CARLSBAD — Several neighborhoods within the “digital capital of California” are experiencing a crime wave.
Over the past six months, residents of Waters End, San Pacifico and Poinsettia Cove in the city of Carlsbad have reported a dramatic rise in crime, with law enforcement responding to almost daily reports of break-ins, thefts, trespassing, indecent exposure and other crimes.
The rise in crime has been attributed to the city’s rising homeless population and transient individuals residing in four neighboring hotels.
The city’s recent spike in illegal activity has become so overwhelming, Councilman Keith Blackburn organized a community meeting on May 8 with about 150 residents in attendance. Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel, who represents the district, and Carlsbad Police Lt. Kevin Lehan, both attended the event to speak with residents.
“I thought it was great and it was nice to see more than one community come out,” Lehan said about the meeting. “We’re trying and they’ve been very helpful, very supportive, but to have them finally get to the point of what can we take into our hands, that’s where change occurs.”
As a small sample, Lehan said the police department has received 567 calls for service from April 3 to May 8 primarily along Avenida Encinas from Palomar Airport Road to Poinsettia Avenue. Carlsbad Police initiated responses to 268 incidents, many of which were crime-related, according to Lehan.
A number of residents spoke with The Coast News about the increasing crime and issues with drug addicts and homeless individuals probing cars and homes in attempts to steal anything of value.
Carlsbad resident Misty Williams returned on April 19 to her San Pacifico home after dropping off her kids at school. Williams was sitting in her car while parked in the garage when two unknown men approached her home.
In a panic, Williams got out and started yelling and screaming, scaring away the intruders.
“I kind of reacted and just jumped out of my car,” Williams said. “We had bikes hanging up. My thoughts were I need to keep them from coming any closer to me. I needed to protect myself.”
Matt and Leah Besley, residents of Waters End gated community for 15 years, said the avalanche of new crime has the couple and their two young kids on edge. Due to the increased crime and anxiety, the children follow their parents whenever they leave a room.
Matt Besley said the source of the increased crime is stemming from the nearby Motel 6, which Lehan described as one of the cheapest hotels in San Diego County.
The Besleys installed security cameras and now keep all doors and gates locked, something in years past wasn’t needed in the usually safe neighborhood.
“We always get the cars messed with because they check the handles,” Matt Besley said. “During Christmas, Amazon was making deliveries … this guy comes by, grabs the Legos, walks off and then grabs two packages off my neighbors. He comes back an hour later to get all the packages he missed.”
Rumors of motel vouchers for early-release prisoners have also swirled throughout the neighborhood, but Carlsbad Police Chief Neil Gallucci said there is no evidence of such a program.
Residents were upset and questioned Blackburn and Bhat-Patel about the Carlsbad City Council’s recent approval of a $3.2 million pilot program providing hotel vouchers for homeless individuals. Participating hotels must be a certain distance away from schools and neighborhoods.
At the time of publication, no hotels have joined the city’s voucher program.
The residents said one of the biggest issues are homeless lined up along Avenida Encinas in RVs. According to several residents, some have lived there for approximately one year.
Other residents have witnessed homeless individuals using propane stoves near brush, while another homeless man had a pet goat named Tom Brady tied up to the RV. And since there are no bathrooms, residents have reported encountering urine-soaked areas and feces along the sidewalk and in the street.
“We’re paying taxes for them to respond three or four times a day,” Matt Besley said. “So, we’re paying for infrastructure that we might not have access to.”
Jon Doogan lives on the corner next to the main entrance at Waters End and said his home is under constant attack. One of his cars has been stolen twice, although the first time it was unlocked, he said.
Regardless, Doogan said the entrance gates aren’t enough, noting CPD installed a camera for about a week to help prevent potential crime. Several weeks ago, Doogan’s neighbor, Thomas Noto, also reported witnessing a group of four people following a man near the Motel 6. Just minutes later, the victim was seen running away from the area after suffering stab wounds.
Doogan and Noto also said the Carlsbad State Beach Campground has turned into a drug drop-off point as dealers use the fire rings to stash drugs.
Doogan, along with others, have also noticed what they believe to be an increase in prostitution at Motel 6.
Doogan has contacted Motel 6 ownership and said there has been some movement. They’ve committed to increase lighting and add a temporary security guard, although he isn’t convinced the actions taken are significant enough to stem the rising crime.
“Unless you’re killing someone or drunk driving, they’re not doing anything,” Doogan said of the police being limited, although he said the police have been great in helping the residents. “It’s a nightmare. They need to increase their price. All the hotels have lowered their price.”
Jessica Mestler, whose backyard in Waters End faces a row of lower-cost hotels (including Motel 6), said she and her family have considered moving out of the city altogether. After moving to the neighborhood 11 years ago, Mestler and her family said the unrelenting and constant crime has increased their stress and anxiety.
Mestler also called into the April 27 City Council meeting demanding action, saying how her son’s e-bike was nearly stolen right in front of him.
For her, moving to Carlsbad was ideal as the city boasted good schools, a safe community and being able to live less than one mile from the beach. Like the others, Mestler said over the past year she has seen a noticeable increase in crime and addicts, especially at the hotels.
Mestler said she doesn’t allow her kids to ride their bikes to their martial arts class down the road near Palomar Airport Road.
“I want our City Council to be held accountable,” Mestler said. “This (neighborhood) had a very different feeling when we first moved here. It felt like an oasis and what I heard North County was supposed to be.”
Blackburn, Lehan and Bhat-Patel said the challenges for police are many, but their options are limited due to the California State Legislature’s changes to the laws. For example, Blackburn noted the state eliminated Drug Court, which offered defendants an opportunity for addiction treatment instead of jail or prison.
Lehan said numerous drug and other non-violent crimes have also been reclassified. The changes reduce what is designated a felony, and even smaller possession of Schedule I or II drugs is met with just a ticket. Lehan said a majority of the neighborhood crime is classified as property crimes.
Blackburn said criminals are aware of these changes in the law and the limitations on police. For example, the state increased the monetary amount stolen to more than $950 in a property crime to be considered a felony.
Still, there are other programs the city has put in place, as well as partnering with the county to address homelessness. But with new limits on enforcement, police are fighting an uphill battle, Blackburn said.
“They are limited by laws that come out of Sacramento and rules that come out the County of San Diego,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said even though the crime rate is down, it’s more of a shell game as the laws have reclassified crime.
According to a San Diego Association of Government crime report in April using the FBI index, overall crime is down 13% in Carlsbad compared to 2016. However, the value of stolen property has jumped 11% from 2019 to 2020.
In 2020, $6.1 million of property was stolen compared to $5.5 million in 2019, according to the report. The total recovered was $1.8 million in 2020 and $1.6 million in 2019, a difference of 18%. Since 2016, though, the value recovered is over 114%.
While many residents are frustrated, they understand the situation and appreciate efforts by police to respond.
Bhat-Patel suggested contacting their local state representatives — Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Nigel) and Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas) — although several residents were skeptical state-level lawmakers could be effective in preventing crime.
Bhat-Patel also said the city is collaborating with the county on a new pilot program for the homeless, as well as prioritizing those individuals who want help.
Regardless, Lehan advised residents start locking up all doors, windows and gates, and installing cameras and motion detectors. He said the small things add up and help with prevention but warned about how those looking to steal will adjust, so residents must be able to counter.
Additionally, Lehan said the hotels are now starting to check, or require, identification to stay at those properties.
About 10 months ago, Carlsbad resident Aaron Cucker, who sits on the board of the Waters End homeowner’s association, noticed a small uptick in crime and started a safety and security committee.
Cucker said the committee has three goals: to install state-of-the-art technology; add a manned guard at the gate, and work with the city about Motel 6.
“When that increase, I saw a real need,” Cucker said of the increase in crime. “It’s easy pickings. It’s more crimes of opportunity. They (police) put in a camera box and that reduced activity inside the community.”