Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) came to Blythe Street Wednesday, and for about two hours one of the city's most notorious neighborhoods had plenty of police officers, a sharply diminished fear of random violence and scores of fresh ideas about how to turn the area around.
And Berman, who was back in his district because Congress is in recess, got an earful from constituents as he walked through the neighborhood with Deputy Los Angeles Police Chief Mark Kroeker, three beat officers who patrol the area and several aides and residents.
Berman's message was that Los Angeles--particularly the San Fernando Valley--desperately needs more police officers, and he pledged to fight for legislation that would allow cities to hire more officers.
"I'm not particularly surprised about the way things are," Berman said of the Blythe Street neighborhood, which is so dominated by a local gang that in April the city secured a highly unusual injunction forbidding its members to participate in many otherwise legal actions.
"But being here is important because it allows me to bring back anecdotal stories to Washington . . . crime is a civil rights issue. These people can't afford home security systems."
Berman, making his first visit to the area, asked an officer: "How's the injunction working?"
Gang members' fear of arrest for violating it "makes them move" when police come by, the officer replied. "But the minute we're gone," he said, the gang members come back.
Turning to Kroeker, Berman asked how many officers were patrolling the streets of the Valley at the time.
"About 100," Kroeker replied.
"For 1.5 million people, 100 officers," said an incredulous Berman. "That's crazy."
Along the way, Berman took in the neighborhood sights: the abandoned General Motors plant that has sat vacant since it closed in 1992; the apartment house at 14602 Blythe St., where gang members allegedly killed the landlord in a gunfight last year; a boarded-up apartment complex where people continue to live and pay rent despite its dilapidated condition, and a 56-unit graffiti-free building that was about to be purchased by a nonprofit neighborhood church group that will give tenants ownership rights.
Berman talked to a man who wanted to bring farming back to the valley, to another who supports the proposal to turn the old GM plant into a recycling center or electric car factory. He promised to look into turning a vacant lot into a park.
"It's good when he comes," said 25-year-old Alfero Onofre. "It shows that maybe people care a little."
"Come and take a picture," Berman said to a group of teen-age boys, who refused. "Why not?" he asked, adding as he walked away: "They won't be good in politics if they don't like pictures."