Miriam Ruiz said the frenetic scene that unfolds nightly outside her living room window rivals the offerings of prime-time television.
“I turn off the TV sometimes and just watch,” Ruiz said during a public forum of residents, apartment owners and managers who live on a block-long portion of Eucalyptus Avenue. “There is much more excitement out there on the street.”
Ruiz and about 30 others met Tuesday night with officials of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and City Council members at Ruth R. Caruthers Park to air frustrations about a reported increase in drug problems and other illegal activities.
Residents complained that the section of Eucalyptus that stretches between Alondra Boulevard and Flora Vista Street oftens resembles a marketplace where rock cocaine, marijuana and other drugs are sold openly to passing cars. The drug sales have also spurred a rash of property crimes that have made the block the most crime-ridden area of the city, officials said.
The drug business is often so brisk, the residents told Sheriff’s Department officials, that residents have trouble navigating down the block. But it sometimes is riskier to park, they added.
“I’ve had my truck broken into and tools stolen many times,” said Greg George, a self-employed welder who owns a small condominium across the street from a run-down apartment complex that he described as the center of the drug activity. Each day, he said, dozens of drivers pull their cars up to the sidewalk in front of the complex. They are met by residents who throw packets, allegedly containing drugs, into the open car windows.
“It’s just frustrating,” George said.
Eucalyptus Avenue, which has long been known among locals as a place to purchase drugs, is at a turning point, city officials said. Many of the 27 apartment complexes that line the 400-yard stretch of the street have fallen into disrepair, with some needing up to $500,000 in renovations to meet health and safety codes, city officials said.
In the last year, however, the condition on the street has worsened, partly because of the proliferation of absentee landlords and partly because gang members from outside the city have been slowly moving into the hundreds of low-rent apartment units, officials said.
Officials of the Sheriff’s Department’s Lakewood station called the informal meeting at the park office after law enforcement and city officials received numerous complaints. By the end of the meeting, officials had vowed to residents that they would step up efforts to control drug-related crime on the block.
“The gauntlet has been thrown,” acting Capt. Bob Mirabella told the audience. “We personally and professionally feel challenged by Eucalyptus Avenue.”
Councilman Randy Bomgaars, was even more forceful.
“Unfortunately, we have a war going on here,” he said. “We have terrorists in our neighborhood. We have to declare an all-out war. We need to move in swift and hard and show no mercy.”
Lt. Steven Selby said Eucalyptus Avenue has the highest rate of crime in the city. In May, deputies responded to 154 complaints. Nine arrests were made. And last month, he said, deputies fielded 94 calls for service and made 33 arrests, or 13% of the total number of arrests made in the city that month.
Citywide, deputies made 183 arrests in May and 255 arrests in June, said Sheriff’s Department Deputy Fidel Gonzalez.
“This street is the worst,” Selby said. “There is nothing like it anywhere else in the city.” The majority of arrests made on Eucalyptus Avenue were drug-related, Selby said, and about half the arrests were for juveniles.
He said that a number of known gang members from outside the city have been identified by deputies. “Is there a Eucalyptus Avenue gang? No. But there are gang members living on Eucalyptus,” Selby said.
Neighbors said juveniles as young as 13 are the main offenders, often breaking into homes and stealing electronic equipment, cash and other saleable household items, apparently to finance drug deals. The teen-agers also routinely vandalize cars overnight, residents told Sheriff’s officials.
Selby said deputies responded to two reported burglaries on the street Monday night alone. Thieves stole three videotape recorders in those break-ins. Neighbors claimed that the break-ins were caused by teen-agers living on the street.
“A lot of the problem is caused by the kids, not by adults,” longtime resident Rose Sarnowski said. “Those kids are out on the street all hours of the night.”
Ruiz and other residents complained that the youths allegedly selling drugs on the street have devised a system. They stash the drugs in bushes and behind trees, and wait for buyers to pull up in their cars, said Loraine Halpin.
Before deputies even arrive, residents said, drug peddlers whistle to each other and scatter. “They always seem to know when the police are coming.”
Tempers occasionally flared during the meeting as residents harshly criticized Sheriff’s Department officials and the court system for not being forceful enough. Selby said in response that deputies will not violate civil rights to make arrests.
More Patrols Promised
“We need your help,” Selby told residents. “We need to have detailed information” before arrests can be made. He promised more patrols both by uniformed deputies and undercover narcotics investigators.
City Administrator Jack A. Simpson said the meeting was the first in a series on the Eucalyptus Avenue issue. He said the city will sponsor a second meeting at the end of August to discuss any progress made and to consider, among other things, temporarily closing one end of the block.
“As you can see, we have frustration on both sides,” Simpson said as he watched the meeting from the rear of the park office. “We figured that this meeting would be good. If people could understand our problems and we could understand their problems, we might be able to get something done.”
Mayor John Ansdell promised the residents that the city would step up inspections of the apartment complexes. He also promised stricter control of abandoned cars and better collection of trash on the street.
“We know you have a problem on Eucalyptus Avenue,” Ansdell told the audience. “We have to have your help. We want to clean up Eucalyptus and we want to do it right away. But we need your help.”