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What's in a Name? Pomona Hopes a Little Less Crime


One of Pomona's most notorious street gangs may be in for an identity crisis.

Some city officials want to rename 12th Street--birthplace of the 300-member 12th Street gang--Cabrillo Street, after 16th-Century explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.

They say the change, which the City Council will consider at a public hearing Feb. 4, would remove the gang stigma for law-abiding 12th Street residents, and might also reduce violence on the street, where two youths were killed by gangs this year.

Councilwoman Nell Soto said last week that she is proposing the change at the request of 12th Street constituents concerned about gang violence.

Pomona Police Detective Dexter Cole said two 16-year-old boys who were not gang members were murdered in separate drive-by shootings this year on 12th Street. In January, Cole said, a gunman mistakenly presumed that the first victim belonged to the gang because he was walking on 12th Street. In April, the second boy was hit on the street by a stray bullet intended for a gang member.

In addition, another 16-year-old boy who belonged to the 12th Street gang was killed in July when he was spotted on 12th Street, then chased and shot on a side street.

Cole said the 12th Street gang, whose members range from youngsters to grandfathers, is one of the city's oldest, along with its historic rival, Cherryville.

The current proposal to rename 12th Street is not the first time Pomona has played the name game with gangs. In the 1970s, the city tried to encourage members of the two gangs to become involved in constructive activities by naming parks for them.

Douglas Bridges, city parks and recreation director, said the effort produced good results at first at both Cherryville Park and Sharkie Park, named for the 12th Street gang's symbol, a shark. But after a while, he said, both parks deteriorated into heavily vandalized gang hangouts.

In 1989, the city changed Cherryville to Hamilton Park and Sharkie to Madison.

Detective Cole said renaming the street will "help in a small way." At least, he said, it will relieve 12th Street residents of the burden of living on a street identified with a gang. Although some gang members live on 12th Street, most live elsewhere, he said.

Mayor Donna Smith said the name change's value is "psychological--a clear message to the community that the council is serious about gangs."

But skeptics, including Police Chief Lloyd Wood, doubt that changing the name of a street will reduce gang violence. So far this year, at least 20 of the city's 35 murders have been identified by police as gang-related.

Eddie Banales, a former Pomona gang member who is working to draw youngsters out of gang life, said name changes are irrelevant. The 12th Street gang won't pay any attention if the City Council renames the street, he said. "These people don't care about legislation and laws."

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