Last week, an outdoor art piece by Sam Ballard that's mounted in the parking lot behind Tobacco Rhoda's bar in North Park was vandalized.
Ballard's "The Nefarious Fence" features wooden cutouts painted to look like The Beatles. The wooden frame around the cutouts includes a LED light powered by solar panels. Ballard says thieves stole the solar panels and lights, broke the frame, ripped the piece from its mounting and left it lying on the ground. He estimates the damage to be close to $2,000.
"We know who did it," Ballard says. "There were witnesses, and the police have that information... I can tell you it was gang-related."
The artist and activist is the founder of The Project Lennon, a group that promotes peace and environmental sustainability through Beatles-inspired art and music. Ballard's art studio was located behind Tobacco Rhoda's for eight years; he describes the section of North Park surrounding the building as dangerous and gang-ridden.
"I've seen everything you could possibly see here," he says, standing by the vandalized piece. "We totally tore down the old fence that was here; that's why we called the piece 'The Nefarious Fence,' because this is where everyone came to do their drugs. You can see all the gang tags around here."
Ballard started The Project Lennon eight months ago, and he cites the mural of John Lennon he painted with artist Rik Erickson on the west side of Tobacco Rhoda's as part of the project's inspiration. He says the Beatles piece behind the building was meant to serve as public art while also demonstrating sustainable lighting methods that could help enhance neighborhood safety.
Volunteers from The Project Lennon were also preparing to paint a new mural of Paul McCartney on a liquor store a few steps away from Tobacco Rhoda's, but Ballard says the recent vandalism might compel him to give up on North Park. He's says he's brought up the gang problems with both the San Diego Police Department and City Councilmember Todd Gloria, whose district includes the area, but he says he's mostly been ignored.
"I just don't think we can work in North Park anymore," Ballard says. "It's become a very unsafe neighborhood, and the crime rate here is one of San Diego's highest."