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THE REGION

Schoolyard Perils Blamed on Street Barriers

January 15, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Wallace R. Davis Elementary School's playground is often littered with an obstacle course of filth that every child should avoid. Among the recent findings were a blow-up doll, a cast-away mattress, five pairs of panties, used condoms, and dozens of empty or broken liquor bottles.

Custodian Mike Saldana usually finds the items on Mondays, near a graffiti-filled wall at the Santa Ana school.

Concerned parents believe the increasing problem stems from controversial traffic barriers the city installed on a street next to the school to reduce commuter traffic through the neighborhood.

While officials from the school district and the city debate whether to keep the barriers in place, Saldana and parents say that the schoolyard requires increasing attention to make sure needles from drug users don't get left behind.

"The problem has always been there, but it's getting worse," Saldana said.

Al Mijares, superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District, will meet with city officials today to request that the city revaluate the barriers.

They were installed 16 months ago to prevent cars from using French Street to get from 17th Street to Washington Avenue, and have created a dead end that has become a popular hangout next to the school.

The roadblocks also were deemed controversial because they separate French Park, a neighborhood of tidy homes, from the apartment-filled community of French Court.

Davis School Principal Maria Gutierrez-Garcia, parents and school district officials immediately criticized the roadblocks and complained that the barriers would slow police and fire department response. City officials argued that diminished traffic would benefit both neighborhoods.

Kim Gerda, who has formed a parent group, Children Learning at Safe Schools, said the barriers have led to "the further ghetto-ization" of French Court. The playground, already isolated, is harder to access and there are fewer police patrols, she said.

Officer Mario Corona, spokesman for the Santa Ana Police Department, disagreed. Response times to the school have changed only "by seconds, not minutes," he said. Patrols have never declined, and although there is vandalism, it has not increased since the barriers were installed, he said.

City Manager David N. Ream said he believes the barriers have improved both neighborhoods. Paul Giles, president of the French Park Neighborhood Assn., agreed. "I can't understand what could be perceived as a negative impact," he said.

Ream said neighborhood homeowners will take a nonbinding vote within two months on whether to keep the barriers.

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