Councilman Calls for Sale of Gang Parks

Times Staff Writer

Two neighborhood parks built with federal grants to provide young people with alternatives to gang membership have instead become graffiti-covered havens for gang violence and drug dealing and should be demolished, a City Council member said this week.

Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant proposed at the council’s Monday night meeting that the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission hold public hearings on whether Cherrieville and Sharkey parks should be declared surplus land, bulldozed and sold to developers.

“It’s getting to be the more parks you have, the more hangouts you have for the gangs,” Bryant said.


Other council members were less adamant about closing the two parks, and police and probation officers contacted this week were skeptical about the impact the move would have on gang activity.

Residents’ Views

However, the council voted unanimously to have the commission ask nearby residents whether they want the parks removed and, if not, what can be done to resolve problems with gangs. The commission is expected to take up the matter at its April 28 meeting.

“I would recommend that they invite the neighbors and at least get some input about what would happen in their neighborhoods” if the parks were closed, said Councilwoman Nell Soto, whose district includes Cherrieville Park.

The two parks, dedicated in 1972, are named for the city’s two oldest Latino gangs, Cherrieville and 12th Street, originally known as the Sharkeys. For decades, the two gangs have exchanged drive-by shootings, with the larger 12th Street gang--numbering about 200 with a core group of 50 members--usually initiating hostilities.

The lengthy rivalry is graphically chronicled on the walls and sidewalks at Cherrieville Park. Members of 12th Street have spray-painted their gang’s name on their rivals’ turf, but their graffiti have been crossed out and replaced by the Cherrieville logo. Other artwork at the park depicts sharks with knives protruding from their sides.

Effort to Stem Violence

Bryant, who served his first term on the council between 1969 and 1973, said he was partly responsible for the parks’ creation. In an effort to stem violence between 12th Street and Cherrieville, Bryant and a council colleague met with members of the two gangs.


“They said they wanted a park,” Bryant said, adding that the gangs promised in return that “they’d knock off the garbage and start acting like people.”

“They never kept their end of the bargain,” he said. “They abrogated it in the first year.”

However, City Atty. Patrick J. Sampson said eliminating the parks may not be so simple.

As a condition of the federal grants used to develop the parks, the city agreed to maintain the land as parks or open space and may not sell, lease or transfer title of the properties without approval from the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Sampson said.

“I don’t think that will be a hang-up,” Bryant said. “I think all (city officials) have to say to HUD is that they want the land developed.”

Police Chief Richard Tefank said his department does not have any statistics on gang-related violence occurring in and around the two parks, but he will try to have the information in time for a hearing.

Sgt. Gary Elofson, who heads the Police Department’s Crimes Against Persons Unit, said he doubted that eliminating the parks would have an impact on gang warfare. He added that the importance of the parks as focal points of gang activity has diminished.


“At one time 10 years ago, if you wanted to find a Cherrieviller, you went to Cherrieville Park, and if you wanted to shoot him, you shot him in the park, and the same with 12th Street,” Elofson said. “We haven’t had a homicide in Sharkey Park in years. The 12th Streeters don’t even hang out there anymore.”

Mike Duran, director of the county probation department’s specialized gang supervision program, was also skeptical.

“I don’t see any benefit in closing the parks,” said Duran, a former gang member in East Los Angeles who has worked with Pomona gangs. “At least with the parks being there, the gangs are visible. If the cops want to find someone, they know where to look.”

But Bryant said that demolishing the parks would send an important message to the gangs.

“I agree that it won’t eliminate the gang activity, but it will do two things,” Bryant said. “First, it will eliminate one of their places to congregate. Second, it will eliminate the gangs having a place they control and no one else can use. . . . I think these gangs have to know that they don’t have any authority in this town.”

Mayor Donna Smith said that if the city does end up eliminating the parks, it should build two new ones elsewhere in the city.

“I don’t think we can just go in and wipe out two parks, even if there have been some problems,” Smith said. “I think one of the important services a city can provide is some leisure space, a place for people to relax and recreate.”


Soto urged the city to improve security at the parks before trying to eliminate them. Citing citizen patrols in parks in Santa Cruz, Soto asked City Administrator A. J. Wilson to have the city’s staff look into a similar program for Pomona.

Councilman E. J. (Jay) Gaulding said he also favored increased security as an alternative to destroying the parks.

“If (the city) would find some way to make them habitable, I think it would be wrong to bulldoze them down,” Gaulding said.

Bryant said that he was bothered that his proposal to eliminate the parks was “diluted” in the motion passed by the council.

“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen,” Bryant said. “There ain’t nobody going to go to these hearings . . . and the commission is going to come back to the same old gutless conclusion of trying to improve the parks.”

However, Bryant said the commission could be forced to recommend closure of the parks if residents of the neighborhoods made their wishes known.


“Those people who live in those neighborhoods are terrified,” Bryant said. “Some mothers might take their children down to play at the park during the day, but they’re afraid to go near those park areas at night because of what the gangs are doing in them.”