NBC 7 has learned the motive for placing rocks below an underpass near downtown San Diego may have been to clear the area of homeless people before Padres games at Petco Park this season.
NBC 7 obtained hundreds of emails between City of San Diego officials involved in the project, which show there was a push to install the rocks before the Padres 2016 Opening Day game.
When that deadline could not be met, the focus turned to completing the project prior to the Padres All-Star Game coming up in July.
The Padres deny being involved in the project and said that a now-former Petco Ballpark Administrator acted on his own behalf.
The rocks were placed below the Interstate 5 overpass on Imperial Avenue in April.
They have become the topic of heated controversy in the community.
The area was known to be filled with tents or sleeping bags belonging to the homeless.
Homeless advocates argued the rocks deterred people from sleeping below the underpass and were forcibly moving the homeless out of the area.
Some residents said that it made the area safer for them to walk around.
According to back and forth emails between city officials, the plan had been in the works since July 2015. The project also called for installing LED lights around Petco Park and along Imperial Avenue, putting up “No Parking” signs and painting the curbs red.
Those involved in the initial plan were the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), city officials from Real Estate Assets and the Transportation & Storm Water Department.
Caltrans approved the permit for the project by March of this year but did not approve the LED lights.
In a statement, the City said the public wanted lights to be installed in the area to make it safer.
City Councilmember David Alvarez for District 8 said his office was never notified of this project and no lights were ever installed.
“The unfortunate thing about this project is, while the rocks were installed, there were no lights. So what the community was actually asking for has not occurred,” Alvarez said.
Now, questions are being raised about special treatment and lack of community input for the project.
“It always takes a really long time to get anything done but it sure seems this project got pushed along quickly without any community input and that’s what’s really worrisome,” Alvarez said.
The San Diego Padres added they also wanted lights and “No Parking” signs. The team says they never requested rocks below the underpass and did not want to deter the homeless.
Alvarez said the rocks send the wrong message from the city.
NBC 7 spoke with the former Petco Ballpark Administrator on the phone Wednesday.
He said he was not let go from City because of the project and that it was not an attack on the homeless. He also stated that he stands by the project because it was a way to beautify the area of Sherman Heights.
The former employee told NBC 7 that the project is working and people now feel safer walking in that area.