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Officer's Efforts to Improve His Hometown Yield Funds--and Fun

Robert Acosta uses everything from carnivals to the Goodyear blimp to help make Santa Ana a better place. It's been a 10-year labor of love.


When Robert Acosta was growing up in Santa Ana's Logan neighborhood, he played baseball in the old Edison Building parking lot. This weekend Acosta had the pleasure of unveiling a new scoreboard for the Little League field at Madison Park, the first of three to be built in Santa Ana with funds raised by Acosta.

For almost 10 years, Acosta has been fighting to improve the neighborhoods of Santa Ana. As a community relations officer for the Santa Ana Police Department, Acosta made it his mission to combat the rising graffiti problem in Santa Ana.

"I remember when the kids used to spray paint graffiti in broad daylight," Acosta said. "I couldn't believe it. And that was the height of the graffiti war. They were vandalizing the whole city."

To raise awareness for the growing problem he turned to the sky for help. In 1993, Acosta persuaded the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. to donate its 192-foot-long blimp for flyovers of Santa Ana and other parts of the county, displaying anti-graffiti messages.

While the blimp attracted attention, Acosta wanted something more practical that residents could see every day. So the following year he persuaded Eller Media to donate space on 100 billboards and 175 bus shelters countywide to display his anti-gang and graffiti messages.

To pay for the cost of printing the ads, Acosta began organizing community park carnival programs. "We raised about $17,000 for the program," Acosta said. "Little by little, nickels and dimes add up to dollars. If you're going in the right direction you will get there."

But despite all the attention Acosta received for his anti-graffiti programs, he discovered an equally important success in the carnivals. He says they're a great way to bring a little bit of Disneyland to the Latino communities of Santa Ana.

And in organizing the carnivals, Acosta learned of Dave Silva's dream to have scoreboards for the area parks. Dave Silva is the president of the Southeast Little League and supported Acosta in his anti-graffiti programs.

"It was his dream to have scoreboards," Acosta said. "But he said that the kids over the years can't even afford the entry for sign-ups."

Acosta said most of the money from concessions at games goes to pay for equipment and insurance and that Silva's focus was to make sure all the kids could play.

"He seemed to really have a passion for it. So through the carnivals I raised the money for the scoreboards."

A second scoreboard will be erected this year at Jerome Park with a location for the third scoreboard to be determined. His next goal is to raise funds for a permanent batting cage for the Little League.

"I grew up in this city," Acosta said. "When you see the kids that you love and care about . . . get involved. It's the greatest thing you will ever do."

Chris Ceballos can be reached at (714) 966-7440

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