A group of concerned residents in an Artesia neighborhood plagued by gang activity is lobbying to reopen a small park closed more than a year ago after it was heavily vandalized.
About 15 residents, their children and supporters spent several hours last weekend cleaning up debris to persuade officials to reopen A.J. Padelford Park, the only park in the neighborhood on the northern edge of the city.
"We picked up broken glass and trash and cut the grass," Genevieve Daugherty-Medina said. She is chairwoman of the North Artesia Save the Park Committee.
"We want to let officials at City Hall know that we are willing to work and do whatever it takes in a positive way to get the park open," Daugherty-Medina said.
Daugherty-Medina said the committee, which was formed two months ago, is devising a plan for the type of programs the community would like to see at the park.
The committee wants child care to be offered at the community center and classes in English to be held for Spanish-speaking residents, Daugherty-Medina said. Those programs were offered before the park was closed.
"We want this to be a participatory program with ideas from the community and the authorities," Daugherty-Medina said. She expects that greater participation from the community will decrease the chances of the park's being vandalized.
But officials said that, although they admire the residents' efforts to reopen the park, they are not optimistic.
"I have mixed emotions. Before the council approves the opening of the park, there would have to be some assurance that it would not be trashed again," Mayor Dennis Fellows said.
City Manager Jerry Shuster said, "The council is a little gun-shy because of what has happened in the past."
Shuster said the city spent more than $100,000 on the community center and the park, including installation of air conditioning and construction of a picnic area, before the park was closed in January, 1989. Youths had driven a stolen bulldozer over playground equipment and scrawled graffiti on the community center building and the handball and basketball courts, officials said.
In October, a fire gutted the building and destroyed the roof, Shuster said.
When it was closed, a chain-link fence was placed around the park and the community center building at 169th Street and Clarkdale Avenue, just north of the Artesia (91) Freeway. Locks on the fence have been broken repeatedly and holes cut in the fence, allowing people to enter the grounds, Shuster said.
He said, however, that officials will listen to the committee and he expects a plan to be presented to the city within two weeks.
Daugherty-Medina, 25, who grew up in the community and still lives there with her three children and husband, said she is confident "the committee can open a line of communication" with officials.
She said Councilman Robert Jamison observed the cleanup Saturday and offered his support. Jamison had an abandoned car removed from the community center's parking lot, Daugherty-Medina said.
Police said that gang activity is sporadic.
"It generally fluctuates. It was quiet for a while but has increased in the last month," said Sgt. James Whitten of the sheriff's gang detail. Artesia contracts with the county Sheriff's Department for law enforcement services.
During February, there were four shootings suspected of being gang-related, Whitten said.
In the most recent incident, which occurred early Monday morning, five young women told authorities that a carload of male youths chased them off the Artesia Freeway by firing several shots at their car. The 16-year-old driver crashed the car into the bedroom of a home.
On Monday evening, a 15-year-old boy was hit in the leg by bullets from a small-caliber weapon fired from a passing car.
About two weeks ago, a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy were fired at in separate drive-by shootings. Neither was hit.
Authorities do not know what triggered the latest activity, Whitten said, but believe it was caused by friction between an Artesia gang and one based in Norwalk.
Residents said they would be willing to help keep the park clean if the city reopens it. "We'll stop our home boys from messing things up," one resident said.
Another resident, Peter Rincon, said, "We can't stop what goes on between the gangs, but the guys (in the neighborhood) are willing to help clean things up, get the writing off the wall and prevent the windows from being broken."
Some youths said they continue to play basketball at the park because it is the only one in the neighborhood.