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Los Angeles

Residents Tire of Being Kept in Dark

Services: They have been trying for decades to get street lights for their crime-plagued Pacoima neighborhood.

April 02, 2002|JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roberto and Laura Bernal wait for luz.

Light, they say, will make them feel safer in their Pacoima neighborhood, which the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting identifies as one of the most poorly lighted in the city.

Residents of the 95-home district, part of the Bromont Avenue and Eustace Street lighting district, have been trying to get street lights for 40 years. The area, which is also home to City Council President Alex Padilla, is bordered by the Ronald Reagan Freeway to the south, Vaughn Street to the north, Dronfield Avenue to the west and Foothill Boulevard to the east.

Padilla acknowledges his constituents' frustration and points out that even his street has no lights.

The council president said he has tried to get local businesses to join with the city to pay for the lights' installation but has had no luck.

Padilla also said he's waiting for federal block grant money to become available.

Residents complain that Padilla has done little to fulfill campaign promises he made three years ago to find money for lights.

"Once he moved up the ladder [to council president], he forgot about us," said Richard Gallegos, who lives in the area and is the chief community inspector for Pacoima Beautiful, a nonprofit group that seeks to improve the neighborhood.

Padilla's spokesman, David Gershwin, said the councilman has been working diligently for the lights. "It's a difficult process. We're not making any excuses," he said. "I think we are on track; we are seeing more progress than ever before."

In 1998, a letter from the city's Bureau of Street Lighting told residents that 35 lights would be installed in their neighborhood, but funding was never found. In February 2000, the City Council approved $20,000 for street lights, a small fraction of the $170,000 needed.

Phil Reed, director of the Bureau of Street Lighting, said the 35 lights are ready to be installed, as soon as all the funding is found.

So the Bernals continue to wait.

Last year, residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of taxing themselves $53 a year to maintain and operate the lights.

Generally, residents also would pay for installation and construction, which costs about $1,600 per property owner. That option is unlikely for Pacoima, residents and city officials said.

"You're talking about families who make less than $30,000 a year, with three to four children and homes to pay for," Gallegos said.

Roberto Bernal, a carpenter, said he would like to pay for the lights, but can't afford to.

"Lights aren't really a luxury," Gallegos said. "I don't understand why we have to fight for something so basic."

Senior Lead Officer Cedric Ingram of the Los Angeles Police Department said the low-income, high-crime area would benefit from street lights. Pacoima leads the San Fernando Valley in aggravated assaults, and in February alone, there were 39 violent crimes there, he said.

The Bromont-Eustace area is plagued by drug houses and gang turf wars between Dead End Boyz, Pacoima Piru Bloods, Vaughn Street Gang and San Fers Gang, Ingram said.

"These guys operate under the cover of darkness and that allows them to remain anonymous," he said. "It's like hide-and-go-seek."

Lights would help police be more effective, Ingram said. "There are times when you're out there at night and the only light you have are your headlights," he said. "It's totally dark."

The Bernals said the darkness aids taggers who spray gang symbols on the concrete wall outside their home at least three times a month.

Dim lights in yards and the lone light post on the street do little to stop prostitution and illegal dumping of refrigerators, tires and other discards, they said.

Laura Bernal said she tells her five children to stop playing on the sidewalk after dark because it's unsafe.

Older, largely poor neighborhoods, like Pacoima, often don't have the infrastructure for lighting systems, Reed said.

Prior to the 1950s, when much of Pacoima was developed, home builders were not required to install street lights.

To put them up now would be a major construction project, requiring the installation of foundations for the light posts, electrical conduits and wiring, Reed said.

Gallegos said he has learned to depend on moonlight. "Without the full moon, it would be pitch-dark," he said.

The Bernals wonder if they will always live in darkness. "Ayudenos a garar nuestras luces," Roberto Bernal said. "Help us get our lights."

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