Marcos, Claudia, and the author patrol near The Observatory.
The last time there was a seemingly life threatening conflict behind Claudia’s Spanish Revival home in North Park, she didn’t swipe her smartphone to dial 911 — instead, she pumped her 12-gauge shotgun.
“Expecting the worst, I felt I had to arm myself,” she said. “I didn’t know if they would attack my husband.”
“That was a last resort,” said her husband Marcos as the two were recollecting about an incident that happened last year.
I spoke to them at their home on Pershing Avenue between Landis Street and University Avenue. We sat in their front yard by the double-paned windows on which hung a sticker bearing the image of a handgun and the phrase, “We don’t dial 911.”
Claudia and Marcos have armed themselves in response to crime in North Park.
“I was leaving for work and I see a couple right there,” Marcos said as he pointed to their fence on the north side of the property, “and I told Claudia ‘Stay on your toes, there’s some people back there.’”
“They were homeless and staying next to our fence in between our house and the apartment next door; they were shooting up heroin,” Claudia explained.
“The next morning, like at 10 am, we woke up to a woman screaming,” Marcos said.
“…. and she was yelling ‘bloody murder,’” Claudia continued.
The couple has been giving away home survaillance equipment to neighbors.
“I run out in my boxers,” Marcos said, “and the dude was on top of her choking her out.”
It was the same couple that Marcos saw the day before.
“So he takes off running [and she follows] and they leave all their syringes and dope on the ground,” he said.
“Then, they come back again and this time I said to Claudia: ‘Prepare yourself and do what you gotta do,’ because this time, they tried to get brave.”
That’s when Claudia armed herself with a loaded 12-gauge shotgun complete with a tactical illumination module.
“I said to them ‘If you guys are hungry or thirsty that’s one thing, but you can’t be here,’” Marcos said. “They took what belongings they could.”
“Morley Field still has male prostitution happening in the bathrooms,” Claudia said. “When my kids used to play baseball here, before the games, I would have to go and clear out the bathrooms.”
“….. and by the grace of God nothing happened and they agreed to leave,” Claudia continued.
During the confrontation, Claudia’s mom, who lives in another house towards the rear of the property, called the police.
Claudia’s family has lived on Pershing Avenue since 1960. “There goes one of my cousins,” Claudia said as a vehicle passed us, “and look, there’s three of my aunts right there.” They waved at us from across the street and four houses south of us. “The three houses down there at the corner are all family, and then the house across the street on my side is also owned by our family, and next door to them is our family too.”
Claudia and her family live in the North Park Dryden Historic District, which is a collection of homes “ranging from late Victorian to Craftsman, Spanish Revival and early California Ranch style homes,” according to the North Park History site.
“We don’t dial 911.”
The Dryden District was named after master builder David Owen Dryden because it “contains the largest concentration of his homes in San Diego …. it consists of a six-block area of distinctive homes along 28th Street and Pershing Avenue between Upas and Landis Streets” — which Claudia and Marcos patrol with their two dogs at nighttime.
“In the last 60 years,” I questioned, “which years were the worst regarding crime in this area?”
“Now (2018-2019) is the worst,” Claudia said, “it’s a freak show out there.”
According to crimemaps.com from August 2018 to February 2019, there were only three crimes reported on Claudia and Marcos’s street. There was a vehicle break-in/theft on the 3800 block on January 28; a robbery on the 3700 block on October 25; and a vandalism report on the 3500 block in September. But Claudia and Marcos have seen a lot more.
“Babe, remember that dude that got robbed (in October),” Marcos said, “that happened when we just got home from Food 4 Less.”
“It happened right here on our street,” Claudia said. “The cops showed up at our house because they saw our Ring doorbell. Some guy in a car was following him, cut him off, assaulted him, and robbed him — and left him there on the ground. They found [the suspect] — he was doing a crime spree.”
“Then at four in the morning, Claudia caught someone trying to break into our cars,” Marcos said.
“Then another morning at around 5 am, I looked out the back window and noticed a guy with a ski mask jumping the fence into my backyard,” Claudia recalled. “Me and my big mouth was like: ‘Babe, babe, get the gun,’ and the punk got so scared, he jumped right there and his shirt got caught and that’s why that thing in the middle of the gate is broken. This doesn’t count what happens during the daytime — I can go on and on.”
In summer of 2018, Claudia logged onto her Nextdoor app and asked her neighbors if they were interested in starting a neighborhood watch in their North Park-Morley Field section of the app, which is bordered by Upas and University and between Alabama and 28th streets. The neighbors agreed.
“I started a Neighborhood Watch Program after hearing about so many of my neighbors either getting robbed, their cars getting broken into, and even home invasions.
“Our first Neighborhood Watch meeting was at the Lafayette Hotel last summer, where SDPD’s Officer Jenny Hall and Officer Danny Medina attended.”
“John,” another neighbor who lives by Claudia, offered to patrol but requested anonymity. “I am concerned about approaching someone and having them stab me with a needle that they use for drugs,” he said, “or using other weapons, or having others in their group come out from the shadows and wanting to escalate a confrontation.
“I have not patrolled the streets yet, but I do keep an eye out when I drive to the gym around 3:20 am and when I return after 4:30 am. I would like to know what we can do as citizens before going out on a patrol. I did not find anything out with respect to what to do if we see a drug deal going down.”
“Officer Hall suggested that we just keep a log of the incident/crime including the date and time,” Claudia said. “They told us that the police department doesn’t have the resources to answer every crime reported, and it was up to us to come together and run crime out of the neighborhood. I agree.”
On February 20, at 7:25 pm, I met back up with Claudia and her two dogs so we could walk the neighborhood and then pick up Marcos from work; he manages one of the businesses on University Avenue by the North Park sign, and gets off at 10 pm.
While Claudia connected their dogs' leashes. I saw a gun sitting on the table and asked: “Do you pack heat when you patrol the neighborhood?”
Claudia responded: “No, but we do carry flashlights, pocket knives, and pepper spray. Grab one, Mike.”
“I’m good,” I said, “I brought my own pepper spray.”
“Where’s the rest of the neighborhood watch team?” I asked.
“It’s just Marcos and I,” she responded, “sadly our neighborhood watch consists of many members that are quick to join the group but don’t participate in patrolling.”
As we were leaving it started raining.
“Let's just drive around,” Claudia suggested, “the rain’s too much for our doggies.”
Claudia drove down her street.
“It’s gotten a lot better, Mike,” she said, “all these neighbors never used to turn on their porch lights.”
Claudia then drove through the alleys stopping to shine her flashlight at anything suspicious. “See these little cracks and crevices (between the properties),” she said, “you gotta look into them.”
A moment later, “That guy’s OK.” She was referring to a man on a mountain bike.
“On my way to your house, I saw a grown man riding a kid’s BMX bike,” I commented, “and he was wearing a large backpack.”
“Now that’s a different story,” she responded, “that’s not good.”
Many from North Park are reporting, via social media, about vehicle smash and grabs and “porch pirates” stealing Amazon packages where the thieves use bikes for a quick getaway through the back alleys and down the nearby canyons.
“Over here it gets super-dark,” Claudia said, “…. and over here on Dwight and Pershing, this is the house I grew up in, it was the first house my grandparents bought in 1960 for $40,000; it has five bedrooms and a kitchen upstairs … and they (Claudia’s family members) sold it for over a million dollars in 2010.”
Claudia then drove northbound on Arizona Street to Wightman.
“I’ll pull over here,” Claudia said; she parked in front of an alleyway.
“Right here is where I noticed a youngster, he couldn’t have been more than 25 years old,” Claudia explained. “He had a shopping cart in the middle of the street. This kid was standing upright and sound asleep with a syringe still stuck in his arm.... I stayed with him for a while, and I asked him what brought him to this part of town. His response was: ‘It’s dark over here, and people don’t leave their porch lights on, they see people like me and run inside their homes and lock their doors.’”
Until recently, Claudia and Marcos used to offer chicken burritos, sandwiches, and water to some of the people that they “ask kindly” to “move along” when patrolling. “But then the neighbors on the NextDoor app were complaining and asking “Now where are they going to go to the bathroom after that?” Claudia said.
We headed southbound in a narrow alley to Upas Street. “Here there’s been a lot of home invasions,” she said, “I think because [the perps know they] can run straight through the park and get away…. this second house right here always gets hit.”
Across the street from the house that was invaded is Morley Field, which has a park and trail, a disc golf course, basketball-and-tennis courts, a swimming pool, playgrounds, and baseball fields.
“Morley Field still has male prostitution happening in the bathrooms,” Claudia said. “When my kids used to play baseball here, before the games, I would have to go and clear out the bathrooms. I would tell them: “You guys need to move it over to Balboa Park, there’s kids here right now. You guys have no shame.”
I noticed that the cars that were parked backwards, like that one there with his parking light on, that’s [sometimes] a proposition saying: “I’m available or I’m open.””
Claudia parked the car and checked the bathrooms; they were clear. She then exited the park and hopped back on Upas.
“Ok, here on Louisiana, we don’t really come down this way because they started their own neighborhood watch,” she said.
She flipped a U-turn, got on 28th Street, and headed northbound. “That’s my cousin’s house right there,” Claudia commented. On the same street, there was a vehicle break-in/theft on the 3600 block on September 22; a burglary on the 3600 block on October 6; and a residential burglary on the 3600 block ten days after.
Claudia turned right on University Avenue and proceeded past the North Park sign to Marcos’s job site, which he wanted to keep “on the down low.”
Sean Baba has been Marcos’s client for two years. “Marcos is very passionate about his work and his neighborhood,” he said, “and cares about all of us that come in.”
Baba is an architecture student that lives on Grim Street, outside of Marcos-and-Claudia’s patrol boundaries. “I’ve contacted authorities a few times about the local crime,” Baba said. “North Park is totally different at night.”
Marcos has buddies that work in his neighboring surrounding businesses, including Lucha Libre Taco Shop, City Tacos, Splash Wine Lounge and Bistro, Fatboy’s Deli, and Florence Ristorante & Pizza. During our interview some stopped by to greet him; others knocked on the windows and waved to him.
“It’s cool because everybody here knows each other,” Marcos said.
“…. unlike where we live,” Claudia said. “I wish it was like this by our residence.”
Later that night, the rain subsided and we took a stroll on University Avenue. We passed the Observatory and I asked them: “Had there been a confrontation tonight, how does it usually go down?”
“We try to be cool with them,” Claudia said, “and first, we make sure that they are OK and ask if they have eaten and ask if they can move along. [Although,] if they are creeping with a flashlight or coming out with a hoodie and a backpack, I’m not gonna come out like a punk. I’ll ask: ‘How are you doing? Is everything ok? Are you lost?’ — and some will ask me: ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ and ask me what I’m doing. I’m like, ‘This is my neighborhood.’ But then Marcos tells me to calm down. Like right now is kinda early but you never know, we might run into somebody doing something.”
“How long does it take you do the patrols on foot?,” I asked.
“About 45 minutes,” Marcos responded.
“How are you going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to live here in these nice homes and you can’t even enjoy it outside,” Claudia said. “That’s sad!”
Zillow shows properties on Pershing Avenue that sold from over $500,000 to over $1.4 million.
“And parking’s bad here too,” Claudia said.
I had to ask: “How much did you buy your pad for?”
“Me and my mom bought this property for just over $100,000 in 1990,” she said.
“Back when Art was running the Neighborhood Watch,” Marcos said. “He [recently] told me, ‘I wish I had you back when I was doing it, I was robbed three times and nobody here wanted to help.’”
Claudia and Marcos can relate. “When we had our first Neighborhood Watch meeting at the Lafayette,” Claudia said, “people voiced their opinions and we talked about the crimes — everybody was amped and pumped up.”
“Has anyone else ever rolled out with you guys, as I am?” I asked.
Both shook their heads. “So, it is what it is,” Claudia said. “Regardless, I will always look out for my neighbors even if they don’t. I’ve lived here almost 50 years. This is my home and this is my hood. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Hey Mike, you want one of these motion sensors that link up to your phone?” Claudia asked. “I got a security company to provide my neighborhoods with motion sensors for their homes or mailboxes. The cool thing is I got these for free on February 7 and they sell these sensors on Amazon for $29.99.”
Claudia’s given out about 75 units to her neighbors in two days. It’s a sensor made by Kangaroo that’s connected to your smartphone via an app and a wifi signal.
I borrowed a unit to test for our story. The sensor measures about three inches long, has an internal battery and is ready to go. It took me about 10 minutes to input my information and download the app. Once the sensor and your phone are in sync, you can place the sensor anywhere and it detects motion within 15 feet — if the sensor is activated, your phone will receive a text message.
“These are perfect for your car, your doorway and the porch pirates around here,” Claudia said. “If anyone from North Park needs one, they can email me — [email protected] They are free for residents in our neighborhoods.”