On almost any other weekend morning, Jose Bonilla would have been out in his work clothes, painting over graffiti in his Arleta neighborhood.
But on Saturday, he put on a coat and tie and headed to the Sheraton Universal Hotel with his wife and five children to accept an award from his neighbors for his volunteer efforts.
"I see the quality of life being endangered," said Bonilla, who moved from central Los Angeles to Arleta six years ago when he bought his first home. "Unless we roll up our own sleeves, things will not get any better."
Bonilla, 39, was one of 14 northeast San Fernando Valley residents--many of them community crime fighters--honored at the third annual Good Neighbor of the Year awards sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), the North Valley YWCA and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Panorama City.
The awards were created, Katz told a crowd of 400, to honor "all those people who work hard in their neighborhoods, but who never expect to get thanks."
"We had a negative image as a community. Joe's helped us improve it," John Maxon, honorary mayor of Arleta, said of Bonilla. "Our park--Branford Park--was in the hands of gang-bangers, party animals and drug dealers. With Joe's help, we got a fence put around it. Now, the park is back in the hands of the children and the families."
Another community crime fighter honored was Phyllis De Obladia of Sepulveda. De Obladia said she started volunteering with the Los Angeles Police Department five years ago after she noticed drug dealing going on around Penny Lane, a Sepulveda school for emotionally disturbed children where she works.
To discourage the drug-trafficking, De Obladia helped coordinate the barricading of neighborhood streets around the school. She also helped raise funds for a new bicycle task force for the Police Department's Foothill Division.
"Things are better on the east side of Sepulveda. Now we're working on the west side," De Obladia said.
Another honoree was Gary L. Washburn of Northridge, chairman of the Police Department's Neighborhood Watch Program in Chatsworth and of Operation Sparkle, a police-sponsored neighborhood cleanup program. Police Lt. Vito Scattaglia of San Fernando, who oversees the San Fernando Police Department's 55-member police reserve unit, also received an award.
Others honored were Mary E. Poncin of Sun Valley, who at 77 still spearheads anti-graffiti efforts in her neighborhood; Elaine Bush of Granada Hills for her work with the North Valley Coalition and the Granada Hillside Property Owners Assn.; Joyce Oldaker of Lake View Terrace for her work with Brainard Avenue Elementary School, and Lily and Quentin Nelson of Mission Hills for their fund-raising efforts for the San Fernando Valley Historical Society.
More award winners were Rosa Garcia of North Hollywood for her work with Arminta Street School; Miguel and Rosario Espinoza of Pacoima, founders of the Pinney-Bradley Neighborhood Watch; John Damiano of Panorama City, who organizes excursions for senior citizens, and Margaret Whittington of Sylmar, who helped form the Sylmar Neighborhood Watch Network and Sylmar Graffiti Busters Inc.
Even as Whittington received her award, she campaigned for a cause, urging people to sign a petition against a program sponsored by the Los Angeles Cultural Arts Department to fund neighborhood graffiti artists.
"We must stop this insanity that is now called graffiti art," Whittington said. "This will only lead to more vandalism."
Kaiser Permanente also presented its annual $25,000 "Good Neighbor" grant to New Directions for Youth, a nonprofit agency that will start a program for troubled youths.