They only have circumstantial evidence so far--a few tennis shoes and sneaker prints found in storm drains--but Encinitas city officials believe they are seeing the beginning of what could be a dangerous trend:
Children may be venturing into local sewers in search of their pizza-eating, crime-fighting heroes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
To put a stop to it right away, city officials issued a press release this week warning parents that such a practice could be dangerous. It may be OK in the movies and Saturday cartoons but, as one sewage official put it, "don't try this at home, kids."
The interest children have in the sewers was illustrated by the 5-year-old daughter of an Encinitas sewer maintenance worker, who recently asked her father, "Hey, Daddy, can I go to work with you and play in the slime?"
Mike Crist said the innocent request led him to alert his supervisor to the possibility of a problem.
"Basically, she sees the toys they have out, and now they've got another movie, and they eat pizzas, and she puts it all together and thinks that it's a lot of fun going on down in the sewer," said Crist, whose daughter, Jenny, has not seen either of the two full-length movies made about the oversize turtles who live underground.
Encinitas' press release this week says: "It appears that some of Encinitas' younger residents have been exploring the city's sewer system in search of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The city of Encinitas cannot stress enough that this is a dangerous activity. The risk of injury and disease is high; the city asks parents to explain to their children that their heroes will not be found in the sewer system."
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze" opened Friday and grossed $20 million last weekend.
At least one Encinitas school has called the city public works department to ask that it prepare information for children on the hazards of playing in the sewers, said Bob Nelson, interim public works director.
"There is a lack of understanding of the inherent dangers of going down in the sewers," he said, noting that children who did enter the pipes would come in contact with raw sewage.
"We're asking parents to make sure that their children understand that when they're watching the turtles that there is considerable danger and disease in the sewer," Nelson said.
New Line Cinema, distributors of both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies, said there had been one unverified report last year of children playing in sewers.
"We made a movie, and we certainly hope that young children would not go look for the young turtles in the sewers," said Tom Gray, producer of both movies, the first of which grossed $135 million.
"We're certainly supportive of keeping kids out of the sewers," Gray said. "Kids, please don't go down there to look for them."
So far, Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County that has issued a formal alert to keep youngsters from roaming in the sewer system, but a San Diego sewage spokesman said, "I would go along with Encinitas and say, 'Don't try this at home, kids.' "