FULLERTON — A bit faded but clearly marked, the gang graffiti on the sidewalk is a distinguishing neighborhood scar. Scattered beer bottles and bar-covered windows also mar the 2300 block of Baker Avenue.
At first glance, the neighborhood evokes an eerie atmosphere--one plagued with gangs, crime and fear. But upon closer inspection, the 16 apartment complexes that line the street tell a different story.
The nearly identical one-story buildings sport patches of fresh paint that hide traces of graffiti that once dominated the scene. Violence and crime also seem to have subsided in recent months, police say.
"Things are very tranquil and quiet these days," said Juan Hernandez, who has lived in the neighborhood for the past two years. "I don't hear gunshots any more and there isn't as much graffiti as there used to be."
Robert Acosta, 31, a lifelong Baker Avenue resident, added: "Retired people could live here now. I remember a few years ago when things were really bad. Rival gang members would jump on the roofs, fight and shoot at each other, and people were afraid to sit outside on the porch. It's a lot more peaceful now, the best it's ever been."
Still, city officials and residents agree there's more work to be done. Officials even are considering changing the block's name to discourage the local gang from claiming the cul-de-sac as its territory.
The whole of Baker Street, which stretches from southwest Fullerton to the downtown, has long been one of the most crime-ridden areas in the city. Police have reported everything from burglaries, drug deals and vandalism to shootings and the fatal stabbing of a 16-year-old Perris boy two years ago in front of a home near the neighborhood.
Soon after the stabbing, the City Council approved a revitalization plan for the street in an effort to combat crime, cite landlords whose buildings violated city codes and address other neighborhood issues.
Several initiatives were launched in April, 1996. A four-member police team keeps close watch on the area. Convicted gang members from the neighborhood are prohibited from associating with other known gangsters.
And code enforcement officers regularly inspect rental housing on the block, prompting landlords to clean up and maintain their dwellings. Property owners have been given low-interest city loans as incentives to make improvements on their buildings.
"The appearance of the neighborhood has improved," Police Capt. Ron Rowell said.
Renaming the avenue is the last part of the revitalization plan, he said.
Last week, police proposed Pansy Circle as the new name. Police Chief Patrick E. McKinley said the it would take away the "macho" image of the area and possibly deflate the ego of the gang that draws its name and territory from the western edge of the street.
The City Council rejected the name, citing concerns that the word might offend some people, since "pansy" is a pejorative sometimes used to describe an effeminate youth or gay man.
But council members agreed to consider another flower name to rechristen Baker Avenue. A list of 24 names is being delivered today to council members who are expected to make a decision Tuesday.
Residents of the block are split on whether the street needs a new name.
Anna Jardon, a 28-year-old resident, said she believes naming the street after a flower might humiliate the gang members and keep them out of the neighborhood.
Other residents said a name change won't make a difference.
"All it's going to do is cause problems," said Raul Morales, a 23-year-old self-proclaimed Baker Street gang member. "We're not going to change our name."
Rather than spend money on new street signs, lifelong resident Phou Vongsith, 20, said, the city ought to erect a neighborhood community center where youngsters could participate in recreational activities. "They wouldn't be joining gangs if they had something to do after school," she said.
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NEIGHBORHOODS / Baker Avenue
Bounded by: Gilbert Street on the east, Peckham Street on the west, Orangethorpe Avenue on the north, Roberta Avenue on the south
Population: Sixteen fourplexes are on the cul-de-sac.
Hot topic: Whether renaming the 2300 block of the avenue after a flower will help curb gang activity