SANTA ANA — A month after Operation Roundup swept through 3rd Street in an effort to cripple the gang that dominates it, staff from six city departments met Thursday to devise a strategy that could keep the neighborhood from spiraling back into crime.
"I think everyone was very up. There has been a major commitment of time and energy on the part of our Police Department and other agencies. The neighborhood has realized an immediate relief, but we all need to do more," said city housing director Patricia Whittaker, who attended the meeting. "I think we're all looking forward to some of these partnerships."
The city's task force also includes officials from the police, fire, code enforcement and public works departments, and a representative of the city's anti-gang program.
So far, the city has pledged to repair sidewalks and streets, put in bulletproof street lights and restrict parking to keep out strangers. There also are pledges to bring a mobile van of games and sporting equipment to Flower Park as part of Santa Ana's anti-gang effort, and plans for meetings to educate residents about city money available to fix up their homes.
The city will participate in an Oct. 29 fair at the neighborhood park, which has frightened off families for years because of crime and drug-dealing. The fair is being held by a group of parents who have bonded together to walk their children to Carver Elementary School in groups.
And police say they plan to replace the handball court in the park with a basketball court so gang members cannot use the wall for cover, work with neighbors to train a block captain for a Neighborhood Watch, and direct officers to patrol the street on foot more often and get to know the residents.
"We want the officers to get out of the cars as much as possible," Lt. William Tegeler said earlier this week. "Once we get the confidence up, we want to have a block party."
The task force will meet again in three weeks to talk about exactly what each department can do to help the neighborhood, plagued by drug dealing and violent crime before the efforts of an anti-gang task force--along with the Sept. 7 police sweep that culminated Operation Roundup--put many suspected gang members in jail, officials said. The efforts targeted the West 3rd Street neighborhood between Bristol and Olive streets.
Neighbors say the street has been quiet in recent weeks, but many are skeptical that the city will be able to make a lasting change. The city task force is designed to prove them wrong.
City Engineer George Alvarez said the last time the city worked in a team like this was about two years ago, in the Willard neighborhood. "It's very effective because you really have to do it as a team effort. You can't just address one single area," Alvarez said.
Recreation department officials also expressed enthusiasm for making changes.
"We'll try to do anything in our power to make sure that there's as much activity as possible for these kids. We're looking forward to it. It's a real challenge," said Larry Chavez, supervisor of the city's PRIDE program, an anti-gang effort run by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
"We're going to commit ourselves to put recreation personnel out there, and probably our PRIDE program. We would like to do it as soon as possible."
Chavez said staff members are putting together a recreation van stocked with arts and crafts materials, board games, and softball, volleyball and basketball equipment.
As soon as the van, or a more permanent trailer, is stationed in Flower Park, staff members will start talking to families to let them know about the programs, he said.
Project SABADO, a county-funded project that has helped parents of Carver Elementary School children in their efforts, is also planning a neighborhood trash cleanup for Oct. 22, a week before the fair.
The organization also hopes to start up a community garden, and is eyeing a vacant lot on 3rd Street as a possible location, said Zelenne Cardenas, Project SABADO's director.
"We're still going ahead with everything and everyone's really looking forward to cleaning up that area. The park has been off-limits for about four years," Cardenas said. "Hopefully, this gives us a chance to reclaim a community park and raise some funds for the parents."