NORWALK — The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to provide more than $400,000 in federal grant money to fund programs to combat gangs and spruce up neighborhoods and commercial buildings in the city.
The action came two weeks after the council approved a mid-year budget that reassessed Norwalk's financial condition and anticipated reorganizing some city programs to better serve the community. The council deferred or eliminated funding for several programs, including one that provided subsidized loans to renovate the interiors of local businesses.
The council allocated $100,000 to develop a program to combat gangs in Norwalk. The city has eight gangs with about 2,500 members, said Sgt. Al Grotefend, who heads the anti-gang detail in the Sheriff's Department's Norwalk substation.
Activity on Rise
Gang activity is on the rise, contributing to crime and graffiti problems in Norwalk, said Ernie Garcia, deputy city manager for community services.
Grotefend said the crimes are usually vandalism and assaults on other gang members, but have included an occasional drive-by shooting.
"The fact we've doubled in gangs in the last couple of years makes it (the anti-gang program) very important," said Mayor Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez.
The council must still give final approval to a specific anti-gang program, which is expected to use neighborhood counselors to steer youths toward jobs and recreational activities, Garcia said.
Cooperate With Schools
The city also hopes to work with the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District and the Little Lake City School District to educate third-grade students about the dangers of gang involvement, Garcia said. Norwalk officials also will consider providing funds to bring the Sheriff's Department's drug and alcohol abuse program for fifth-grade students into the Norwalk and La Mirada schools. Little Lake, which includes a portion of Norwalk, already has the program.
The city hopes to have a gang program in full operation by September, Garcia said.
Garcia said he has received reports that fourth- and fifth-grade students have joined gangs. "We're finding out from the school district that younger and younger kids are getting involved in gangs," he said.
The council also allocated $130,000 to improve Norwalk's program to encourage residents to maintain their properties. The Mr. SUN (Spruce Up Norwalk) program was created in April, 1987, to promote maintenance by giving awards to the owners of the best-kept homes and yards. The program's budget for the current fiscal year is $3,000, said Jeffrey A. Bruyn, deputy city manager for community development.
While the specifics of the new Mr. SUN program also must be approved, the money allocated Tuesday night will probably be spent to purchase materials such as paint for low- and moderate-income residents, and to deliver and pick up dumpsters for all residents who are cleaning up their yards, Bruyn said. The city also plans to organize a volunteer force to provide labor to help elderly and disabled residents fix up their homes. The program is for house and yard maintenance and does not provide for extensive structural repairs, Bruyn said.
The other major reallocation adds $175,000 to a city program that provides grants for the exterior renovation of commercial buildings in several areas of the city. The program's budget was $120,000, Bruyn said.
The city reallocated the money for the new and existing programs from others that had not yet been started, and those that generated little participation.
About $50,000 was freed by eliminating the program that provided subsidized loans for interior renovation of commercial buildings. Bruyn said no property owners had applied for the loans in the past two years.
Another $130,000 was federal grant money set aside to install street lights in a residential area bounded by the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5), Firestone Boulevard, San Antonio Drive and Pioneer Boulevard.
The city also took $21,000 of $30,000 that had been budgeted to build curb ramps for wheelchairs on city sidewalks. Bruyn told the council that, based on current progress, the city would be able to build only $9,000 worth of ramps this year.
Bruyn said the council could consider re-funding those programs if need be with future grant money.
No residents or business owners spoke in opposition to the funding cuts.
The city received $1.2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for 1988-89 and expects to receive $1.5 million next year. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
City officials fear some of the federal grant money may dry up in 1990-91. If that happens, new funding would have to be found or programs would have to be scaled back, City Manager Richard R. Powers said. But the anti-gang program would probably be protected.
"The gang program is so critical, we'd just have to make adjustments," Powers said.