More than 600 church members rallied in the school yard of Santa Rosa Catholic Church on Friday night, demanding that San Fernando city officials and police clean up graffiti, eliminate drug dealing and revitalize a park in the heart of the town's oldest Latino neighborhood.
The rally by members of 10 churches was part of a civic improvement campaign called "Take Pride, Take Charge" being waged by a church- and synagogue-based group, Valley Organized in Community Efforts, also known as VOICE.
Representatives of the group called on San Fernando Mayor Daniel Acuna and Police Chief Dominick Rivetti to improve conditions at Las Palmas Park, which serves many low-income families in the neighborhood.
"The VOICE leadership believes Las Palmas Park is a huge blot on our city," said Salvador Ponce. "We are asking for major improvements."
Both Acuna and Rivetti promised to act on their complaints. Rivetti said he would increase police patrols in the park, and Acuna said he would have city crews remove graffiti.
Sister Mary Jesus Ochoa, directress of Povrello of Assisi Retreat House next to the park, complained that she and the nine nuns who live there can see "drug boys injecting themselves behind the handball courts."
Before the rally, Father Ron Young of Santa Rosa Church said many families in his parish--the largest in the east San Fernando Valley with more than 5,000 parishioners--are angry that the park has been allowed to slip into disrepair. He said graffiti mar the walls of the recreation center, sidewalks and even trees, and toilets are frequently clogged, causing unsanitary conditions.
Rickety baseball bleachers and poorly maintained diamonds make it difficult for families and children to play, Young said.
Acuna agreed that the "park has been totally neglected." He said the dirty bathrooms "are an embarrassment" and pledged to improve the situation.
"You can rest assured we will not stop until we have created an atmosphere that is safe for our families," Acuna said. "Las Palmas Park will be a priority."
The crowd cheered when speakers described a program under which Los Angeles city residents can report abandoned vehicles on a toll-free city telephone number and have them removed.
Participants in the rally belong to VOICE's coalition of 15 churches and synagogues, which have about 29,000 members throughout the Valley.