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Artesia Angry Over Politicians’ Site for Anti-Drug Message

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rep. Esteban E. Torres and state Sen. Cecil N. Green gave careful consideration to finding just the right location for a press conference to unveil their anti-gang legislation. They wanted good visuals for TV, and graffiti-ridden Padelford Park in Artesia seemed to be perfect.

But the city struck first, painting over the graffiti.

The lawmakers, undaunted by Artesia’s show of civic pride, gamely moved the speaker’s podium two blocks north of the spruced-up park and next to a stop sign displaying the obligatory graffiti.

That’s where Green, a Norwalk Democrat, stumped for his bill to extend the length of jail terms for those caught possessing methamphetamines and PCP. Then Torres, a Democrat from La Puente, pushed for his legislation permitting juveniles to be tried as adults in federal court for such crimes as drive-by shootings and car thefts.

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What the assembled media missed was the finger-pointing behind the scenes of the press conference, held April 27.

“It was a complete amateur operation as far as I was concerned,” Artesia Mayor Robert Jamison said. “Our park was an ideal set for Green. It was a case of their picking a spot they thought looked crummy.

“I wasn’t even told of the press conference until after it happened. Green is a former mayor of Norwalk. I can imagine his agitation if we went into his city and did something like that. It makes us look bad, and we’ve got very few gangs here.”

Green also lost his temper, Jamison said: “Green called us and raised Cain about our taking the graffiti off the wall. He called our city manager and ripped him.”

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A spokeswoman for Green said emphatically that the city had been notified and that Green had not complained about the removal of park graffiti.

“Our press conference didn’t have anything to do with Padelford Park. The point was to introduce a package of legislation to deal with gangs, drugs and school violence,” she said.

Torres had no comment.

“It’s a dead issue. It’s all been resolved now,” said Artesia Councilman Ron Oliver, who said Green later called to apologize for losing his temper.

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Jamison said it was merely a brush stroke of luck that city maintenance workers painted over park graffiti on their regular rounds.

But skeptical local resident Morrey Espinoza, 16, said: “They just did it because the guy was coming. Otherwise, they would have left it the way it was. I think they did it just to make themselves look good.”

Espinoza watched the press conference along with two dozen other members of the neighborhood’s Chivas gang. Gang members and a handful of older residents and toddlers were the only audience for the briefing besides the media. They heard Green and Torres demand more arrests of gang members and longer jail terms.

“A gang took over that park from the neighborhood,” Green said, imploring passers-by to reclaim Padelford Park.

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“Are we going to do this?” he asked, in a vain attempt to coax a crowd response.

“Are we going to do this?” he repeated.

Green and Torres won no rave reviews from local residents. “If you’re just going to come one day, make a statement and take pictures, then I’m contemptuous of it,” said Evelyn Hernandez, 55. “The neighborhood’s deteriorated fast. There’s open drug dealing, prostitution on the street.”

A week later, nine squad cars descended on the intersection where Green and Torres had spoken. Espinoza was there too, this time sitting on the curb surrounded by sheriff’s deputies searching for a suspect in a shooting on a rival gang’s turf.

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By the time the deputies released Espinoza, a crowd had gathered to watch a scene more familiar to them than a press conference.

By then, the graffiti had dripped and dried across the freeway wall near Padelford Park.


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