Eastlake was considered by some San Diego residents to be refuge from the criminal activity that occurs elsewhere in our county. But in the last year, the would-be suburban utopia, which is about 12 miles east of the Chula Vista Police Department, has not been immune to a string of crimes and scams.
Since 2018 began, Crimemapping.com has listed 329 crime incidents that happened (until March 7th) in Eastlake and the surrounding areas. Consequently, residents here are becoming more vigilant and posting news of anything suspicious to their social media accounts. Some say this is causing a needless neighborhood panic. Elias Gallegos isn’t one of them.
“People are like ‘The only reason we are hearing about [the uptick in crime] now is because of social media,’” says Gallegos.“That’s bullshit. I grew up here, and I don’t remember seeing aggressive people and gypsies panhandling at every single corner. I’ve never seen as many homeless people or drug addicts walking around the streets.”
Gallegos, 40, is an Eastlake businessman and homeowner. He admits that at one time, he “used to be a bodyguard and kidnapper for the drug dealers.” He’s covered with tattoos, sports a full beard, stands about 5’10”, and weighs 235 pounds. Many residents take to reporting crime and scams with their smart-devices. Gallegos takes matters into his own hands, and then takes photos and posts a warning-message to his community. If the perp is lucky, he’ll only get slapped with some “verbal jiu jitsu.” He says, “What got me so fucking upset was there’s other people at the [Shell] gas station seeing this,” he said, “and nobody wants to say anything and everybody turned a blind eye.”
Gallegos was referring to an incident that he and his wife, Rose, stumbled upon last summer at a gas station embedded in the Eastlake Village Marketplace strip mall anchored by Lowes and Target, just east of Highway 125, and north of Otay Lakes Road. “I saw something that seemed odd,” Rose said. “There was a young girl and her Hispanic mother and a guy trying to extort money from her.”
“I get out of the car and start walking towards [the distressed woman], then she kinda bolts to the gas station [store] inside.” Gallegos said.
Gallegos said he then followed her and asked “Excuse me, are those guys harassing you?”
The panicked lady nodded her head up and down and told Gallegos that she needed to give the two aggressive panhandlers money from the ATM machine. He then asked the woman if she wanted to give; she nodded her head and said, “No.”
“Then she yelled ‘My daughter!’” Gallegos said, “She forgot about her baby in the car and was like fucking freaking out, right. I said ‘Give me the keys,’ and I walk out and she’s behind me. The white guy runs toward me saying ‘Give me the money.’”
Gallegos told him, “Stop right there, you’re not getting any money.”
The former bodyguard, current martial arts instructor was animated as he reenacted the scenario with hand gestures and facial expressions. I talked with him in January and then on February 23rd towards the tail-end of class at his Alliance Eastlake Jiu-Jitsu gym located at 821 Kuhn Drive, around the corner from the gas station.
“‘She’s gonna give me money,’ he said …. then his [Asian] buddy comes behind him and they’re sizing me up and I size them up right away,” Gallegos said. “He was a white guy, maybe 5’7” or 5’8”, wearing a hat, grey hoodie, and shorts. He’s got scruffy facial hair and maybe in his mid 30s. I didn’t get a good look at the Asian guy.”
Gallegos said that Alberto, the gas attendant, yelled on the intercom “You guys gotta leave, because the cops are coming.” He then asked the lady to return to her white SUV to check on her child.
“Two things are going to happen” he said to the perps, “the cops are on their way and if you guys don’t leave right now you’re gonna get hurt really really bad and you’re gonna get arrested. So I walked them [towards] Islands Restaurant and made them get on the street (Otay Lakes Road).”
Gallegos eventually posted about the incident on the East Chula Vista Community Watch Facebook page. Soon his thread lit up. Many women from the 4500-plus online community said that they too were harassed by the two at the same gas station. Another woman said that she was accosted by them at the same plaza.
Rose added that the perps solely targeted “females that were all alone.”
“It turns up these guys are heroin addicts, and they were robbing and strong-arming people all up and down the Eastlake area,” Gallegos said. “So the cops got involved and they got arrested like a week later… it’s getting bad out here, man.”
Nicholas Calderon, 29, disagrees with Gallegos about how bad it is. “The last time I heard about a big crime [here in Eastlake] was in 2006-2007 “when all of those houses were getting broken into around here,” said Calderon, the assistant general manager of the Eastlake Tavern and Bowl, a mile east. “And then there was that drug bust last year or the year before, but you don’t hear about those things anymore.”
Rachel is a 19-year-old customer service rep for the Eastlake Speed Circuit, which is in the same The District Eastlake business complex as the tavern and bowling alley. “I have been hearing about more crime incidents than I have in the past,” she said, as she and her co-workers assisted the kids racing their gas-powered indoor karts.
The District is located at 871 Showroom Place. Upon entering from Otay Lakes Road and then Fenton Street, the palm trees and the fountains make some forget that it’s in an industrial area of Eastlake. Here, there’s a World Gym and Sky Zone if you want to work out, there’s a Filippi’s pizza and Lolita’s Mexican if you want to grub and drink a cold one, and a ten-lane bowling alley is open until 2 a.m. on weekends, if you want to do both.
“I know what’s going on when its going on, [and] sometimes before it hits the news,” Calderon said. He’s been working in Eastlake for ten years and prior to working here, he worked at the local Vons, IHop, and Buffalo Wild Wings — where he talks to the locals almost every day. “It’s all hyped up,” he said. “A kid falls out of a tree and everybody and their mom has to know about it. Because somebody posted it on Facebook, and then it gets reposted, and then they put it on Twitter, and it gets retweeted, then there’s a video on YouTube, and somebody’s got it on Instagram and then someone put it on their Snapchat.”
Rachel said that her place of employment and the surrounding businesses in their complex, installed cameras after a break-in at one of the businesses. She’s seen questionable individuals in the back of their complex, but still feels safe overall in Eastlake, despite hearing more about the local crime.
Calderon added that he’s never been a victim of crime in Eastlake and his bar hasn’t had a bar-fight in a while.
“I’ve seen a lot more allegedly homeless [people] in the Eastlake area,” Calderon said, “… do I care to watch what kind of cars they go into? No. Do I know that people are falsifying their homelessness to bring in some extra cash? Yeah. It’s a crime on people’s good nature more than it is a crime on society.”
Kaylee’s good nature has been played upon by panhandlers since she moved into Eastlake from Akron, Ohio, last year.
“People think because [we] pay more money [for mortgages and rent, that] no bad things will happen,” she said. “If anything, living in a more expensive neighborhood, you’d expect it more.”
Zillow states that the average Chula Vista home runs about $514,700, and some say that the average is brought up by the million dollar-plus homes in Eastlake. According to the Apartment Guide website, average rent in Eastlake for a studio will run about $1979; a one-bedroom will cost $2059, a two-bedroom, $2503 and a three-bedroom, $3021.
On February 23rd, Kaylee, a 23-year-old customer service representative, was harassed by a guy with a newer car than her own. “It’s nicer than my car [too] and yet he’s asking me for money,” she said. Kaylee’s used to seeing this guy’s antics, because he’s been pulling the same excuse to get her money since she was duped the first time when she just moved here.
“I’m always afraid of a scary reaction when I have my kids,” she said. “[The last time] I walked out of Pizza Hut with food and [my] two kids, and he’s walking with me to my car asking for money. It’s just insane, if anything you’d think having kids with you would make [him] not want to ask.”
The confrontation this day (February 23rd) was Kaylee’s last straw, because when she declined to give him money as she loaded her kids into their car seats, he persistently tapped on her car windows.
“I’m so sick of going to the gas station, Walgreens, Starbucks… and the same guy coming up to me every time.”
She secretly took a photo of him and warns that “If you make it visible [that] you’re recording him or taking a picture, he does get angry.” She then posted a photo of her year-long “tormenter” and his car on the same forum that Gallegos posted at. Other Eastlake residents then came forward to corroborate with similar instances to Kaylee’s.
The following day, on Saturday (February 24), I fully charged my iPhone, loaded up my skateboard and drove down to Eastlake to hang out with the locals.
It took me about 25 minutes to get from downtown San Diego to Eastlake, via Interstate 5 south, 54 east, 805 south, and then east on H Street. After living in mid-city for the last 12 years, things here were different to me. When driving into the Eastlake development areas, I noticed the highway-like streets (three lanes on each side) that lead to and from the 805 Freeway were much wider than our two-way streets in Normal Heights. The cement marquee signage outside each of the mini-communities and the business complexes were a new sight for me too.
“They broke into here on Christmas through the roof,” said Jacinto, one of the drivers of the Pizza Hut at 2326 Proctor Valley Road, a mile north. “and they (the burglars) crawled to the register (to avoid the cameras).” Jacinto has been delivering pizza in Eastlake for the last two years and said that the incident in his store was a rare occurrence for Eastlake, and he hasn’t noticed any other crime since he started working here.
At the Starbucks in the same plaza I spoke with Marcelynne, 23, and she agreed with Jacinto’s assessment of crime in the area. She said that about 80 percent of her patrons are regulars, including a woman who teaches her and co-workers jiu jitsu, in case something happens.
I drove to the Shell gas station where Gallegos and his wife saved the woman from the two “heroin addicts” to look for Alberto, the attendant that yelled in the intercom. He was not available, but Mona was. She said that there are still solicitors that bother her patrons, but not aggressive ones. “Every time I tell them to leave, they leave,” she said.
I followed Gallegos’s path when he walked the two addicts towards the Islands Restaurant. Reina was the host up front and said that she doesn’t see anything that happens outside because the restaurant’s entrance point is elevated atop Otay Lakes Road. She said she hasn’t noticed any unusual characters in their complex which is shared with Target, Lowe’s, GameStop, and other businesses, but “my sister said that she saw this one lady and she had her kids with her, they were begging for money then [after] they got into this really nice car.”
On November 16, 2017, Nathan Ga came into work at the Eastlake Country Club and noticed some police officers on his golf course looking around. “That [incident] happened at night and it was on the news,” he said.
Gallegos was alerted about the incident via his smart phone. “Bro, did you hear about that stolen BMW and then they found the [shotgun] in there.” he said.
“With what’s going on in the world, nothing surprises me,” said Ga, the assistant general manager of the country club which has an 18-hole golf course. He said that crime hadn’t reached his parts of Eastlake until this incident.
According to local news outlets, on November 14, 2017, burglars broke into Eric Deas’s Otay Ranch home on Cascade Place and poured tequila into his aquarium, killing some of his family’s fish. They also took social security information, passports, his kids’ Playstation, and the last letter written to him by his late mother. On November 15, the vehicle used by the perps seen in Deas’s surveillance footage was spotted at the Otay Lakes Mall, then the info was relayed to the Chula Vista Police Department. The driver took off leading a high speed pursuit towards Waterville Lake Road where the vehicle was ditched, and then the four suspects ran into the country club’s golf course where they escaped.
On November 27, it was reported that Jordan McLeroy, 18, and a 17-year-old suspect were arrested in connection with the burglary and the car chase, but there was no information on the two other suspects. On November 29, the Chula Vista Police Department returned Deas’s stolen items.
“Nowadays people are quick to grab their phone, and that’s how those kids got caught,” Gallegos said, “because they were snap-chatting themselves getting chased (in the BMW) by the cops.”
The suspects were identified by residents who saw the video floating around on social media.
“[They were] just teenage kids kinda pushing the envelope on stealing a car,” Gallegos said.
Ga said that the riffraff rarely reach his part of Eastlake because “we share the parking lot with the HOA (home owner’s association) and they have their own personal security... patrolling the neighborhoods here.”
The rest of Eastlake that doesn’t have private security depends solely on one another, the senior volunteer patrol, and Chula Vista Police to come out.
“In terms of authorized staffing for the police department,” Captain Vern Sallee said, “we are at .87 officers per 1000 residents which is the lowest in the county, and it’s the second lowest in the state for a city our size.”
Sallee has been with the Chula Vista Police for the last 22 years. He is in charge of the investigative division and is the press information officer for the department. He sent me a map of the four sectors in Chula Vista, which is divided into 12 beats. “The eastern beats tend to be larger because of lower service demands (calls for service),” he said. “The beats were last updated in 2013 based upon calls for service levels in the area and factored in growth projections. Generally, every beat has one officer and there may be extra officers assigned to a sector depending on staffing. There are a minimum of four to five officers staffing the eastern beats (31, 32, 41, 42), but often there are six officers assigned.”
That means there are approximately 1.5 officers per beat and with Eastlake being in two different beats, up to three officers are available for the Eastlake area (without utilizing other officers from other beats).
As I reviewed the map that Sallee provided, I noticed that the beats do not correspond to what some of the community has understood as Eastlake per se. Eastlake is one of a few master planned communities that was built by the EastLake Company beginning in 1982 and then throughout the 1990s.
“People in Eastlake think of Eastlake as it’s branded as a neighborhood,” Sallee said, “but it’s not an exclusive neighborhood on how it’s policed, the beats are blended with Otay Ranch and Millenia. So [when people] are asking “If crime up in Eastlake is higher,” I have a really difficult time answering that, because I can get crime statistics and answer that question, but the boundaries don’t really correspond to how we police the city.”
“I love the cops,” Gallegos said, “I mean 75 percent of my adult students are law enforcement, and they all know about my background, because I’m real and I’m an open book.”
Gallegos is a third degree black belt and has college degrees in theology and nouthetic (biblical) counseling. On November 21st, 2017, he found a guy passed out on a dirt trail by Target, which is down the street from his gym. He called 911 but said it took the first responders about 15 minutes to get there.
“I’ve heard the numbers of patrol units here are very low and most of them are on the other side of Chula Vista, and I get that. But one of the biggest complaints that I’ve seen on that Facebook message board is that the response time is very very slow for patrol cars to get out here.”
Sallee agrees that it’s a problem. “We have not be able to meet the response time goals set by the Growth Management Oversight Commission for our priority emergency calls.”
On the City of Chula Vista website it says “Properly equipped and staffed police units shall respond to at least 81 percent of priority 1 calls within seven minutes 30 seconds and shall maintain an average response time of six minutes or less for all priority 1 calls (measured annually) and properly equipped and staffed police units shall respond to all priority 2 calls within 12 minutes or less (measured annually).
“We have not met that in 19 years for priority 2 calls or in 4 years for priority 1 calls,” Sallee said.