Caroline Serrano is a 43-year-old housewife from the Vista Pacifica community of south San Diego, near the Otay Mesa border crossing and nearer to the Mattress Firm Amphitheatre. On Wednesday (October 25) she was concerned that the traffic buildup to the Luke Bryan concert prevented quick access to her neighborhood.
“All these years Vista Pacifica is lucky not to have an emergency occur during concerts,” she said. “But, in an event that an emergency should happen, the result can be disastrous [and] we are taking a proactive approach to avoid a devastating occurrence.”
Her neighborhood is about a mile south of the amphitheater, and the music can be heard from their backyards.
“This is all about safety [and] we need the City of San Diego and the City of Chula Vista to help our community find a solution,” she said. In recent discussions, many of the neighbors have been saying that the San Diego Police Department will not help direct traffic in the area, which leaves the “shorter-staffed” Chula Vista Police Department to manage the congestion, as most of the affected streets are in their jurisdiction.
In the past month, Serrano contacted the city council members of both San Diego and Chula Vista. She received a phone call from the Chula Vista Police Department and then (on October 23) an email from Chula Vista councilmember Mike Diaz.
“I understand your frustration,” Diaz said, “[and] my office will be looking into this and how we can mitigate the traffic or a solution to getting home quickly when an event is going on.”
Serrano also received an email from Gerardo Ramirez, who works at councilmember David Alvarez’s office. The email said “the Otay Mesa Public Facilities Financing Plan (PFFP), which is like the wish list for projects, has outlined the connection of two roads to the Vista Pacifica area. The two roads that are going to connect to Vista Pacifica are the following: Dennery Road – Topsail Drive to Avenida de las Vistas [and] Exposition Way – Vista Santo Domingo.”
If all goes according to plan, the connections will alleviate some concert traffic congestion around the neighborhoods.
Serrano said that Ramirez also mentioned that there is no scheduled date for construction and that funding needs to be allocated for the projects.
“Vista Santo Domingo is what we think would be the best way to our community and it needs to be made exclusive for our neighborhood if Dennery Road remains open to the public,” she said. Serrano’s exclusivity proposal was referring to ID checks when certain streets are blocked strictly for residents, so that the concertgoers don’t park and travel within the neighborhoods.
Elaine Saunders lives on the other side of the venue by Oleander Avenue off of Main Street. She recalls when her streets were blocked by the police. “As long as you showed ID you were allowed to go on Oleander, but it seems they don’t honor that either now [and] when it [the amphitheater] first opened we used to be offered free tickets for some of the concerts as we were literally stuck right in the middle.”
Across from Saunders’s neighborhood entry point is the Main Court shopping complex. Before and after concerts, this area, which is home to Kohl’s, Babies “R” Us, Souplantation, and PetSmart, is said by the neighbors and employees of the businesses to be difficult to access.
“If they are coming west from Main Street they cannot come inside because of this intersection [Main Court] right here; they cannot make a left-hand turn into our parking lot,” said Kelly, the manager of PetSmart. Coming from the west side by the 805 freeway is “super difficult” because of the rerouted traffic coming from Main Street to 805 south, then exit Palm Avenue, then back to 805 north.
Kelly said during certain concerts, their business loses between $2500 and $3000, compared to a non-concert day. “I tell my employees to come to work early during concerts,” she said, “and when we leave, we have to wait 15 minutes with our cars backed up to Kohl’s (the last store in the complex).” Kelly has worked at this location for over ten years and lives a quarter of a mile away. “I can see the back of this building from my house,” she said, “and during the country concerts, it takes me 25 minutes to get home.”
Panda Express is around the corner from PetSmart. Their Chinese food sales increase during the concerts, “especially country concerts like on Wednesday,” said Alan, the store manager. “We make an additional $3000 during these concerts and we are prepared with extra staff and to-go boxes.”
Despite the Luke Bryan concert not selling out at 20,000 capacity like the recent Depeche Mode concert, “The neighbors are [still] complaining about the traffic for that [concert on Wednesday] too, which is weird because we weren’t even sold out,” said a venue employee. “When I got there I was told there were at about 10,500 [tickets] sold [and] at the end of the night, we were at a little over 11,000,” she said.
For now, until the proposed street extensions are connected, the neighborhood and businesses during certain concerts will have to make do. “Extended delays can stretch upwards of 90 minutes to traverse through the 2.5 miles from Auto Park Place and onto Heritage Road,” Serrano said. “When there is a concert scheduled at the amphitheater, our family makes certain that we have all of our supplies for dinner and we cannot make any plans of going anywhere.”
But then there’s Panda Express.
“We prepare extra trays of orange chicken and teriyaki before the concerts because we sell a lot and we are the last drive-thru [before the venue],” Alan said.
An email and phone call were made to Gerardo Ramirez regarding additional information to Serrano's email, but there was no response before this was published.