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Community groups send complaints to city about rampant ‘misbehavior’ at Sunset Cliffs

An influx of trash, including many cans and bottles of alcohol, has been found in the Sunset Cliffs area.
(Courtesy of Gene Berger)

Both the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council and Peninsula Community Planning Board express concerns about “out of control” crowds, litter, vandalism and more, especially during COVID-19.

Known for its picturesque views of the San Diego sky and ocean, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park long has been a hotspot for locals and tourists. However, the influx of visitors has come with environmental, safety and health concerns for both the park and the surrounding neighborhood. The issues have only intensified as folks flock to the shore to escape their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s been an increase in people who have used the park since COVID hit. In the lockdown situation, people have come out to enjoy the park in mass. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the population there and traffic,” Point Loma native Gene Berger said.

“[The park] is a great place to watch the sunset, but it’s really been impacted from the internet for its popularity,” Berger added. “At sunset when it’s a clear day … all the lots are full, all the parking on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard is full, there’s people running in and out — it’s like Disneyland almost.”

Berger chairs the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council, a residents advisory group that advocates for the city regional park. To address some of the issues caused by frequent visitors, the council sent a two-page letter Sept. 20 to the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department.

In the letter, the council requested that the city reevaluate and enforce policy that would ensure public safety as well as preservation of the natural park. Recommendations in the letter include increased enforcement, stationing sufficient portable toilets and establishing a curfew for the hillside section from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise.

The letter added that the recent completion of the Hillside Improvement Project, a revegetation effort connected to the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Master Plan, makes this an “ideal time” to address the concerns. Many visitors are not following the park rules during COVID-19, amplifying the need and urgency for action to protect public health, as well as the completed restoration efforts, according to the letter. (Read the full letter at pcpb.net/agendas/201015scnpreccouncilletter.pdf.)

“When the city opened SCNP during the coronavirus pandemic before any other regional and shoreline parks, Sunset Cliffs was inundated with people who were, understandably, eager to get outside,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, social distancing, masks, etc., are almost nonexistent. It is nightly party time throughout the park, and especially on the pocket beaches. ... Neighbors report misbehavior including folks urinating and defecating on the park, the streets and neighboring properties.”

Graffiti at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.
(Courtesy of Peninsula Community Planning Board)

In May, San Diego City Council member Jennifer Campbell, whose District 2 includes the Sunset Cliffs area, called for the city to temporarily close Sunset Cliffs Natural Park due to visitors not following county health orders.

On Oct. 5, Campbell attended the Natural Park Council’s monthly meeting to discuss concerns expressed by both the board and community members. In a statement to the Point Loma-OB Monthly, Campbell said she is “asking that we all work together, as some of the issues raised have been going on for a long time … and there are no quick and easy solutions.”

“I have shared my support for additional safety measures at and around the park, such as a curfew and possibly limiting the time that overnight parking is permitted in the lower parking lot of the park,” Campbell’s statement reads. “Each of these issues takes careful vetting by city staff and also approval from the California Coastal Commission.”

Campbell urged residents to report safety concerns to the Police Department’s non-emergency line and follow up with her office to help ensure that an officer addresses the concerns.

On Oct. 15, the Peninsula Community Planning Board held its monthly meeting. Mandy Havlik, who is both a voting member of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council and a board member of the peninsula group, shared the Natural Park Council’s complaint letter during an informational presentation. (Watch the full online meeting at youtube/3ATS_0OqZdM.)

“We’re trying to preserve the park and protect it from global warming [and] cliff erosion,” Havlik said at the meeting. “This compounded issue with people destroying and not being respectful to the park has caused concern and is a major issue to our community.”

The Peninsula Community Planning Board passed a motion 7-0 to send a letter of support for the Natural Park Council and its letter. Havlik recused herself to ensure there was no conflict of interest, given her involvement with the park council.

During the meeting, many peninsula board and community members shared their thoughts and experiences regarding the issues at Sunset Cliffs.

“I live here at the cliffs and it’s always been kind of frustrating [with] the partiers coming in, but since COVID it is so grotesquely out of control, so disrespectful, so unbelievable,” said Sarah Moga-Alemany, a Point Loma homeowner and the secretary of PCPB.

“You pay a lot of money to own or rent here. ... Honestly, I wouldn’t have ever moved here if I thought I would have to deal with the things that I see,” she said, describing people using the streets and alleyways as toilets and throwing drugs and condoms on the ground.

A vandalized call box at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.
(Courtesy of Gene Berger)

Other concerns residents raised during the meeting included car racing, drug and alcohol use, littering, vandalism and large parties, such as raves at Garbage Beach. One person said nearby Monaco Street is listed on social media as a sex hookup site.

“Without police enforcement I think we just keep going in a circle,” Rosa Maria Acuna said during the meeting. “So I think the question is going to be moving forward what we can do together as community members. ... We need coverage; we need help. It’s just out of control.”

According to Havlik, two park rangers are assigned to the park for day and night shifts. However, the rangers have a heavy workload, responsible for the area stretching from Sunset Cliffs to Torrey Pines.

“Enforcement seems to be the big issue of concern — a lot of these behaviors are happening because of lack of enforcement,” Havlik told the Point Loma-OB Monthly.

Havlik said that after the Natural Park Council sent its complaint letter, the San Diego Police Department’s Western Division reached out to the group to start a dialogue regarding the issues at Sunset Cliffs.

For now, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park remains open to all.

“Sunset Cliffs ... is a natural treasure for Point Loma and even the greater San Diego community,” said Peninsula Community Planning Board Chairman Fred Kosmo. “So I think it should be properly protected. … We want people to enjoy it, but we want people to protect it, too.”


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