The Name Blame : Houston Drive residents hope to shed their street's reputation--as the site of Thousand Oaks' only drive-by slaying--by asking for a new moniker.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a beautiful two-story, country-style house that sits atop a hill in Thousand Oaks. It includes four bedrooms, a fireplace and a sweeping view of the surrounding mountains.

Yet, not a single buyer has been in to look at the house on Houston Drive, even though the asking price has dropped from $250,000 to $179,000 in the two years that it has been on the market.

Owner Joanne Kurczeski, who with her husband Walter is hoping to retire to Colorado, no longer places the blame on the bad economy or the sluggish real estate market. The problem, she said, runs much deeper than that.

"We've been boycotted," said Kurczeski, one of about a dozen homeowners on Houston Drive whose houses are up for sale.

Kurczeski, who has lived on the street for 24 years, believes that the stigma attached to Houston Drive as the namesake of the Houston Hoods gang and the site of the city's only drive-by slaying has significantly lowered property values and made it nearly impossible to sell.

"It's very hard to live down a reputation," Kurczeski said. "Anywhere you go in this town, even if I go K mart shopping, and I say, 'I live on Houston Drive,' people say, 'Oh, that's where the shooting was.' "

It doesn't matter that the incident occurred three years ago, she said. People remember.

For that reason, Kurczeski and a number of her neighbors recently petitioned the City Council to change the name of their street. And although their request was rejected, they say the fight is not over. They plan to bring the issue up again.

"We're very, very mad," said homeowner Dolores Cohenour, who has lived on the street for 10 years. "We want to get rid of the reputation. . . . We want to be anonymous again. We just want to be an average, quiet neighborhood again."

Added Kurczeski: "It's our reputation too that's at stake. Whatever we have to do to (change the street name), we will do it."

But some homeowners on Houston Drive call the proposed change a "placebo" that will do nothing to improve neighborhood security. They also don't want to go through the inconvenience of having to change their driver's licenses, checkbooks and other important papers listing their addresses.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Debbie Bavaro, a seven-year resident. "Even if we changed the name, it's still the street where the first shooting occurred. It's not going to change anything."

Bavaro said that if residents want to make their neighborhood safer, they should spend more time getting to know each other. "If they want to do something, they need to get more involved in the community," she said.

Bavaro does not agree that property values in the neighborhood have been hurt because of the shooting.

"Property values didn't go down because of the shooting," she said. "The whole economy fell out (in) Southern California. Everybody's property values went down. I knew some people in Westlake Village who lost $89,000 on their house."

Bavaro notes that there have been shootings on Westlake Boulevard and that no one is pushing to change the name of that street.

"Let's change the name of Westlake Boulevard," she said. "Since we have this gang problem, maybe we should change the name of the city, too."

But Gene Bell, another longtime Houston Drive resident, said his street has a unique problem because of its association with the Houston Hoods.

"That's the real crux," Bell said. "There's a direct association."

Like others, Bell said he is willing to put up with the inconvenience of having to change his legal papers if it will help change the image of his street.

"If it will bring a positive effect, then the inconvenience is minuscule," he said.

Residents say that although some gang members once lived on the street, that is no longer the case. Even the couple who lived in the house where the shooting took place three years ago are gone, along with their son, who was known to associate with the Houston Hoods. It was his girlfriend who was shot and killed while attending a birthday party at the house.

"There's no gangbangers here," Cohenour said. "But the gang kept the name Houston Hoods and that gang lives on. But they don't even hang out in these parts."

Sheriff's Deputy Patti Dreyer, who once patrolled Houston Drive, agreed with residents that while the Houston Hoods gang originated on the street, there is scarcely any connection between the two now except for the name.

Dreyer also noted that since the killing, the number of disturbance calls to the area has dropped significantly.

"We used to get four or five calls on the weekend," she said of the neighborhood. "Now we get two or three a week."

Dreyer said she supports the proposal to change the street name.

"I think if it makes people feel good, then they will portray a more positive image about the neighborhood," she said. "I think it also gives people a sense of empowerment, that they do have a say in government."

Last month, 35 of the 69 residents of Houston Drive petitioned the City Council to change their street name to Cameron Drive. But the council voted to deny the name change because the petitioners represented barely half the families on Houston Drive and because a number of signatures were from renters, rather than property owners.

Mayor Alex Fiore said that at least two-thirds of the homeowners would have to show support for the name change before he could approve the proposal.

"There has to be a more significant showing of support because it puts a big burden on the rest of the people in the neighborhood," he said, adding that he is not sure that changing the name would make any difference.

Andy Fox, who heads the Neighborhood Watch group, said residents will definitely bring the issue back before the council. Fox lives on nearby Masterson Drive, but said property values have been affected throughout the neighborhood.

Fox and residents of Houston Drive said the issue will be discussed at the Neighborhood Watch meeting next month.

Meanwhile, homeowners in Newbury Park's Las Casitas neighborhood have applied to change the names of the tract's seven streets as part of an overall effort to rid the area of crime and to create a new image for the community.

For the past few years, residents and city officials have worked aggressively to improve conditions at the 25-year-old condominium complex, which includes more than 500 units. The homeowners association has installed new security fencing, banned vendors and persuaded the city to restrict overnight parking. It has also hired a new security company to patrol the complex. New street lights are set to go up soon.

"We've put a whole lot of work into the neighborhood," said Robert Bickle, president of the Las Casitas Homeowners Assn. "I think we've really proven ourselves. I think we've earned another chance."

Bickle said that changing the names of the streets--and of the homeowners association itself--could help erase the stigma of a once crowded and crime-plagued neighborhood.

"We want to wash away the whole mess the association people attribute to it," he said. "We don't want to just get rid of the spots. We want to get rid of the leopard too."

Bickle said an overwhelming majority of the residents in the complex support the name changes.

"I think the new names will go with the new look and the new attitudes in the neighborhood," he said. "Residents here have really tried to make a difference."

Councilwoman Judy Lazar said she believes that the request to change the street names at Las Casitas is a reasonable one because of all the work that has been done there.

"I think Las Casitas is different," she said. "I think it has changed. When I drive through there now, I see the difference . . . police calls are down, a lot of community efforts have paid off."

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