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Rehabilitated District Feeling Vulnerable : Urban decay: A city program to clean up Anaheim's crime-ridden Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood looks like a success story. But now that police patrols have been reduced, residents are bracing for its sequel.

June 10, 1990|LISA MASCARO

ANAHEIM — Near an apartment complex on Jeffrey Drive, where the grass is well trimmed and buildings are freshly painted, shards of glass litter the asphalt and offer testimony to a bottle-throwing brawl the night before.

A housewife reported the fight, and while that is not unusual in most places, it serves as evidence in the Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood of the new-found trust between residents and police. It is a trust many hope will continue.

But more ominously, the incident was a reminder of the chaos that once ruled the neighborhood--and which could be on its way back.

Just a few weeks have passed since the Police Department's foot patrol officers ended their six-month tour of duty in the crowded, lively neighborhood in the shadow of the Disneyland Hotel. During that time, the crime rate dropped significantly, a bond developed between residents and the police, and, just as important, the city launched and completed a campaign to force landlords to renovate and clean up many of the area's 108 apartment complexes.

Dubbed "community policing" by Anaheim's police chief, the pilot program involved various city departments--police, code enforcement, community services--in a coordinated, far-reaching plan to improve living conditions in the neighborhood, which has long been one of the most crime-ridden and blighted pockets of the city.

But now that the improvement program has drawn to a close, residents are worried that incidents such as the recent bottle-throwing brawl will again become common, since police will no longer be touring the neighborhood with such regularity.

"There's a lot of families here, mothers and fathers, who know what it was like before the police came in here in high force, and they don't want to see it go back," said Anita Castro-Zvoda, interim director of the new Jeffrey-Lynne Community Center, which is temporarily located in a two-bedroom apartment on Lynne Avenue until federal funds for a permanent center on Audre Drive arrive later this year.

Maria Rodriguez is one of those people who worries about the future. Like many residents living in a recently renovated apartment complex, Rodriguez has no telephone and is illiterate in both English and Spanish.

She speaks only Spanish and wonders how the police officer answering the telephone at the station will understand her when she calls to report trouble.

"Before, I used to walk down to the corner if I had a problem, and they would come," said Rodriguez, 40, referring to police officers who were assigned on the block. "Now I feel real unsafe."

The changes in Jeffrey-Lynne didn't happen overnight. Squalid living conditions were once prevalent in the neighborhood, which supplies the nearby hotel district with much of its cheap labor.

Police say that public intoxication was common, and drug dealers were once the most well-known people on the streets. Addicts would shoot up openly--in their cars, the alleys and laundry rooms--leading to fights that often erupted into gunfire.

Residents, many of whom had lived in the five-street neighborhood for years, complained to the city and Police Department for five years before the city responded with the six-month-long improvement plan.

The six-month program ran from October to April, during which time police, code enforcement personnel and city social workers targeted the area.

Police made 230 arrests during that period, for everything from drug possession to drunkenness and urinating in public.

Since these were the first statistics kept for this particular neighborhood, comparisons are difficult to draw. But police report that crime has dropped significantly since the program started.

During the six months in which Jeffrey-Lynne was reborn, city code-enforcement officials went door-to-door and found more than 5,000 housing code violations--leaky roofs, broken windows, apartments infested with cockroaches--after investigating only three-fourths of the 108 complexes.

Landlords were required to make repairs, and while many units have been spruced up, the neighborhood remains crowded, with about 4,500 people--just under half of them children--occupying 725 apartments in the area they call Tijuanita, or Little Tijuana.

Now that flowers are growing, plumbing has been repaired and graffiti has been whited out, many residents wonder what took the city so long to react to the area's blight.

And many wonder what will happen now.

"Of course, it should have been done earlier, because when it is allowed to grow it only becomes worse," said Father John Lenihan of nearby St. Boniface Catholic Church, who for years has helped the residents articulate their cries for help.

But with limited city funding and various city demands, there is no guarantee that Jeffrey-Lynne will attract long-term aid, beyond the six months of attention it just received.

"If we can get more (financial) resources, we would do a dramatically different thing out there," said Steve Swaim, superintendent of the city's Community Services Department. So far, Swaim's department has received a total of $415,000 to close off Audre Drive, construct a grassy park and staff a permanent community center in the neighborhood. He says it will take about $1 million to do the job, plus operating expenses. The city is seeking state and federal funding to help make up the difference.

Police Chief Joseph T. Molloy is also seeking state funding to hire extra officers in the hope that foot patrols of the area could again be deployed without reducing coverage of other areas.

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