Westside Group Strengthens Ties, Addresses Ills
Driven by a desire to turn their community around, more than 60 residents of the Ventura Avenue area filled the neighborhood senior center Thursday night to address a laundry list of nagging urban ills.
The two-hour meeting was the second such event sponsored by the Westside Community Council, a coalition of residents and business owners who are determined to revitalize the city’s oldest borough, popularly known as “The Avenue.”
During Thursday’s meeting, leaders of the council’s various committees reported to the general membership on public safety, at-risk youths and homelessness.
Although clean and simple solutions have been tough to come by, the forum fulfilled one of its intended objectives: bringing together the city’s most problem-plagued yet close-knit community to work on common goals.
“We are a leader right now,” said outgoing council Chairman Tony Antinarelli. “At the end of the year, we are . . . actively moving forward.”
The Westside Community Council was created 18 months ago, after a series of shootings prompted residents to take action. A town hall meeting drew about 300 fed-up residents, many of whom have remained dedicated to curbing crime and upgrading their community.
In the past year, the group has transformed a weed-choked vacant lot into a community park, registered local voters and flexed its new political muscle by holding forums on key westside issues.
Just last month, the group held its first City Council candidates’ forum, which drew more than 80 residents to the senior center.
“There are issues that people care about,” said Lauri Flack, the outgoing council treasurer, who was elected 1996 chairwoman Thursday night. “I think the overriding issue now is revitalizing this community.”
The council is working on a revitalization plan for The Avenue that involves attracting businesses to the area and getting the city to fund public improvements, such as new sidewalks, curbs and street lights.
“We still have a lot of improvements pending for next year,” said Phil Reed, a westside resident who heads the organization’s revitalization committee.
Concerned about the future of the Avenue Library, resident Maxine Culp targeted Councilman Jim Monahan, the only Ventura City Council member to stay through the end of the meeting. Rosa Lee Measures and Councilman-Elect Ray Di Guilio attended briefly.
“We are going to need your help to keep our library open,” Culp said to Monahan. A parcel tax on the November ballot aimed at bailing out the Avenue Library and other city library branches failed to win the necessary two-thirds voter approval.
Another issue addressed by residents Thursday night was how to deal with the area’s homeless people.
Angry residents complained to the city’s parks department recently when a local church started feeding homeless people in the parking lot of the Westside Recreation Center. They said this philanthropic activity was encouraging drunkards and transients to linger in a place where children play, residents said.
“Kids don’t need to be exposed to that,” said Flack, who also chairs the council’s homeless committee. “Our biggest challenge there is, how do you help the homeless without hurting neighborhoods?”
Another issue affecting the westside community is voter registration and this month’s turnout at the polls. The Avenue traditionally has had the lowest voter turnout in the city, and this year was no exception.
Despite a concentrated get-out-the-vote effort and the candidates’ forum, Ventura Avenue residents had the poorest representation at the polls of any area in the city--just 17.2% of the community’s registered voters compared to the city’s 34.8% average.
At the end of the meeting, the council selected its officers for next year. Along with Flack’s election, Mike del Dosso will serve as vice chairman, Kacy Stafford will be secretary and Lori Naurnburg will serve as treasurer.