DOWNEY — Carmen Sarabia Vinyard decided something had to be done after someone sprayed a gang symbol on her garden gate, her husband's truck was stolen from in front of their Cheyenne Avenue home and her nearby clothing store was robbed by a gunman.
"This area has never been the greatest but it's been getting worse and worse," Vinyard said in an interview. "It's a matter of survival."
So Vinyard started contacting city officials and property owners on Cheyenne Avenue, between Paramount Boulevard and Downey Avenue, on the south side of the city. After a couple of neighborhood meetings, she had enough support to qualify her street as Downey's second neighborhood revitalization project.
Lights, Sidewalks, Trees
As a result, the neighborhood will shortly be getting street and alley lights, sidewalks, trees and parking signs to permit street sweeping, said Edward Velasco, Downey's housing manager.
Low-interest loans and rebates will be available for housing improvements. City code enforcement officers will make sure that cars are not parked on lawns and that other municipal codes are not violated. A neighborhood crime watch program is being organized with the help of the Police Department and more police attention will be focused on the neighborhood, Velasco said.
They are services that are available to any city resident, but the revitalization program allows Downey to focus its attention on one neighborhood to get the work done faster. The city looks for residential neighborhoods that need work, and at least one resident who is willing to drum up support for the effort. The program may become permanent if it proves successful.
"We're trying to increase the pride in the neighborhood . . . to get the neighbors to keep up their property," Velasco said. "We want to keep going on and do one block at a time."
In January, the city completed its first neighborhood revitalization project on the 9200 block of Elm Vista Drive, a collection of aging single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, apartments and condominiums.
Dark Haven for Crime
Elm Vista Drive had no street lights and at night it was a dark haven for drug dealers, said resident Dan Keen, who organized property owners to fix up the neighborhood.
Sidewalks started in front of some properties and ended at the next. Some of the properties were littered with junk and street sweepers couldn't do a good job because no signs were posted restricted parking on cleaning days.
Shortly after Keen moved into a new condominium development on the street about two years ago, he and other owners became concerned that they had bought into a problem area. Keen contacted City Councilwoman Diane P. Boggs, who put them in touch with the city manager and the housing division.
Work on the project started in January, 1986, and was completed a year later, when residents helped plant trees on their street. Dilapidated homes have been cleaned up and repaired. There are sidewalks on all but two properties, street lights were installed and parking signs are posted.
Attempts to organize a neighborhood crime watch program have not been very successful, Keen said, but police response to complaints in the neighborhood is quicker than before.
"They put the (street) lights up in August and that was an instant improvement," Keen said. "The whole character of the neighborhood changed when we got the lights. The street has become a much quieter and better place to live."
The improvements are financed by various sources. The city's housing division offers free house painting and repairs for the elderly. Low-interest loans and rebates are available for housing improvements through federal programs. Keep Downey Beautiful, a citizens group partially funded by the city, provided the street trees for the Elm Vista project, and assessment districts were established to charge property owners for sidewalks and street lights, Velasco said.
Both Keen and Vinyard have run into opposition from property owners who balked at the idea of spending money for improvements.
Property Owners Assessed
Once petitions to designate a revitalization area are circulated and enough people sign them, the city requires all property owners to put in sidewalks and pay for street lights, Velasco said. Signatures must be secured from 60% of property owners to require street lights, at least 50% for sidewalks and 67% for parking signs to be posted.
Property owners who must install sidewalks are charged about $3 per square foot of sidewalk, or about $450 for the average house, and all property owners on the street are charged $110 for each of the first two years after the street lights are installed and a $15-per-year maintenance fee, Velasco said.