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Controversy Grows Over Annexation : Police Issue Splits Cabrillo Village Residents

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pancho Garcia, a 62-year-old retired farm laborer, has lived in Cabrillo Village for 30 years. In a few months, his neighborhood will become part of the city of Ventura, and he’s pleased at the idea of changing from a county to city resident.

“The gangs are a problem,” Garcia said. “The sheriff’s deputies don’t come too much. The police will come here more.”

But down the street from Garcia, 26-year-old Steven Tellez, who was raised in Cabrillo, is far from happy about the annexation.

“It sucks,” Tellez said. “We have enough coverage from the sheriff’s. Ventura police always feel we’re up to something. We don’t get bothered by the sheriff’s deputies.”

Cabrillo Village is an unincorporated island, surrounded by the city of Ventura. City officials want to annex the 32-acre neighborhood to reduce confusion in providing police protection for the area.

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As the annexation draws closer, Cabrillo Village residents say the topic has generated a lot of controversy within the tight-knit Latino community on Ventura’s east end. One resident, who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation, said a neighbor’s tires were slashed after a local newspaper quoted him as favoring the annexation.

Another Cabrillo Village resident, who also declined to give his name, said the neighborhood is divided on the annexation issue because it will involve switching from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department to the Ventura Police Department.

“The adults want it because they think more police will come, and the kids are against it because of the police supervision,” he said.

What began as a farm laborers camp in the 1930s has blossomed into a sizable Latino enclave on the edge of Ventura, sandwiched between the Santa Clara River and the Southern Pacific railroad tracks, just west of Saticoy Avenue.

The Ventura City Council will initiate the annexation at its meeting tonight. Cabrillo Village, which has 154 apartments and houses owned by the first cooperative housing association ever formed in Ventura County, is scheduled to be annexed later this spring.

Of Cabrillo’s 1,000 residents, only 90 showed up at a meeting two weeks ago to vote on the annexation. Seventy-seven voted in favor, 13 against.

Those who favor annexation do so because they want better service from city police than they say they receive from county deputies.

“It’s good because we will have more police,” said Benito Martinez, 53. “They should come here at night; we have curfew problems.”

But some youths in the community say they fear being hassled frequently by Ventura police officers, and are not pleased with the impending changeover in law enforcement.

A few weeks ago, Ventura police met with Cabrillo residents and warned that they will cite parents of teen-agers who repeatedly violate the city’s 10 p.m. curfew.

Cruz Muro, 90, who has lived in Cabrillo Village for 40 years, said he is afraid that the increased police presence will result in a tragedy later.

“The police will come in here and kill one of the kids,” Muro said.

Law enforcement officials say the low-income neighborhood is not a major crime problem. Still, older residents and parents say that beginning in the late 1980s, the community began experiencing gang problems.

The Cabrillo Campers, a gang of about 30 youths from the neighborhood, has a strong rivalry with the Ventura Avenue Gangsters, police said.

“There’s been an ongoing beef between the two groups,” said Sgt. Carl Handy, who heads Ventura police’s gang unit.

That rivalry reached a violent climax in 1989, when a fatal shooting erupted in the neighborhood. Two men, who were not gang members, were killed in a drive-by shooting as they left a baptism party with a group of friends. Two other men were wounded in the attack by the Ventura Avenue gang.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, battery, shootings and vandalism have increased in the neighborhood since 1988, and the nature of the calls has become more serious.

Cabrillo Village is being annexed at the request of the Local Agency Formation Commission, a state-sponsored county panel that regulates changes in boundaries for cities and other agencies.

The city of Ventura has already annexed parcels of land on two sides of Cabrillo Village for new housing subdivisions.

The biggest change that will occur from the annexation is the switch in law enforcement agencies, city officials said. Cabrillo has received fire protection from the city, as well as water, sewer and trash services, for some time. Cabrillo also has some city-sponsored recreation programs, and children in the neighborhood already attend school in Ventura.

The new housing developments to the east and west of Cabrillo Village could also have a long-term effect on the area, some residents say. The Paloma and North Bank Green subdivisions, which total about 250 homes, are being built and sold now.

Tellez said he thinks that the new homeowners who will move into the more upscale neighborhoods adjacent to Cabrillo will eventually pressure city officials to get rid of the community, which is home to many farm workers.

“If the city takes over, it will get kind of ghetto-ized,” Tellez said.

Cabrillo’s new neighbors, who are paying $160,000 to $175,000 for their houses, will be upset that they are living so close to an area that attracts gang members from Ventura Avenue, El Rio and Saticoy, Tellez said.

More negative attention will be focused on Cabrillo Village over time, and the neighborhood will be in danger of vanishing in a few decades, he said.

“These people will pay a lot of money for their houses, while ours are a fraction of that,” Tellez said.

But city leaders say they think that Cabrillo’s more wealthy neighbors will have the opposite effect.

“The people who live in Cabrillo Village have pride of ownership, and I think that with nice developments going up around them, it will only increase their pride of ownership,” Councilman Gregory L. Carson said.

Cabrillo Village is hardly a ghetto now. Not every house has a well-kept lawn, but many have fresh coats of paint, and the majority are well maintained. Some have white picket fences in front. Graffiti and vandalism are not apparent, and residents tuck their cars in garages and carports instead of parking them on the street.

The neighborhood is, in many ways, a self-contained community. There are only two ways to enter Cabrillo Village. It has a small one-story church, market, laundry room, community center, library and playground.

The Latino heritage of its residents is apparent from such street names as Cinco de Mayo and Si Se Puede. The small market specializes in Latino foods, and Latino street vendors come into the neighborhood frequently to sell corn and deep-fried churros .

Juan Martinez, a 20-year-old Ventura College student, said the whole neighborhood gathers after Mass on Sunday to watch soccer games.

“Everyone knows each other here,” he said.

The first houses in Cabrillo Village were little more than wooden shacks, built by Saticoy Lemon Co. in 1937 to house its fieldworkers.

When a health and safety inspector condemned the village and the packing company’s labor contract had expired, the entire housing project was set to be razed in 1975.

But residents stopped the bulldozers by holding hands and forming a human shield around the houses. With the help of the Catholic Church and the United Farm Workers, they halted the demolition.

The farm workers formed a housing cooperative and raised $80,000 for the first down payment to buy the 80 houses and the property from Saticoy Lemon Co.

Since then, the community has added 74 apartments to its housing association, which is run by a seven-member board elected by residents. Residents pay monthly rent ranging from $220 to $450, which goes to the association.

Hal Slade, housing administrator for the association, said turnover in the village is very low. Last year, only two people moved out, he said. When there is a vacancy, Slade turns to a waiting list with more than 100 names.

Some of the apartments were built with federal money and, in order to qualify to live there, residents must be farm workers or work in agricultural-related jobs.

Rosa Villanueva, a packer at Saticoy Lemon Co., said she is hoping that Ventura police will do a better job than sheriff’s deputies in watching the area.

“My son, who is 14, is at the stage where he’s hanging out with the gang members in the neighborhood,” she said.

Still, deputies and Ventura police say Cabrillo Village is not that bad.

“It’s not really a trouble area for us,” Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bruce Norris said. “They have kids that dress the part, but they’re more likely to just mouth off.”

Norris said deputies who patrol the area respond to some shootings, but with the exception of the highly publicized attack in 1989, few people have been hit.

“It’s surprising how many times you go down there and there aren’t any victims,” Norris said.

Because of the physical layout of Cabrillo Village, with its two entrances and numerous speed bumps, outside gang members are likely to be discouraged from coming in.

Norris said only two deputies in one patrol car are assigned to the area. He said deputies drop in about 10 times a day, either responding to calls or just doing routine patrol.

When the Police Department takes over, Norris said, it may send more officers than the Sheriff’s Department because Ventura police patrol a smaller area.

At least two and up to six Ventura police officers will be in the Cabrillo Village area, Ventura police said.

“They may see a little more police presence,” said Ventura Police Officer Ralph Martinez, who was raised in Cabrillo Village.

Although Cabrillo youths and some residents say most of the problems stem from outside gangs coming into the neighborhood, Martinez discounts that.

“I can’t say they’re innocent bystanders,” Martinez said of his former neighborhood. “Sometimes the kids are the provocateurs. But they’re not as hard-core and they’re not as sophisticated as some of the other gangs in the area.”

Only a few youths in the Cabrillo Campers gang are considered major troublemakers, Martinez said.

“They’ve gone from drinking beer to some serious crimes such as vehicle burglary, but I would not say they’re violent,” he said.

Gustavo Hurtado, 19, said he was pressured to join the Cabrillo Campers, but has successfully avoided it. “I didn’t want to do anything stupid to screw up the rest of my life,” he said.

Nico Esquivel, who grew up in Cabrillo and has since moved into one of the new adjacent subdivisions, said he is pleased that police will be enforcing curfew in his former neighborhood.

Unlike Tellez, who is worried that Cabrillo’s crime and its new neighbors will be the area’s downfall, Esquivel says the new subdivisions will help lessen Cabrillo’s gang problems over time.

“If people begin to complain on both sides of the village,” Esquivel said, “police protection will increase and keep the gangs out. You have taxpayers complaining and things will change.”


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