Needles in Parks

Mother Who Found Needle in Park Frustrated With City's Slow Response

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A Pacific Beach mother with growing concerns about dirty needles in San Diego parks has reported two cases to the city, including one that actually scratched her 3-year-old.

Sandy Algra spoke with NBC 7 about issues she believes are falling through the cracks of the city's Get It Done app. Algra still grapples with the guilt of what happened to her son near the playground at NTC park in December of 2018.

He was scratched by a dirty needle that he picked it up while playing. A year later, he’s OK and cleared his final Hep C and HIV tests, Algra told NBC 7.

"My children need to know now when they see needles that they stay away from them," said Algra.

She is still digging for answers a year after she reported it on the city's Get It Done app, which still shows the case as referred. She realized it was a much larger problem when she found yet another needle in October near her home in the PB area along the Bayside Walk.

Once again, she reported it on the Get It Done app and it was referred four times do different agencies, Algra said. It eventually landed in the email of Parks and Rec. She spoke to someone with the department days after she reported it and was told it would be cleaned up. Then the department called back to notify her the park was only taped off because it was too dangerous to clean up.

"They’re unable to access it safely so they’re still there and that's probably more than 40 days now that we have needles sitting in the park," said Algra.

Algra now has two outstanding needles in question, several calls and emails out, and countless comments on record at public meetings and no clear answers. She said she had meetings with several city officials, and that some were unaware the Parks and Rec department was not integrated with the Get It Done app.

NBC 7's Omari Fleming has the story.

"I decided to speak to Parks and Rec directly to find out why does it take a year to get any response to a needle in a park where a child was injured," said Algra.

NBC 7 reached out to the city, too, and discovered the app has limitations. It not only has an overwhelming 1,000 reports submitted a day, but not every department is integrated to the app to begin with.

"To say that my jaw hit the floor is an understatement. I just couldn't believe that every councilman, planning groups, town councils are constantly telling us, 'You are the eyes and ears of the city. Report it. We need a report,'" said Algra.

NBC 7 reached out to the city several times and while the communications department staff won't specifically address Algra's cases, Timothy Graham, the supervising Public Information Officer said it was understood when the app was released that integration would occur in phases. Graham also said  when the city receives request that they cannot address, it’s referred or sent to the agency that can. If that agency is not connected to the app, they notify the person that reported it and the agency to communicate status updates outside of the app’s infrastructure.

Algra is in contact with Parks and Rec and her City Council representative. The city said last summer, the Environmental Services Department was added to the Get It Done app system. Parks and Rec will likely be integrated into the app next year, but it depends on the scope of work and funding.

Graham sent NBC 7 the following statement regarding the Get It Done app:

"When the Get it Done app was originally released, it was always with the understanding that it would be done in a phased approach and that not all departments would be integrated immediately. Using a phased process allows the City to monitor the number and types of requests it is receiving and prioritize those departments with larger service volumes to be recommended for integration into the app. Currently, the City lists the items addressed by the app on the Get it Done website at  www.sandiego.gov/get-it-done with additional outreach information found at https://www.sandiego.gov/get-it-done/outreach.

As it relates to customer requests using the app, there are actually a large number of requests entered into the Get it Done app that the City cannot address. The City receives numerous requests for services to items that the City does not operate or can fix (e.g. graffiti on utility boxes (SDG&E) or malfunctioning freeway traffic signals (Caltrans) to name a few). In those instances, instead of closing the report (as the City does not have the means or authority to address the issue) the Get it Done app does allow the City to “refer” those requests out to those agencies to handle. This referral system is also the case for departments that are not currently integrated into the Get it Done app, including the Parks and Recreation Department.

In those cases, the customer is notified via email that the matter has been referred to the appropriate department or organization and a corresponding email is sent to the referral party to address the issue. Once the request is referred out of the Get It Done system, the status changes to “Referred” and no further status updates are provided as there is no way for the Get it Done app to properly track the status of requests that are not integrated into its system.

In the case of requests related to the Parks and Recreation Department, the Get it Done app sends an email to the department’s askparks@sandiego.gov email address which handles these types of requests. By using this email account the department is able to create a paper trail for the request so that it can be monitored from start to finish. While the issue may be addressed by the department, the status on the Get it Done app for the request will remain with a “Referred” status as the system does not have the ability to track the status of the request. If the public wishes to receive status updates, we recommend contacting the department directly by emailing askparks@sandiego.gov and provide the reference number generated in the Get it Done request to help us track the status of the request.

The Parks and Recreation Department does receive a high volume of requests via the Get it Done app, and the City is hoping to fully integrate the department into the app as soon as possible. There is a possibility that the City will integrate the Parks and Recreation Department into the app in the next calendar year, but that is largely dependent on the scope of the work and funding availability."

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