In the wake of five shootings in less than three months, residents of Santa Monica's Pico area are looking to city officials to help make their gang- and drug-plagued neighborhood safe.
Among other things, residents want more police patrols in the Pico Boulevard corridor, greater authority for police to seize property, and expanded youth programs to help steer teen-agers away from crime.
Many residents complain that they have not received such assistance because the Pico area, stretching from 10th Street to Cloverfield Boulevard, lacks the political organization--and clout--of better-heeled neighborhoods in Santa Monica.
"Our neighborhood is disenfranchised," said Peter Tigler, a 15-year-resident of the area and a Pico Neighborhood Assn. board member. "We're not part of the power structure of City Hall, and it shows."
Police say that overall, statistics show crime in the area has been dropping since 1989. They acknowledge, however, that the number of shootings since the first of the year--five--is unusually high.
Meanwhile, Tigler and other Pico residents say their neighborhood is frequently disturbed by gunshots, drug dealing, graffiti and loud music from portable radios.
In the latest incident, shots were fired from a passing car at 18th Street and Michigan Avenue at two young men March 9. One of the victims, 18-year-old Miguel Vasquez of Santa Monica, may be permanently paralyzed by a bullet in his neck, according to hospital officials. The other, Francisco Cardenis, 20, was not seriously injured.
In February, police said, gang- or drug-related shootings in the Pico area left two people dead, accounting for nearly half of all the homicides to date citywide.
One of the victims, 19-year-old Santa Monica High school student and basketball star Davy Fortsen, 19, was shot to death Feb. 17 at a hamburger stand just west of the Pico neighborhood, at Pico and Lincoln boulevards. Fortsen was not a gang member, but police said his alleged killer, a 16-year-old, belonged to a group of graffiti vandals.
And on Feb. 20, two Santa Monica men standing in the 1900 block of 19th Street were shot in an apparent gang drive-by attack. One of the men, Sal Palomino, 21, died of chest wounds. The other, Jonathan Fragoso, 35, was shot in the leg.
Mathew Millen, a Pico Neighborhood Assn. board member, said an immediate response would be to deploy more police in the area. He said he plans to contact police and request the stepped-up patrols.
"But that's a Band-Aid," Millen said. "We need longer-term solutions."
Millen recommends increasing city funding for youth programs at such facilities as the Police Athletic League and the Virginia Avenue Park Community Center.
In a letter, the Pico Neighborhood Assn. told the city's Community and Cultural Services department last month that the area is adamantly opposed to accommodating more homeless shelters, multifamily and low-income housing and housing for substance abusers and parolees. The neighborhood does, however, need swimming pools, libraries and museums, association members say in interviews.
"The root of the problem is our lack of representation on the City Council, and that is reflected in city policies," Millen said.
Despite such concerns, police say crime in the area is declining. They note that criminal incidents in the Pico corridor area that have been attributed to gangs--ranging from disorderly conduct to homicide--fell from 42 in 1989 to 13 last year.
Santa Monica Police Sgt. Gary Gallinot said much of the drop is due to the department's deployment several years ago of five police officers in the area and the opening of a police substation at Virginia Park.
"We know the police have special deployment (in the neighborhood), but whether it is enough, that is the question," Tigler said. "How many people have to get shot before they beef up deployment or something is done?"
Much of the crime is committed by residents, police and homeowners agree. Tigler and Millen said they will suggest that city officials take steps to evict drug dealers and seize their property.
"If we did three or four dozen evictions and a couple property seizures, it would take care of it," Tigler said.