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Oxnard Offers Loans to Entice Police to Live in Troubled Neighborhood : Housing: The City Council sets aside $600,000 for programs to help rejuvenate the Southwinds area.

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The City Council is trying to entice police to live in one of Oxnard’s most notorious neighborhoods, but many beat cops doubt the idea will work.

The council Tuesday approved using $600,000 for programs intended to help rejuvenate the half-square-mile Southwinds neighborhood in South Oxnard. About half the money, generated by property taxes from the Southwinds area, would help city police or existing Southwinds residents who now rent property to purchase homes.

The program provides low-interest loans of up to $30,000 or grants of up to $5,000 toward the price of a home.

“If people know a policeman lives in the area--if a police car is parked in the neighborhood--it adds visibility and acts as a reminder for people to behave themselves,” Mayor Manuel Lopez said.

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About 1,500 households make up Southwinds, mostly rental apartments and condominiums in an area bounded by J Street and Hueneme, Saviers and Pleasant Valley roads.

Over the last decade, the city has funneled about $1 million into the neighborhood in an attempt to eradicate gangs, drugs and prostitution. The ownership program is merely the latest effort to clean up the neighborhood, officials said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Senior Officer Scott Swenson, who is in charge of the police storefront that opened in the neighborhood three years ago. But he added, “I don’t think you’re going to have any takers on it.”

Safety issues, in particular, along with sluggish property values and the city’s neglect in developing the south end of the city are among reasons cited by officers against moving to Southwinds.

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"[The council] wants to establish it’s a safe neighborhood and even cops live here,” Swenson said. “I tell you right now, [officers] would have some concerns because of safety.”

Police, whose patrol cars are essentially moving billboards proclaiming their occupation, may become targets in such a neighborhood, he said.

At the same time, officers say they have made a big impact on crime in the area.

Once rife, prostitution has all but vanished since police opened the substation, Swenson said proudly while conducting a tour of Southwinds this week. Graffiti markings have diminished noticeably. Grass is growing on apartment lawns where drug dealers and their customers formerly loitered.

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Police believe the efforts have cut crime in half. Much of Southwinds’ poor reputation can be traced to its treatment in the media, Swenson said.

“This could be any street in the county,” Swenson said as he stood on Campbell Way. “This is not an unreasonable place to live.”

Only about half of Oxnard’s 170 police officers live in the city, Police Chief Harold Hurtt said. About a dozen live in South Oxnard. None live in Southwinds.

Such cities as Columbia, S.C., and Albany, N.Y., have tried with some success to persuade police to move into crime-ridden neighborhoods.

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In Oxnard, the idea sprang simultaneously from the police chief, city officials and Southwinds residents, said Dena Garcia Fuentes, project manager of the neighborhood’s redevelopment area.

Prime program candidates are recently hired police officers--Hurtt said Oxnard has recruited about 40 within the last three years--who may not already have set down roots elsewhere.

But Hurtt, who has lived in ritzy River Ridge since he was hired three years ago, won’t be one of them.

“If that program was available when I moved here, that was something I would have considered,” he said.

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Rookie cop Kevin Goolsby, on the force 4 1/2 months, said he might look into the program, even though he recently purchased a condominium elsewhere.

“I’d rather have a house than a condo,” he said.

City officials don’t expect an immediate flood of loan applications from police. Money could be held in reserve if it takes time to induce an officer to move, Fuentes said.

Despite their reluctance, officers concede a policeman living on a block could make a big difference in the neighborhood. Residents think so, too.

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“Almost any new, innovative thing kind of takes time to get started,” said Bonnie Trent, Southwinds Neighborhood Council chairwoman. “I think it will happen.”


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