MONTEBELLO — Margaret Ramos has seen a lot in the 2 1/2 years she has been living with her three sons in a two-bedroom apartment on South Greenwood Avenue in an area officials describe as one of the poorest and toughest in the city.
"Who doesn't want to move out of here?" said Ramos, 40, after telling of a drive-by shooting and fights between young toughs in the apartment courtyard.
"If I could find a place, I'd get out of here," said Ramos, a single mother who earns a modest wage marking merchandise and can't afford to move.
South Greenwood Avenue from Date Street south to Sycamore Street is a mostly residential area of aging, dilapidated apartment buildings. Many of its residents are unemployed, and some are single mothers trying to turn a welfare check into a decent living. And there are gangs, officials and residents said, the most prevalent being the Southside Montebello gang.
The area has been a trouble spot for years, but it is attracting renewed attention because of complaints about what police call the "nuisance" crime that continues to plague the area. Police say that loitering, public drunkenness and graffiti are the most frequent complaints, although an assault is occasionally reported.
Increased Police Presence
To combat the problem, the City Council last week approved a month-long program to increase police presence, including assigning reserve officers and police gang specialists to work with beat officers.
In a report to the council, Police Chief Leslie D. Sourisseau noted that a small shopping center built recently on the corner of South Greenwood Avenue and Date Street has become increasingly popular with gang members and the unemployed.
There are few serious crimes, Capt. G.S. Simonian said, but what crime there is has been driving away potential customers, to the consternation of shop owners.
Simonian also said that there used to be a lot of drug dealing in the area but that police have cleaned up most of it.
Local residents, however, disagree. They say the drug dealing continues and is spurring other crimes such as car break-ins.
"There's so much vandalism," said a Greenwood Avenue resident, a single mother of three who asked that her name not be used. "They break into cars for their habit. They're into drugs."
Even so, the residents interviewed said they do not fear for their personal safety.
"I guess there's a lot of drugs here and a lot of unemployed people, but I haven't been harassed," said Stella Jaimez, an instructional aide who lives in an apartment on Greenwood with her husband and three children.
One businessman who asked not to be identified said he has received threats from "hypes, drunks and bums," although none was carried out.
"I've had threats they'd kill me, blow my business up, break my windows," he said. He also said that other business owners in the area are too afraid to call the police when they are harassed.
Health Officials Concerned
If crime on South Greenwood Avenue has police on alert, the crowded and run-down apartment houses are an ongoing concern of city building and fire officials and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
The area contains from 200 to 250 dwelling units, said City Planner Paul Deibel. Families crowd the mostly aging buildings that line the west side of South Greenwood Avenue, with two well maintained town house projects interrupting the apartment row. Single-family houses line most of the east side of the street, where a new apartment building is under construction.
On a recent morning, children played in the narrow courtyards that run through most of the apartment buildings, and teen-agers on spring vacation stood around passing time.
The outer walls of many of the apartment buildings are cracked and chipped, and behind one building, toilet paper and human excrement flowed from a loosely capped pipe into an alley. One woman said she would not let her children swim in her building's pool because a dead rat had been found recently floating in the water.
Temporary sheeting covers the roof of one building, where repairs are being made following an August, 1986, electrical fire that damaged 17 units. (No one was injured in the fire.) The city Fire Department keeps a close watch on the area because "it's so concentrated with people," said Inspector R.C. West.
"The apartment owners are off-site owners and don't maintain the property the way they should," said special code enforcement officer Hank Couch. He said that there are borderline slum conditions in some buildings but that others are maintained. The city's code enforcement officers began stepping up the number of inspections in 1979, checking frequently for trash, disabled autos and deterioration of the apartment buildings, Couch said.
Since 1985, two buildings in the area have been declared public nuisances because of building, fire, zoning and health code violations, Deibel said.