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Quality of Life, Crime the Talk of Valley Race

October 21, 2002|Nora Zamichow | Times Staff Writer

Curtis A. Page remembers growing up in North Hills when farmers grew pumpkins and corn and enterprising youngsters collected frogs. In those days, kids fearlessly trick-or-treated and played hide-and-seek with everyone else on the block.

But as years went by, crime and graffiti seeped into the community. Neighborhoods became divided. People stopped taking evening strolls and started triple-locking their doors.

Today, Page, 44, is one of four candidates for city council in the 2nd District of a proposed San Fernando Valley city. He is the first to admit that he lacks political experience.

"Politically, I'm probably the least qualified," said Page, a shipping manager for a 3-D eyewear company. "But I have a lot of heart."

Page also has ideas about how to transform his community into the kind of place where he grew up.

"We need to bring pride back to neighborhoods," said Page, who also teaches karate at the North Valley YMCA. "We have too many divisions, ethnically and economically. We need to bridge those gaps."

For Page, that means quashing crime and providing more parks and jobs.

The 2nd District includes most of Sylmar and Mission Hills and a chunk of North Hills. On Nov. 5, Valley voters will choose city council members and a mayor. On the same day, voters citywide will decide whether the Valley will become independent. If the secession measure passes, council members would take office in July.

The district, which is 70% Latino, is bordered on the west by the Golden State Freeway and San Diego Freeway. At its most eastern point, it hugs the city of San Fernando. The district reaches just above the Foothill Freeway to the north and stretches below Nordhoff Street to the south.

All four candidates believe crime, lack of economic opportunities and quality-of-life issues are the most pressing concerns for voters.

"Public safety is the No. 1 issue," said Oscar R. Mendoza, 28, a Sylmar resident who works at his family-run roofing business.

In addition to beefing up police presence, Mendoza, a graduate of Cal State Northridge, said he would like to set up a home-loan assistance program to encourage police officers and firefighters to live where they work.

Mendoza also hopes to start a program that would pair young people with business leaders, who would act as mentors. If youngsters had a greater investment in the community, Mendoza believes, they would be less likely to join gangs.

In the war against crime, Richard. K. Yamauchi, a 54-year-old certified public accountant, said the district has been hurt by the lack of community-based policing and inadequate patrols.

"I understand we have problems with the budget, but maybe we can better use our resources," he said.

Yamauchi, a graduate of Cal State Northridge, teaches taxes and accounting at Mission College, College of the Canyons and Woodbury University. Married 28 years and the father of four sons, Yamauchi has lived in the Valley since 1973. Areas near his house in Sylmar still have unpaved streets and lack sidewalks, Yamauchi said.

If elected, Yamauchi would work to fix those quality-of-life problems and another thorny one: graffiti.

Yamauchi believes that his community work sets him apart from the other candidates. He has volunteered at the Japanese American Citizens League, Kiwanis Club, Sylmar Chamber of Commerce, a battered women's shelter and a neighborhood safety program.

Yamauchi seeks to simplify the business license tax, which he said could result in a higher compliance rate. That would bring in more money and tax rates could be lowered, he said.

In crafting a crime-fighting strategy, Daryl G. Pruett, 34, of Mission Hills said he would look at other cities that have made their streets feel safe. In addition, he said he would clean up city parks so they were more inviting places.

Pruett, a computer systems administrator, decided to run for office because, "I got tired of complaining about everything that never got done."

Having experienced the frustration of trying to get problems solved, Pruett said, as an elected official he would be "easily approachable. I would take the time to hear what people say."

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