An unusual battle is brewing between the San Diego-area Border Patrol union and the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department over vehicle barriers to the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park trails.
At issue is whether park improvements are actually interfering with border protection enforcement.
In 2006 the county parks department approved an enhancement plan which includes posting signs and maps at trailheads, observation perches and closed areas to preserve native foliage. But in 2013, the county added wooden bollards, which look like tree stumps, that prevent cars from driving into the park.
They present a problem for agents patrolling the area, which used to be a popular place for undocumented immigrants to cross from Mexico into the U.S.
“It looks to me the design is there in the middle of the roads to keep the Border Patrol agents off those roads where we ordinarily patrol,” said Border Patrol Union Representative Gabe Pacheco.
He told NBC 7 the bollards and some fencing are positioned in such a way they slow pursuit and could be dangerous to agents riding off-road vehicles after dark.
Pacheco fears the park -- now used for hiking, biking and some of the best birdwatching in the country – could revert to its state 15 years ago, when agents would not go there at night because of “bandit activity,” he said.
“[Immigrants] use the terrain to cross the border,” Pacheco said. “They use the obstacles that are there, and they are going to take advantage of the obstacles here.”
But the park’s department spokeswoman Shannon Singler said plans for the park’s redevelopment were shared with Border Patrol throughout the planning and construction process.
“Bollards are used for 2 main reasons: (1) Public Safety- Protect trail users from vehicular traffic; (2) Stewardship of Public Lands- Protect areas that are environmentally or culturally sensitive,” she said in a statement.
According to Singler, on Feb. 15, Border Patrol officials told the parks department that the bollards were hard to see at night, so the county ordered the contractor to add reflectors to them.
Pacheco is not satisfied. He understands the value of this land to park visitors but said it should not cost them their safety or the safety of agents.
“If we do not have that access it's going to compromise the safety and security and the habitat of this area,” Pacheco said.
A spokesperson for County Supervisor Greg Cox told NBC 7 Border Patrol reached out to their office over the weekend. Cox's chief of staff contacted county officials to arrange a meeting Tuesday between the Border Patrol and county parks staff.
NBC 7 emailed the Border Patrol administrators to see if they agree with Pacheco's view. They have not responded.