This holiday weekend is sure to spark a lot of parties here in San Diego, especially after a year where public health orders prohibited such gatherings. But NBC 7 Investigates found that just because the county told folks not to party doesn't mean they listened.
In fact, police records obtained by NBC 7 through a public records request show if anything, San Diegans partied more during the pandemic – a lot more.
Police responded to more than 6,000 party complaints in 2019, according to those records. In 2020, that number nearly doubled to more than 11,000. Forty-three of those complaints were about one house on Essex Street in Hillcrest.
“Some people after their divorce, they go buy a car,” said Andy Fields, owner of the home on Essex. “I turned my house into a hostel.”
Fields has owned the house for 10 years, running it as a hostel for the last five. He let NBC 7 cameras inside for a tour of “The Hostel California.”
The two-bedroom house runs like a hostel during the week, and on weekends, Fields rents it out to groups of 15-20 guests. But Fields admits sometimes those guests can get a little loud -- so loud, a neighbor will call police.
But Fields is far from alone. Despite calls from county officials to stay at home and not hold gatherings, records obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show thousands of San Diegans didn't listen.
And if you think most of those calls were for college parties near SDSU last summer, think again. A map of the 10 addresses that racked up the most party complaint police responses in the city shows the frequent offenders were nowhere near campus.
One single-family home on K Street claimed the third-most party complaint calls during the pandemic. The homeowner and a neighbor said off camera that many houses on this street throw parties every weekend, and never stopped during the pandemic.
“The number of calls we’re receiving into our communications center are increasing at a very rapid rate,” San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said.
Normally, dispatch gets 25,000 – 26,000 calls in a week. But lately, they're getting around 30,000 911 calls a week.
“At the end of the day we have only so many police officers,” Nisleit said. “The more calls come in, obviously that reduces our ability to respond quickly.”
Fields said he isn't proud of claiming the most police responses in San Diego because he thinks it’s a waste of city resources, but he is proud of something else which is why he doesn't plan on scaling back anytime soon.
“I get so much satisfaction by hearing and seeing the laughter coming out of this house,” Fields said. “And I know that people are making special moments here.”
While it's unclear whether the increase is due to more people partying or just more people complaining during the pandemic, one thing is for sure. The calls are still coming in.
Through May of this year police have responded to party complaints more than 3,000 times. So we're on pace to top the number of party complaints from 2019, but probably won’t get as high as 2020.
NBC 7 also reached out to San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten for reaction to the increase in house party complaints in 2020, and for recommendations for celebrating the Fourth of July safely this year. She declined our request for an interview without providing a reason.