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City Musters Help to Tame Mean Street : Urban living: Residents of troubled Kinston Avenue fear hoodlums and crime. Officials will develop a revitalization plan to clean up the area.

March 18, 1993|BERNICE HIRABAYASHI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CULVER CITY — Even the pizza deliveryman knows better than to let his guard down on the tough end of Kinston Avenue.

The one-block stretch of aging apartment buildings between Jefferson Boulevard and Flaxton Street has the distinction of being Culver City's meanest neighborhood.

Kinston Avenue resident Georgianna Bowen can't get the local Domino's Pizza to deliver to her door. Instead, she is handed the pizza in the street.

Domino's store manager Mahnaz Kaynejad said drivers are reluctant to leave cars unattended in the area, for fear they will be broken into.

"We've had pizzas stolen from cars," she said.

It is just one example of how hoodlums are bringing down the neighborhood, according to many Kinston Avenue residents. Their complaints include alleged drug dealing, sporadic gunfire and an annoying influx of youths from other neighborhoods who loiter in streets and alleys at all hours of the night.

But help is on the way. The City Council on Monday gave the Housing Department the go-ahead to develop a comprehensive revitalization plan for the troubled area. The effort is spearheaded by a city employee who actually moved into the neighborhood as a sign of solidarity with residents.

Lisa Baker, Culver City's housing department administrator, heads the task force whose job it is to develop the plan. She moved from the Palos Verdes Peninsula last July into one of the two-bedroom, one-bath units on Kinston Avenue.

"I feel very strongly about what we are trying to do," she said. "We believe that our neighborhoods are the strength of our community, so it's important to pay attention to them."

Called the Kinston Avenue Pride Strategy (KAPS), the plan seeks to clean up the street with a funding program for housing repair and rent subsidies for families of lower to moderate incomes. Community outreach efforts outlined in the plan include training, counseling and recreation programs for youths.

Targeted are two rows of nearly identical, postwar-era apartment buildings. Graffiti routinely scars fronts of the buildings and nearby curbs. Window screens are missing. One apartment building is completely boarded up.

The vacancy rate is 16%, compared to the citywide rate of 4.6%, according to a staff report. The blight gravitates toward Flaxton Street.

Residents say they don't feel safe. Bowen, a single mother with three children, broke down in tears Monday night as she described for council members the scene on Kinston Avenue.

"I can see them dealing drugs from my kitchen window," she said. "My son begged me not to come here tonight. He was afraid of what they might do to us. We shouldn't have to live in fear."

Bowen, who works as a customer service representative for a computer software company, said someone fired a BB gun at her kitchen window earlier that day, shattering a picture hanging on the wall. Her children were unharmed.

"Anything that comes out of this (plan) would be well appreciated by Kinston Avenue because we really need it," she said.

The block of 50 buildings, which house 200 apartment units, was constructed in the early 1950s, most likely to provide homes for aerospace employees, Baker said. Single-family homes are at either end of the block, which is wedged between two shopping centers. Apartment rents are less than $750 a month, about $100 less than comparable units elsewhere in the city.

A random sampling showed that most residents are Latino, although other ethnic groups live there too, the report said. Renters usually stay more than a year. Many have lived on Kinston Avenue for more than 10 years.

Baker's team met with the Kinston Avenue Neighborhood Watch group and property owners to come up with an outline for KAPS. Along with financial assistance and youth programs, it includes:

* A cleanup day and block party.

* Management training for landlords.

* City purchase of an apartment building, possibly for use by a nonprofit social service organization.

* A development plan that would set maintenance standards.

* A traffic study examining on-street parking and the possible effects of turning Kinston Avenue into a cul-de-sac.

* Creation of an advisory committee made up of residents, owners of the apartment buildings and nearby business people.

Council members also asked city staffers to study how graffiti removal on Kinston Avenue can be improved.

The plan does not call for increased police protection. The most important ingredient will be participation in the plan by residents and property owners, Baker said. She estimates she has spoken to less than a fourth of them. Police crackdowns have been effective in the past, she said, but they do not permanently change the character of the neighborhood.

Culver City Police Lt. Joe D'Anjou said in an interview that Kinston Avenue generates more calls for service than any other spot in the city. But its reputation is overblown, he added.

"When you have as little crime as we do (in Culver City), any amount can become very noticeable," he said.

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