A semi-truck drives under the Barrio Logan gateway sign on Cesar E. Chavez Parkway on March 29, 2022. / Photo by Kristian Carreon for Voice of San Diego

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San Diego Police Department officers have stopped giving out tickets to enforce a city law that bans five-ton commercial trucks from rolling through certain residential streets in Barrio Logan.  

That ban was intended to keep pollution from diesel trucks out of an already overly polluted neighborhood. But the last ticket issued related to the ban was recorded in November of last year, city data show. A spokesman for the San Diego Police Department told Voice of San Diego that its traffic division continues to patrol the area and is focused on issuing warnings as part of an education and outreach strategy.  

That lack of enforcement would have floored those who played a crucial role in getting that law on the books four years ago. But now, advocates say it’s proof that relying on SDPD hasn’t helped and they need to look elsewhere for a solution.  

The Environmental Health Coalition, the nonprofit environmental justice group that once pushed police to enforce the city’s law, has shifted to pushing for traffic calming measures – roundabouts, speed humps and road medians – to curb commercial truck traffic in the neighborhood.  

EHC says that shift comes from seeing minimal improvement from enforcement, but also in response to concerns about requesting an increased police presence in the heavily Latino community.  

A FedEx truck turns onto Cesar E. Chavez Parkway from Main Street in Barrio Logan on March 29, 2022. / Photo by Kristian Carreon for Voice of San Diego

Barrio Logan has long dealt with commercial vehicle traffic because of its proximity to major highways and a port terminal. Surrounding businesses and industrial companies have also played a role.  

It’s not uncommon to spot a semi-truck idling near a home or making a wide turn on a small street.  

As a result, residents and environmental justice advocates with EHC spent years asking the city, and the Port of San Diego, which manages the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal on Main Street, to keep heavy duty trucks away from residential streets and schools.  

That was seen by proponents as something that would increase neighborhood safety, but most importantly, reduce community members’ exposure to pollutants coming from diesel trucks. The neighborhood is one of the most polluted in the city.  

The city created a designated truck route for drivers to keep them out of residential areas. In turn, the city in 2018 made it illegal for large commercial trucks to use smaller streets, with a resolution backed by the community and EHC. That resolution added the prohibited streets to the city’s Municipal Code. Those streets included sections of Main Street, Boston Avenue, Beardsley Street, Sigsbee Street and a few more.  

The city set aside about $1,300 to install signs throughout the community to inform drivers of prohibited streets. And the San Diego Police Department committed to enforcing the resolution

But there were issues early on.  

Residents started raising concerns about lax enforcement in September 2019. EHC leadership told The San Diego Union-Tribune at the time that whatever SDPD was doing wasn’t working and that they needed to increase enforcement. Councilwoman Vivan Moreno requested that the department develop a plan to increase enforcement later that month.  

SDPD issued the most citations to drivers during the two-month period following the councilwoman’s request with 65 citations issued in October and 74 in November 2019.  

View citation numbers in another tab here.

Citations dropped down to the low 20s per month in December, January and February, then to seven citations in March 2020. Citations issued in the months after that ranged from six to zero. The last citation was handed out in November 2021.  

Jose Ysea, city spokesman for SDPD, said officers stopped issuing citations because the city’s policy worked, and truckers no longer flout the ban. After the regulation went into effect, he said, truck drivers were unaware of it. He said new signage and increased education and outreach have increased compliance, “which translates into the lower number of citations you see today.” 

“SDPD is not planning to no longer issue citations for these offenses,” Ysea said in an email. “Motor officer[s] from SDPD’s Traffic Division continue to patrol and ensure compliance of the new regulation.” 

The City Attorney’s Office last December reviewed citation numbers issued to truck drivers and found that officers were transitioning to warnings because tickets were getting dismissed in traffic court. The office moved to install new signs as a result.  

Miguel Espinoza, the resident manager of the Barrio Senior Villas apartments, does not agree that truckers have started complying with the ban.  

“It’s a joke,” he said, of how police officers enforce the city law.  

Nearly every morning, Espinoza said, he goes out in the early hours and asks truck drivers parked alongside the apartments to move along, because residents can’t sleep from the sounds of their idling engines or refrigerated trailers.  

After leading efforts to advocate for more enforcement of the city’s truck ban for several years, EHC advocates have changed their tune.  

Julie Corrales, a policy advocate with EHC, said that shift has come in response to community concerns that truck enforcement was a pretext for increased police presence in the community. 

She said that EHC was never asking for additional police presence in the community, only that officers enforce the truck ban. But conversations about enforcement with SDPD’s Central Division, which covers Barrio Logan, included talks of overtime and increasing the number of officers in the area to cite trucks, she said.  

It was also clear that even though there was an increase in warnings and citations given to truck drivers in 2019, community members saw little improvement, she said, and then the following year enforcement dropped significantly.  

“Because of all this, EHC decided to switch its focus to more holistic approaches that address the truck route violations,” she said.  

A sign prohibiting trucks over 5 tons displayed near the corner of Main Street and 26th Street in Barrio Logan on March 29, 2022. / Photo by Kristian Carreon for Voice of San Diego

While it’s true that there was more enforcement in 2019, that ranged from one to 16 citations before October 2019, when SDPD issued 65 citations and more in November. Shortly after that, citations decreased again.  

The organization’s shift has not done much to address truck traffic, she said, but they have made progress on pushing traffic calming measures.  

EHC advocated for traffic calming measures, which are intended to make it physically impossible for trucks to drive in the community,  to get implemented in the neighborhood’s most recent community plan update and for the city to set aside money to study that alternative, she said.  

Espinoza, who is constantly dealing with complaints from residents of the senior villas about the trucks, said built-in barriers might prove more effective at preventing the trucks from using residential streets as shortcuts or to idle, but wondered how long it would take to build them. 

Some 23 tenants live in the senior villas Espinoza manages. He said residents don’t have air conditioning, but many say they can’t open their windows to let in a breeze because the sounds and smells from the trucks are bothersome.  

He said the city should work fast to protect residents by installing barriers, because it’s not worth having enforcement if the tickets get thrown out in court. He does worry though, that it might take years, and without enforcement, then residents will keep dealing with the same issues.  

“If nothing changes in the next year or so, I might leave,” he said. “It’s challenging living here.”  

Vivian Moreno refused to comment.  

Hector Villegas, a Barrio Logan resident and former member of the neighborhood’s planning group, said physical barriers that prevent trucks from using residential streets could be a good option and would open opportunities for beautification projects.  

Villegas grew up in the community and remembers dealing with this issue since he was a little kid. He said that the community is going to keep growing, as are businesses and the port, so it’s important for something to be done to alleviate the problem. 

Not everyone agrees that stepping away from enforcement is a good idea. 

“I’m very concerned,” said Pablo Castaneda, who lives in the community.  

Castaneda said it’s shocking that police are not issuing citations because he sees trucks on his street and others in the neighborhood every day.  

He is also a commercial truck driver, which is why he doesn’t buy the excuse that drivers just get lost or don’t see the signs posted in the community.  

“Being a professional driver means something – it means you have to obey the rules of the community wherever you go,” Castaneda said.  

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News Andrea oversees the production of daily news stories for Voice of San Diego. She...

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