“With social media, there’s been a huge increase in the population down there,” said San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero. “The population at some of the favorite spots has just skyrocketed in the past five years.”
A case in point is The Arch at Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach, where mostly young people every summer make the 30-foot leap from the arch.
Despite it’s being illegal, after being alerted to thrill seeking by social media, more and more young people continue to flock to The Arch to test their mettle. “It used to be just locals doing it,” said Romero. “But now, everyone knows about it.”
Gene Berger, chairman of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council, agreed social media is a major “culprit” in the worsening litter, trash, and homelessness situation.
“In the last two years, with social media and the Internet, we’ve seen just a gigantic increase in the amount of people coming to Sunset Cliffs,” Berger said. “And with an increase in people — it’s just going to be more problematic.”
And more dangerous, particularly with people taking cliff selfies. “In taking selfies, people are walking backwards to get the sunset in … they end up walking off the cliff,” Berger said.
Regarding graffiti, Berger noted it’s an ongoing issue. “Graffiti has been happening down there for a long time,” he said. “I’ve heard people go down there after the bars close and party after-hours, and that some of it may be gang activity.”
Concerning the presence of homeless in cliff camps, Berger commented: “People have lived down there. They’re a little hard to get to. There is some homelessness. We tell the police if it happens, and they do their best to help get rid of the problem.”
Berger said people trailblazing is another social and environmental ill plaguing Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.
“The park has a lot of dog walkers and dog activity, which is pretty detrimental,” said Berger. “Off-leash dogs run all over the park, and people go off-road and make their own trails. Once you’ve worn those new trails, it becomes an erosion problem. It would be better if people used the existing trails to eliminate the ‘spider trails.’ ”
Romero said homelessness continues to be a problem around the cliffs, pointing out “there are lots of nooks and crannies, caves and little places up and down where they set up their little camps. We’ve been able to find a few in conjunction with SDPD, and removed them.”
And Sunset Cliffs, noted Romero, is a victim of its own popularity.
“I’ve worked that area a lot over the past 25 years and the foot traffic … it’s just a much busier spot to go to now. People want to see the sunset views.”
Romero said city parks and recreation’s answer to try and curb more people pioneering new trails at the park has been to “put in hard rails to accommodate more of a buffer between the cliffs and the foot traffic.”
During the peak summer season between Memorial and Labor days, Romero said lifeguards have a five-person crew patrolling the cliffs area. But he added, “We can’t be everywhere all the time.” He added there are a lot of little pocket beaches down below the cliffs that people can get lost in, as well as get in trouble out of sight.
Regarding graffiti, Romero said, “I don’t see much spray painting. Most of the defacing is digging into the cliff using a stick or a knife, initials and stuff. That stuff has been going on for quite awhile. It goes in and out, like waves.”
Referring to policing trash and litter, the lifeguard lieutenant said, “I think park and rec does a great job of cleaning up.” He pointed out, “It’s a really long stretch of cliffs.”