Elementary School.

Chula Vista purchased the 5-acre property in 2003 for $2.3 million after the community petitioned the city to create more green space on the lot instead of allowing high-density building. In 2006, the park became the first in more than two decades to be built on the west side of the city, with the goal of “maximizing recreational opportunities for children in the community,” said council member John McCann in a 2005 Star-News article.

Over the years, many homeless people have started camping there. About 50 to 100 people reside there today, either in tents or in any shaded areas they can find. Crime has also been reported in the park, resulting in arrests for possession and use of drugs and weapons, Chula Vista Police Captain Phil Collum said. City crews said they pick up up to 12,000 pounds of trash each week, including empty liquor bottles, needles, knives and feces. People have also fatally overdosed there, according to police.

“The reality is that it’s not a park anymore,” said Eduardo Reyes, superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District. He said those most at risk are children who walk to school and are only a chain-link fence away from illegal activity. The district, he added, has hired two security guards to patrol campus perimeters.

Monica Crespo, along with several other residents, called the situation in Harborside an “emergency” and urged the city to take immediate action so families can feel safe to return.

Police said they have taken steps to limit illicit events by removing trash cans and closing toilets where drug use, violence and prostitution have been reported. Collum said Harborside generated the most calls for service among city parks, with more than 200 calls last year, as well as the most citations and arrests. Since 2019, police have made 34 arrests related to drug and weapon possession.

Chula Vista’s immediate solution: Use $350,000 from its general fund to close off public access with fencing and security services for at least 90 days. The closure is expected to take effect on August 31.

Chula Vista, CA – August 23: Known to many as Mama Heather, 59, at Harborside Park Camp in Chula Vista.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A 59-year-old woman known to many as Mama Heather, has been staying at Harborside Park and fears that when the park closes she and others will have nowhere to go, especially given the distance and the oversaturation of external resources. , she says.

Homeless advocates said closing the park would only push people from one campground to another without really providing them with a long-term solution. It also takes them away from the county resource center where they are steps away from accessing medication or checking for Supplemental Security Income programs. A major problem, they added, is that Chula Vista does not have a homeless shelter.

As the city council meeting got under way, several homeless people in Harborside Park said they were unaware of the city’s plans.

Jessica Bazar, who has lived in the park for three weeks, said she learned about the meeting when she found a page of the meeting agenda on the grounds.

Bazar said the residents of the park are good people who care for each other and fear its closure.

“A lot of us don’t know what’s going to happen or where we’re going to go,” she said. “None of us have any backup plans on what we’re going to do because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. There are a lot of people here who are disabled and can’t work.

Known to many as Mama Heather, 59, lives in a homeless encampment at Harborside Park in Chula Vista.

Known to many as Mama Heather, 59, lives in a homeless encampment at Harborside Park in Chula Vista.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

While police officials said trash cans were removed and restrooms closed in the park due to illegal activity, homeless Raien Perry views the action as a calculated effort to aggravate the park in order to the city can close it.

“They took everything that helped us keep it clean so they could prepare for this meeting,” he said.

Rumors are also spreading among the homeless about what will happen to the park. Perry and Ricky Rios said they heard it was sold to a developer who would build a hotel for a new convention center in the city.

Tara Gillian, who has been at the park for two months, said she heard it would be turned into a legal campground for the homeless.

Gillian moved to Chula Vista Park from Santa Maria and said she plans to return when it closes.

“This park is just a bunch of lazy people who want to get high,” she said. “I wanted to get better, not come here and get worse.”

Rios said he knew there were concerns about the park’s proximity to a school, but said no one would harm a student.

“If there’s some kind of weirdo here, we’d get them out of here,” Rios said. “We are all ordinary, decent people.”

Another park man who only gave his name as Pedro was among several people who said they didn’t know where they would go when the park closed.

“We are here because we have nowhere to go,” he said.

Beds for the homeless are coming to South County, but they will be available in at least several months. Chula Vista plans to have more than 60 prefab units by the end of the year, a project the city has been working on for more than a year after scrapping a plan in 2020 to open a bridge shelter tent that she received for free. National City aims to have a 162-bed facility ready by next year.

There are 309 homeless people in Chula Vista, a 6% drop since January 2020, according to a May report report by the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness. The true number is likely much higher, ranging from around 700 to 1,000 people, the city and homeless advocates said.

Many people offered alternative options, including turning the space into a safe camp for centralized homeless services or temporarily lending the park to the school district for youth sports — a suggestion the city will offer the district. at the request of Council Member Jill Galvez.

Vice Mayor Andrea Cardenas, whose district includes Harborside, and McCann, who proposed the closure, agreed the decision to close the park was no small feat and only came after several discussions with the community.

City Manager Maria Kachadoorian said when the park closes next week, the city will host a “connection event” to provide people with services that might be helpful for their specific needs.

The county, which is working with the police department’s homeless outreach team, “plans to use (the city’s decision to close the park) as a new opportunity to engage homeless people on alternatives “said Anita Lightfoot, spokeswoman for county health and social services. Agency. City officials will also conduct community surveys to see if there is potential for redevelopment of the park, she added.

The park’s closure could go beyond 90 days, city officials said.

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