Leandro Cordova was fed up.
At least once a week, he would awaken to find the wall outside his condominium complex at 3rd and Reno streets covered in gang graffiti. He and his wife, Stacey, slept uneasily a few feet from the gang members outside their windows who watched for police as cronies tagged the building late at night.
Calls to the Los Angeles Police Department's overburdened Rampart Division proved fruitless. Cordova's efforts to drive away the vandals himself resulted in the gang members chucking a few heavy steel lug nuts through his windows as a warning to leave them alone.
As he watched his neighborhood slip out of his and his neighbors' control and into that of invading gangs, Cordova was a study in urban frustration: no one to turn to, no real way to fight back, but still not willing to give up his home.
So what did this frustrated citizen do? Well, for starters, last week he invited the City Council and the Police Department over for sandwiches.
"I became crazy," Cordova said. "I couldn't take it anymore, so I had to do something. I want \o7 them\f7 to do something."
Cordova, whose property lies at the northwestern tip of Councilman Mike Hernandez's area and just outside Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg's district, called both council members and invited them to his home. He also invited Mayor Richard Riordan and officers from the Rampart Division.
On Monday evening, Cordova's efforts paid off as deputies from Hernandez's and Goldberg's offices and three Rampart officers came filing into his living room to hear out his and about 15 other neighbors' complaints.
"We have a whole gang of people out there at night, and nobody can stop them," Cordova told his guests. "I've endangered my life, and now my wife's life, because now they're throwing things through our windows. Can you do anything to approach these people? Is there any way the police can come out and stop them?"
"We report them," added neighbor Art Tobias. "We do what you tell us to do, but it's not working."
The police officers and city deputies listened sympathetically, but told the neighbors what they have already heard too often: Police can do very little to deter vandals, especially minors.
"They can be arrested, but because of the way the system is, they cannot be held," Officer Frank Scurria told the disgruntled neighbors. "We have to let them out if they are not violent offenders. Juvenile Hall is full of violent offenders, so we can't hold taggers unless they're wanted for something else. There's no place to put them."
But as frustrated cries of "What can we do?" escalated, the group began hashing out possible solutions. When one neighbor asked about the possibility of the city paying for vines to cover the wall so taggers would be discouraged, he was surprised to discover the answer was yes.
"When we're looking at a new development where graffiti is a possibility, one of the first things we look at is landscaping," said Hernandez deputy Jose Gardea, who encouraged the neighbors to work with their council offices to have vines planted.
Officer Webster Wong offered another solution: Beginning in about a month, the area is targeted for the city's pilot Zero Tolerance Program. The experiment, to be implemented in certain areas of the city, calls for city crews to remove graffiti within 72 hours with state-of-the-art computerized paint-matching equipment.
In the meantime, Wong suggested, the neighbors should form a block group and obtain paint and cleanup supplies from the city's Operation Clean Sweep whenever needed.
By the end of the meeting, the neighbors were at least satisfied that they had created some awareness of their problems at a higher level.
"Maybe we should do this more often," mumbled neighbor Sam Floyd, as he headed across the street to the beautiful but graffiti-scarred Craftsman home he has had trouble selling.
Scurria, who listened to the many pleas for help during the meeting, said he sympathized.
"A lot of people get frustrated, and they have a right to be," he said. "I get frustrated too."
The officers told Cordova they would see what they could do, and in the days since, Cordova said, they seem more responsive now that he is more than a disembodied voice complaining on the phone.
The wall of his complex was painted by police the day of the meeting, and as of late last week, it remained untagged.
"This is a neighborhood that's right on the borderline," Cordova said. "We can either forget it, or we can do something about it."