A man on a bicycle
A man on a bicycle path n City Heights. Courtesy SANDAG

As we close out one year and begin another, I am struck by how the concepts of “cycling” and “recycling” have frequently appeared in recent local news stories. Yes, ’tis the season for recycling old Christmas trees and working out on newly gifted Peloton cycling machines, but this phenomena goes much deeper. 

I contend we can use “cycling” and “recycling” to pause and reexamine some important local issues that were perhaps overshadowed by more dramatic national news like COVID, inflation, and Billie Ellish’s latest hair color. In doing so, we can enjoy a droll look at some of the issues afflicting San Diego residents.  

First, there is the controversy surrounding the amount of money the San Diego Association of Governments plans to spend on a county wide system of bicycle lanes and roadways, designed to get citizens cycling their way to a greener and healthier way of life. Turns out SANDAG’s original plan to build 77 miles of streets and pathways by 2023 for $200 million was a little too optimistic.

The plan has now been amended to reflect a cost of $446 million. Oops! Such a huge cost overrun might not be a big deal to politicians and bureaucrats—they merely shrug and wait to be reelected or given a pay raise—but the average taxpayer recoils in horror at such a spending error. 

Related to cycling, my wife’s grandson—a senior as the University of San Diego—recently expressed a desire to buy a bike so he can cycle to campus each day from his Birdland apartment. Nothing less should be expected from a dedicated Torero student minoring in environmental studies.

But the news horrified my wife who has observed harried car commuters, seeking to avoid Route 163 traffic, aggressively plow through Linda Vista Road during rush hour. She knows bike lanes offer little to no cyclist protection against these drivers. Accordingly, she advised him to put off environmental concerns for now and continue commuting safely in a car, which leads me to believe the only thing scarier than a bike lane cost overrun of $246 million in taxpayer dollars is actually cycling in one of these bike lanes. 

Second, I am concerned by the rash of catalytic converter thefts occurring in the area. Apparently, criminals in need of a fast buck have taken to going underneath cars to saw off catalytic converters which contain precious metals like platinum, palladium, or rhodium.  The metal is then sold to recycling centers.

Any car parked outside an enclosed garage is vulnerable.  Sawing off a catalytic converter can be accomplished in five minutes, and the last time I looked palladium was going for $2,025 per ounce, so it’s no wonder this crime is so prevalent.

Though occurring nationwide, catalytic converter thefts have occurred most often in California. Law enforcement is aware of the situation. Several police departments in San Diego county have formed a task force to address this growing problem.

However, I see this crime as a test of our state legislators. What stops them from crafting legislation that makes it harder for criminals to sell stolen catalytic converters to recycling centers? How long will they take to write a bill or two? If they fail to respond appropriately, I hope voters get their attention in the next election cycle.   

Third, recycling in California becomes a bit more complicated for residents this year as a new state law goes into effect requiring  any person or business that creates garbage to recycle all organic food waste. Californians can no longer throw away food scraps or other organic material.

Instead, we will use a green bin currently used for disposing of yard trimmings and other organic waste. The City of San Diego will provide local residents with such a green bin.

However, I fear there is a self-defeating element to this recycling effort. I am all for organic recycling, but residents in my neighborhood already have little extra space for one more trash bin. While using their garages as storage space for hoarding excess possessions, they barely have enough room to store cars in there.

Thus, I suspect my neighborhood will soon see even more cars parked on nearby curbs and driveways, which will of course lead to more catalytic converter thefts. You might call this a vicious cycle!    

And then there’s the Padres. Much has been made of the team’s hiring of a new manager.  Great things are expected of Bob Melvin, lately of the Oakland A’s. Hope springs eternal as he prepares for the new season.

However, what I find more interesting is the team’s hiring of a new batting coach. 27-year-old Michael Brdar happens to be the twelfth hitting coach hired by the Padres since 2004. The Padres cycle through hitting coaches at such a quick rate that, to paraphrase Andy Warhol’s memorable quote, “In the future, everyone will be a Padres hitting coach for fifteen minutes.” 

I think it’s ironic that while one of the most exciting accomplishments in baseball remains hitting for the cycle (hitting a homerun, triple, double and single in one game), the Padres instead enjoy the dubious distinction of cycling through their hitting coaches.  

What will the next news cycle bring us? I haven’t got time to worry about such things. After all, I have a garage to rearrange, one more recycling bin to consider—and lest anyone forget, spring training is just weeks away.

Should the new Padres hitting coach encounter early failure, who knows…I may be next in line for the job. If such a thing happens, I promise cutting edge change. No recycling of old baseball ideas for me.   

Steve Rodriguez is a retired Marine Corps officer and high school teacher who last taught at Olympian High School in Chula Vista.