COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | LARRY STIRLING

The disaster that is Old Town

The merchants of Old Town, especially along San Diego Avenue, are making a killing.

Day and night, tourists line up in front of restaurants, bars, and T-shirt outlets for an opportunity to spend their money.

Thus, while Old Town San Diego is not a disaster for the wealthy, wealthy merchants, it is a disaster for everyone else: taxpayers, visitors, drivers and neighbors.

Here are the issues:

Making suckers of taxpayers: Even though the Old Town merchants formed a self-serving chamber of commerce and a city-authorized business improvement district ostensibly to cope with the impacts of its member businesses, those two lazy, self-serving, incompetent organizations instead see their roles as protecting the cozy scheme that the merchants have managed to accomplish.

Thus, though former Mayor Jerry Sanders, on an irrational premise, cut off mere weekly trash pickup from thousands of taxpaying San Diegans, those same taxpayers must pony up for daily trash pickup in Old Town due solely to customers of the Old Town merchants.

Each morning, the few, filthy, wooden-barrel, trash cans remain overflowing with the detritus of local businesses, half-eaten refried-bean servings sloshed over by beer or soda containers thrown at or near, often not in, the filthy containers.

Out of the bottom of these wooden stinkers, emerge rivulets of filthy ooze that ends up in the never-cleaned gutters.

Old Town deserves an F from the county health inspector.

Great piles of trash mounded up around the few trash cans each morning is normal. It has not yet occurred to any of the worthies responsible for the Old Town, Mayor Kevin Faulconer or the indifferent and unresponsive Councilmember Todd Gloria (who should have long since handled this mess) to simply add more trash cans. Gloria’s District 3 includes Old Town.

Cleanliness: Thousands of citizens, visiting Old Town on a lark, think nothing of spitting, spilling and cigarette butting the already filthy gutters and streets.

The business improvement district should be cleaning up after them. Fat chance!

Parking: The few parking spaces are claimed early by employees, leaving visitors few choices.

Seeking to maximize use of their commercial parking lots, the merchants refuse to post signs noting the free parking in the nearby Caltrans headquarters.

Caltrans was clueless when it placed the parking for its headquarters on the wrong side of the building, thereby failing to aid their fellow state parks agency. Ah, government.

Traffic circulation: Leaving aside the overdue upgrading of Juan Street, traffic circulation throughout Old Town is a confusing mess.

Pedestrian tourists interrupt driving tourists trying to find non-existent parking spots.

Old Town Avenue is a through route from Mission Hills to I-5 and is thus heavily used by the locals.

Traffic is difficult enough on normal days. But that is not enough for the greedy merchants.

On major holidays, when Old Town would already be swamped, merchants successfully importune San Diego police officers to close most streets to car traffic, creating an unbelievable traffic jam.

These are the oldest neighborhoods in San Diego and are replete with Alonzo Horton’s dead-end streets.

SDPD officers, at taxpayer’s expense, man barriers at the outskirts of Old Town, directing clueless motorists into the already beleaguered neighborhoods, heedless of the traffic jam they have created.

This forces frustrated drivers to prowl otherwise quiet neighborhoods for already jammed parking.

Tourists regularly block entire streets and many driveways. To make matters worse, they make noise and leave trash in their wake.

What the Old Town merchants should have done for themselves, their guests and the beleaguered neighbors long ago was (and still should do) is create a parking-meter district. They could then bond the proceeds and use them to buy the adjacent abandoned (sitting empty now for over five years) former Caltrans headquarters.

A new themed parking garage should be built there. Doing so would solve most of these problems.

The problem in Old Town is the merchants have a good thing going while gouging the city taxpayers, abusing their guests and ransacking the lives of their neighbors.

As long as big money is rolling in, why should they give a darn what happens to anyone else?

The problem is compounded by lousy leadership from city hall. The mayor and council members have long been aware of the problem and have simultaneously forgotten who they represent.

The answer for all of these problems is for competent leadership from the council office and the business improvement district to do the job for which it is licensed to exist, which is to mitigate the impacts of members’ successful businesses.

That means that the business improvement district empties the trash in a timely way and cleans the streets and sidewalks each night just for basic sanitation, if nothing else. Shame on every business owner down there for ignoring these problems.

And shame on Mayor Faulconer and Councilmember Gloria for allowing them to.


Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to larry.stirling@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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1 UserComments
KB 12:00am September 19, 2015

Thank you for your article. The only worse thing is living close to Old Town. I live right off Twiggs Street. I decided to start walking in the mornings pushing my young baby in a stroller. Walking the streets of Old Town in the wee hours is distressing to say the least. The homeless population is out in force, especially after a weekend, scouring the streets for cans/plastics, etc. There are no street lights. I was so scared one morning when I accidentally ran over a sleeping homeless person's sleeping bag and they jumped up screaming, I literally ran home pushing my baby who was crying. I have come to almost hate living here. So sad because it is such a beautiful place but there is no support at all. I won't even mention the absolute lack of police/traffic support. The bumper of my car should be evidence enough of all the parking issues by Old Town. My car has been bumped hundreds of times, with people trying to pull in behind me on the street to fit into a non-existent parking spot.