Plagued by increased vandalism and gang activity, Nyeland Acres residents turned out in force this weekend to reclaim their neighborhoods.
More than 100 residents, armed with paint brushes, rollers and buckets, participated Saturday in a cleanup program aimed at eliminating graffiti--considered an early symptom of gang problems.
"I hope we're going to give a message to gangs and dope dealers to get out and stay out of Nyeland Acres," said resident Mike Barber, 42. "We want our kids to grow up in a healthy environment and not be influenced by gangs and dope dealers. We're going to put an end to it, and this is the start of it."
Ventura County Sheriff's officials, who contract with the neighboring city of Camarillo to patrol Nyeland Acres, said that a graffiti-turf war among rival gangs, mostly from other areas, has escalated during the past year.
Concrete block walls on Ventura Boulevard as well as fences, alleyways and garage doors along Orange Drive are favorite targets.
"Anybody who lives here or has driven through this area knows that there is paint all over, everywhere you go. It looks pretty bad," said Deputy Rodney J. Mendoza, who recently helped organize a Neighborhood Watch group in an attempt to curtail the problem.
The group's first meeting on Jan. 30 attracted about 60 people, who initiated the cleanup program, Mendoza said. Members of the group have helped authorities identify at least 30 spray paint offenders, he added.
Mendoza said he has talked to those suspected of being involved and warned that if they are caught they will be forced to either re-paint the property they defaced or be arrested. He said he also has addressed various schools in the area to get his message across.
Mendoza attributed most of the graffiti problem to gangs from Oxnard, Ventura and El Rio, but said there also has been some nonviolent gang activity involving youths from Nyeland Acres.
"They're not into drugs; they're not into drive-by shootings; they're not out here stabbing each other," Mendoza said. Last year, for instance, there were two unconfirmed reports of random drive-by shootings in which no one was injured, he said.
"By no means is Nyeland Acres under siege," Mendoza said. "It's just that the people here recognize that there is potential for a problem, and they want to cut it off at the knees while they have a chance to."
But authorities said that since formation of the Neighborhood Watch group, they have received more and more reports about gang activity in the unincorporated community of 3,000.
For example, on Friday a member of an Oxnard Filipino gang was arrested after allegedly throwing two bricks through the window of the home of a Nyeland Acres teen-ager he was trying to recruit into his gang. Mendoza said deputies are talking with about six other youths about their possible involvement in the incident.
Saturday's cleanup crew was joined by Ventura County Supervisor Susan K. Lacey and Jeff Bowling, a representative of Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria). Lacey's office, along with local merchants and restaurant owners, donated paint, supplies and food to the volunteer group.
Some residents said they have been pushing Lacey's office as well as the El Rio School Board to tear down Rio Vista School, which provides programs for troubled seventh and eighth grade students, and use the school grounds for park space for neighborhood children.
"We've been trying for over a year to open it up as a park, to get the kids off the street," said Barber, who has lived in the area for 15 years. "If you drive around in the area after school you'll see literally hundreds of kids playing in the street."
Steve Chase, a field deputy for Lacey, said the supervisor is committed to turning the school into a park but that there are maintenance and liability problems that still need to be worked out. Chase said he could not be sure when the matter would be settled.
Meanwhile, Mendoza said the Neighborhood Watch group will continue its anti-graffiti program every three months.