Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

I-5 has the worst litter, 805 is second

Homeless trash eats up 30 percent of local highway maintenance

Next to southbound 805 near the border of San Diego and National City
Next to southbound 805 near the border of San Diego and National City

The numbers are alarming: 30 percent of Caltrans’ $18.1 million local maintenance budget went for picking up after people last year. $6.2 million went toward picking up litter off the freeway and for cleaning out the debris fields left behind by homeless encampments abandoned in the wake of 72-hour notices that trash crews are coming.

Ten thousand dump trucks of trash last year

“That’s the stuff they didn’t want,” said Caltrans spokesman Ed Joyce. “Last year, taxpayers spent millions for crews to work nearly 56,500 hours cleaning up after other people.”

Caltrans crew moves stuff in places a front-end loader can’t go.

Last year, in San Diego and Imperial counties, Caltrans hauled an amount that would take more than 10,000 large dump trucks to move. Lined up, that’s more than 30 miles of dump trucks loaded with trash.

It’s the single largest maintenance expenditure; tree maintenance is next at $4.8 million, with bridge and guardrail inspections and repairs at around $2.9 million.

Costs continue to rise; but trash clean-up continues even after the annual budget is spent. It’s a matter of public safety, says spokesman Ed Joyce.

Or as the maintenance chief says, “Without the heavy equipment, we’d basically be a maid service.”

The freeway tidy-ups yield a crop of bizarre stuff: Tires are the No.1 find, mattresses come close behind at 50 per month. Ladders, furniture and all kinds of landscaping tools and materials. “We keep telling people to tie down their loads before they get on the freeway,” says Everett Townsend, Caltrans district division chief of maintenance.

Homeless encampments have spiked in the past four or five years, Townsend says, and Caltrans customer service line gets dozens of calls each week from citizens reporting them. The city’s strategies pushed some of the homeless out of downtown and into the neighborhoods, and police efforts there have pushed the people to find places to camp where they are less visible.

The Caltrans costs for these clean-ups aren’t usually included in the city’s and region’s assessment of the effects of homelessness, officials say.

“I’ve seen staircases dug into hillsides and full-on showers where the water comes from (landscape) irrigation piping,” says California Highway Patrol officer Jake Sanchez. “They definitely have skill sets where they shouldn’t have to be homeless.”

Sanchez says there are chronic camps off I-8 at Taylor Street and off I-5 at Imperial Avenue.

There are recurring camps along Highway 94, including those just east of the end of the 94 and east of the I-5 south onramps. Fires started by homeless people have disrupted freeway traffic around a particularly persistent and gnarly site next to the 94 at College Avenue. Another site, west side of the 805 at the Adams Avenue exit just came to their attention again. Anywhere you see a Caltrans fence cut big enough for a person to go through, there’s probably a camp there.

But homeless people have gotten in to Caltrans property where you wouldn’t expect to see them.

“They break into our facilities and get into our bridge cells. We find people who live in culverts and we’ve had to put grates on,” Townsend says. “We have to make sure we aren’t compromising the drainage system and causing flooding somewhere else.”

From the fence line between the Willie Henderson Sports Complex park and the Caltrans right-of-way on the southbound side of the 805, a larger than usual camp has been dug deep into the canyon near the 43rd Street off-ramp. It’s well-hidden by the topography — a steep-sided and narrow canyon with the 805 on the east and the park on the west. And it’s bigger than most sites.

On a fine August morning that I accompany a crew, the CHP officer escorting the clean-up crew finds and holds open a hole in the fence while we clamber through and then scramble down a steep path used so much that the stairs cut into the dirt have rounded at the edge and slope downward.

At the bottom of the canyon, we see two tents pitched a few feet apart, the round ones that look like domes, and there’s trash, enough that it looks like the floor of a stadium after a rowdy game. That trash barely registers with the Caltrans advance team. One of the two CHP officers escorting us stops to speak respectfully into the tents but no one answers. We walk through a narrowing curve that opens onto a wider area of the canyon floor, and find the largest trash mess I’ve ever seen. In its midst: lined off ‘rooms’ marked with drapes and poles and covered with tarps. One has a DIY clothes rack with plastic hangers, all empty. There’s a gas grill — one of the silver-colored metal ones — has been hacked to burn charcoal and the smoky smell of last night’s food lingers on the coals.

There are yellow and green dockless bikes scattered around in varying states of disassembly. There are folding camp stools and woven web chairs, makeshift rooms and broken chairs around a fire pit.

Some of the trash makes sense, like the grill. Much of it doesn’t, as if it’s a debris field from two planes full of household items that crashed into each other, minus the plane parts. It spreads more than a hundred feet south and 70 or 80 feet wide, narrowing with the contours of the canyon. Trash climbs up the sides of the canyon and lays stinking in the dry creek bed.

“There are so many items,” said Ed Joyce with Caltrans. “Typically there’s soiled clothing and bedding, bicycle parts, trash, televisions, generators, car batteries, old mattresses, rotten food, broken cell phones, radios, shelving, old medical devices, stoves, refrigerators ... even prosthetic limbs and wheel chairs.”

“One of our maintenance workers told me it’s like going to a swap meet and the landfill all at once,” added Joyce.

Despite the freeway up the hill, it’s quiet — the CHP officers who escorted us can be heard talking with people they found behind and within a stand of bamboo as big as a small house.

Joyce points out a couple of strange places that don’t immediately register as beds. One looks like a giant pile of bamboo and palm leaves with a seven-foot diameter cap on it, but then I see an oval hole at the front big enough to crawl into. He tells me Caltrans crews have found bamboo stands riddled with the wide, low ovals that people can crawl into and they find rooms at the end of these tunnels carved inside the stand.

This site will take about two days to clean up and crews have a front end loader and the first dump truck on the way, says Caltrans spokesman Joyce.

A crew of about 20 workers in orange vests and hardhats, hired through a contractor, arrive and begin moving trash to areas where the front-end loader can go — because the loader can’t go into the brush or the old creek bed, also full of trash.

“Caltrans will post a 72-hour notice ahead of time that crews are planning to clean up the area,” said Joyce. “Generally, people will take their possessions of value and leave, but as you can see, a lot of trash and debris is left behind.”

The number of homeless camps on Caltrans land amounts to an epidemic, CHP officers say. In El Cajon, the public information officer checked the office schedule — and echoed others’ statements that cleanups almost amount to “maid service” as well. He expects the campers to return within a week of the cleanup completion and has seen people waiting on the other side of the Caltrans chain link fence.

“We have four cleanups we’re going out on this week,” says CHP Officer Travis Garrow. “It’s not safe for them without law enforcement.”

Joyce said that crews regularly clean out encampments but generally find that people later return to the location. This one was cleared seven or eight months ago.

The crews clean out such camps in three or four locations a week, Joyce said. Interstate 5 has the worst messes, 805 is second, and south of the 8 requires more attention than north.

They get dozens of calls every week identifying new encampments, and they get to them as quickly as they can. But emergencies, like serious crashes and fires jumping state highways, are more important, and the crews get diverted to help with emergencies.

As we walk back to the path up the steep hill, we see that one of the two blue tents is gone. And minutes later we see two men carrying a large mattress up the hill and pushing it through another hole in the fence.

“If it’s on the other side of the fence, it’s not on Caltrans land, so we leave it,” Joyce says. He stares at the hole we’re climbing through to leave the cleanup site.

“We’ll also have to fix that fence,” he adds.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Thor slain in Carlsbad

Stabber gets five years
Next Article

Vet Chris Mavry holds the line between protest and riot

“Hey brother, that’s not what we’re here for!”
Comments
9

All this worthless human scum cost the taxpayers millions of dollars from police departments spending resources to deal with bums to hospitals getting nothing for filling their emergency rooms with this trash to fire departments having to respond to fires. I am all for helping those who want help but the bums are nothing more that trash.

Sept. 20, 2018

You are truly a wonderful individual and San Diego is blessed to have you.

Please go down to the Star of India, climb the main mast to the crow's nest, then jump into the Bay.

Sept. 20, 2018

You first, dear.

Sept. 21, 2018

No, you move to Slovakia.

They need your brilliance.

Dec. 19, 2018

For most of us, this sort of thing has mostly been out-of-sight and thus out-of-mind. But something is happening, and it is bad. If the amount of trash, and the number of such camps is growing, there's something wrong in that our economic boom is not even helping this a bit. Is it possible that the boom, although it looks genuine, really isn't what it seems to be? Is it making it worse for many people?

While I'm not usually too sympathetic with those who will not or cannot live by the usual rules and standards, the burgeoning homeless population has some scary implications for the rest of us. What the heck is going on here?

Sept. 20, 2018

"What the heck is going on here?"

Capitalism in America has been on life support since 2007, San Diego is not friendly to renters, the cities of the County are pushing their homeless to leave....so they take that bus or trolley ticket Downtown or to these squatter camps. Meanwhile you have a closed circa-1953 Public Library that could be converted to a large homeless shelter but the thought never crosses Mayor Kev-boy's mind even though homeless people sleep in front of it.

Sept. 20, 2018

And what happened to the former Chargers training facility becoming a homeless shelter?

Sept. 20, 2018

Lost to the sands of time because somebody somewhere in City Hall or their developer friends wants to build more luxury apartments on the site.

So much could be done, but nobody in power is interested.

Sept. 21, 2018

There is no help for property owners on the other side of the fence. No hotline to help them or tell them how to reclaim their property, who have to put up "No Trespassing" signs at the suggestion of the police, only to have them torn down the next day. How are property owners supposed to do what Caltrans is doing?

Sept. 21, 2018

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Next to southbound 805 near the border of San Diego and National City
Next to southbound 805 near the border of San Diego and National City

The numbers are alarming: 30 percent of Caltrans’ $18.1 million local maintenance budget went for picking up after people last year. $6.2 million went toward picking up litter off the freeway and for cleaning out the debris fields left behind by homeless encampments abandoned in the wake of 72-hour notices that trash crews are coming.

Ten thousand dump trucks of trash last year

“That’s the stuff they didn’t want,” said Caltrans spokesman Ed Joyce. “Last year, taxpayers spent millions for crews to work nearly 56,500 hours cleaning up after other people.”

Caltrans crew moves stuff in places a front-end loader can’t go.

Last year, in San Diego and Imperial counties, Caltrans hauled an amount that would take more than 10,000 large dump trucks to move. Lined up, that’s more than 30 miles of dump trucks loaded with trash.

It’s the single largest maintenance expenditure; tree maintenance is next at $4.8 million, with bridge and guardrail inspections and repairs at around $2.9 million.

Costs continue to rise; but trash clean-up continues even after the annual budget is spent. It’s a matter of public safety, says spokesman Ed Joyce.

Or as the maintenance chief says, “Without the heavy equipment, we’d basically be a maid service.”

The freeway tidy-ups yield a crop of bizarre stuff: Tires are the No.1 find, mattresses come close behind at 50 per month. Ladders, furniture and all kinds of landscaping tools and materials. “We keep telling people to tie down their loads before they get on the freeway,” says Everett Townsend, Caltrans district division chief of maintenance.

Homeless encampments have spiked in the past four or five years, Townsend says, and Caltrans customer service line gets dozens of calls each week from citizens reporting them. The city’s strategies pushed some of the homeless out of downtown and into the neighborhoods, and police efforts there have pushed the people to find places to camp where they are less visible.

The Caltrans costs for these clean-ups aren’t usually included in the city’s and region’s assessment of the effects of homelessness, officials say.

“I’ve seen staircases dug into hillsides and full-on showers where the water comes from (landscape) irrigation piping,” says California Highway Patrol officer Jake Sanchez. “They definitely have skill sets where they shouldn’t have to be homeless.”

Sanchez says there are chronic camps off I-8 at Taylor Street and off I-5 at Imperial Avenue.

There are recurring camps along Highway 94, including those just east of the end of the 94 and east of the I-5 south onramps. Fires started by homeless people have disrupted freeway traffic around a particularly persistent and gnarly site next to the 94 at College Avenue. Another site, west side of the 805 at the Adams Avenue exit just came to their attention again. Anywhere you see a Caltrans fence cut big enough for a person to go through, there’s probably a camp there.

But homeless people have gotten in to Caltrans property where you wouldn’t expect to see them.

“They break into our facilities and get into our bridge cells. We find people who live in culverts and we’ve had to put grates on,” Townsend says. “We have to make sure we aren’t compromising the drainage system and causing flooding somewhere else.”

From the fence line between the Willie Henderson Sports Complex park and the Caltrans right-of-way on the southbound side of the 805, a larger than usual camp has been dug deep into the canyon near the 43rd Street off-ramp. It’s well-hidden by the topography — a steep-sided and narrow canyon with the 805 on the east and the park on the west. And it’s bigger than most sites.

On a fine August morning that I accompany a crew, the CHP officer escorting the clean-up crew finds and holds open a hole in the fence while we clamber through and then scramble down a steep path used so much that the stairs cut into the dirt have rounded at the edge and slope downward.

At the bottom of the canyon, we see two tents pitched a few feet apart, the round ones that look like domes, and there’s trash, enough that it looks like the floor of a stadium after a rowdy game. That trash barely registers with the Caltrans advance team. One of the two CHP officers escorting us stops to speak respectfully into the tents but no one answers. We walk through a narrowing curve that opens onto a wider area of the canyon floor, and find the largest trash mess I’ve ever seen. In its midst: lined off ‘rooms’ marked with drapes and poles and covered with tarps. One has a DIY clothes rack with plastic hangers, all empty. There’s a gas grill — one of the silver-colored metal ones — has been hacked to burn charcoal and the smoky smell of last night’s food lingers on the coals.

There are yellow and green dockless bikes scattered around in varying states of disassembly. There are folding camp stools and woven web chairs, makeshift rooms and broken chairs around a fire pit.

Some of the trash makes sense, like the grill. Much of it doesn’t, as if it’s a debris field from two planes full of household items that crashed into each other, minus the plane parts. It spreads more than a hundred feet south and 70 or 80 feet wide, narrowing with the contours of the canyon. Trash climbs up the sides of the canyon and lays stinking in the dry creek bed.

“There are so many items,” said Ed Joyce with Caltrans. “Typically there’s soiled clothing and bedding, bicycle parts, trash, televisions, generators, car batteries, old mattresses, rotten food, broken cell phones, radios, shelving, old medical devices, stoves, refrigerators ... even prosthetic limbs and wheel chairs.”

“One of our maintenance workers told me it’s like going to a swap meet and the landfill all at once,” added Joyce.

Despite the freeway up the hill, it’s quiet — the CHP officers who escorted us can be heard talking with people they found behind and within a stand of bamboo as big as a small house.

Joyce points out a couple of strange places that don’t immediately register as beds. One looks like a giant pile of bamboo and palm leaves with a seven-foot diameter cap on it, but then I see an oval hole at the front big enough to crawl into. He tells me Caltrans crews have found bamboo stands riddled with the wide, low ovals that people can crawl into and they find rooms at the end of these tunnels carved inside the stand.

This site will take about two days to clean up and crews have a front end loader and the first dump truck on the way, says Caltrans spokesman Joyce.

A crew of about 20 workers in orange vests and hardhats, hired through a contractor, arrive and begin moving trash to areas where the front-end loader can go — because the loader can’t go into the brush or the old creek bed, also full of trash.

“Caltrans will post a 72-hour notice ahead of time that crews are planning to clean up the area,” said Joyce. “Generally, people will take their possessions of value and leave, but as you can see, a lot of trash and debris is left behind.”

The number of homeless camps on Caltrans land amounts to an epidemic, CHP officers say. In El Cajon, the public information officer checked the office schedule — and echoed others’ statements that cleanups almost amount to “maid service” as well. He expects the campers to return within a week of the cleanup completion and has seen people waiting on the other side of the Caltrans chain link fence.

“We have four cleanups we’re going out on this week,” says CHP Officer Travis Garrow. “It’s not safe for them without law enforcement.”

Joyce said that crews regularly clean out encampments but generally find that people later return to the location. This one was cleared seven or eight months ago.

The crews clean out such camps in three or four locations a week, Joyce said. Interstate 5 has the worst messes, 805 is second, and south of the 8 requires more attention than north.

They get dozens of calls every week identifying new encampments, and they get to them as quickly as they can. But emergencies, like serious crashes and fires jumping state highways, are more important, and the crews get diverted to help with emergencies.

As we walk back to the path up the steep hill, we see that one of the two blue tents is gone. And minutes later we see two men carrying a large mattress up the hill and pushing it through another hole in the fence.

“If it’s on the other side of the fence, it’s not on Caltrans land, so we leave it,” Joyce says. He stares at the hole we’re climbing through to leave the cleanup site.

“We’ll also have to fix that fence,” he adds.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Underground water in Carlsbad plays tricks on developers

Moisture in the soil delays Marriott suites
Next Article

Phil Rath – San Diego's busiest lobbyist

What Chris Cate will do with leftover money
Comments
9

All this worthless human scum cost the taxpayers millions of dollars from police departments spending resources to deal with bums to hospitals getting nothing for filling their emergency rooms with this trash to fire departments having to respond to fires. I am all for helping those who want help but the bums are nothing more that trash.

Sept. 20, 2018

You are truly a wonderful individual and San Diego is blessed to have you.

Please go down to the Star of India, climb the main mast to the crow's nest, then jump into the Bay.

Sept. 20, 2018

You first, dear.

Sept. 21, 2018

No, you move to Slovakia.

They need your brilliance.

Dec. 19, 2018

For most of us, this sort of thing has mostly been out-of-sight and thus out-of-mind. But something is happening, and it is bad. If the amount of trash, and the number of such camps is growing, there's something wrong in that our economic boom is not even helping this a bit. Is it possible that the boom, although it looks genuine, really isn't what it seems to be? Is it making it worse for many people?

While I'm not usually too sympathetic with those who will not or cannot live by the usual rules and standards, the burgeoning homeless population has some scary implications for the rest of us. What the heck is going on here?

Sept. 20, 2018

"What the heck is going on here?"

Capitalism in America has been on life support since 2007, San Diego is not friendly to renters, the cities of the County are pushing their homeless to leave....so they take that bus or trolley ticket Downtown or to these squatter camps. Meanwhile you have a closed circa-1953 Public Library that could be converted to a large homeless shelter but the thought never crosses Mayor Kev-boy's mind even though homeless people sleep in front of it.

Sept. 20, 2018

And what happened to the former Chargers training facility becoming a homeless shelter?

Sept. 20, 2018

Lost to the sands of time because somebody somewhere in City Hall or their developer friends wants to build more luxury apartments on the site.

So much could be done, but nobody in power is interested.

Sept. 21, 2018

There is no help for property owners on the other side of the fence. No hotline to help them or tell them how to reclaim their property, who have to put up "No Trespassing" signs at the suggestion of the police, only to have them torn down the next day. How are property owners supposed to do what Caltrans is doing?

Sept. 21, 2018

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close