Resident seeks solution for gopher problem in Torrey Hills Park

A local resident contends that years of neglect at Torrey Hills Community Park has led to a gopher population that is out of control. The park on Calle Mar de Mariposa and Calle Mejillones brims with soccer and baseball activity as well as varmints burrowing underground, leaving behind pockmarks and mounds of dirt that are both an eyesore and a safety concern, said park neighbor Larry Juarez.

Addressing the Torrey Hills Community Planning Board on May 16, Juarez said there are not only gopher holes “everywhere” in the park but he believes the lack of maintenance has led gophers to expand into the surrounding neighborhoods.

“It’s like a landmine has hit my home,” said Juarez of his backyard and sideyard. “It’s kind of like ‘Caddyshack’ trying to stay on top of it.”

Jaurez complained that the city maintenance schedule at the park is infrequent and that no records have been kept of work that has been done. He said he wants the city to maintain the park, “to do what they should be doing anyway” and prevent hazards that make the park unsafe for people who are using the park for recreation.

In 2015, a man won a settlement of $450,000 after injuring his knee stepping into a gopher hole at Robb Field in Ocean Beach.

Gophers can breed up to three times a year and in San Diego the population is higher because of the warmer climate. Board members said the city has limited options in dealing with the gopher population and they were interested in finding out what the city believes could be an effective treatment.

“I’m hesitant to use chemicals or traps in parks,” Torrey Hills Planning Board Chair Chair Kathryn Burton said. “I understand the problem but the city also has to be careful in a place where children are.”

“It’s getting worse and with all the rain it’s going to be 10 times worse this year,” Torrey Hills board member Kim Walker said. “I don’t think the park is maintained very well period but I just don’t know what to do about (the gophers). They are a naturally-occurring animal and I have a hard time poisoning them with chemicals or using traps.”

Torrey Hills board member Brad Fagan pointed out that poison was recently used in Santaluz which ended up negatively impacting the owl population. “Poison crashes the whole ecosystem,” Burton said.

The board members decided they would send a letter to the city asking it to address Juarez’s concerns, track maintenance and provide the board with a maintenance schedule.

Torrey Hills Park is also home to a large empty lot that has sat vacant for the last 19 years. The four-acre parcel is now covered in tall grass.

Back in 2002, plans were approved for YMCA of Encinitas to build a recreation center at the park, complete with a swimming pool. In 2007, the YMCA canceled the plans as the facility could not raise enough funds.

In 2014, the city proposed a 2,000-square-foot center which could be built using Torrey Hills development agreement funds. Then in 2015, the YMCA stepped forward again and expressed plans for a new $10 million recreation center on the site. The possible plan is for a 35,000- to 45,000-square- foot recreation building with a gym and pool, soccer arenas and parking lot. The YMCA would be responsible for the funding.

According to Steven Heverly, City Council District 1 representative, San Diego Parks and Recreation Department recently received an amended proposal from the YMCA and is in the process of reviewing it.