The cleanup and refurbishment of Van Nuys Boulevard was declared the top priority at the first Targeted Neighborhoods Initiative meeting in Van Nuys, during which residents complained to Mayor Richard Riordan about problems involving gangs, human excrement, illegal dumping and a lack of social services.
About 200 residents, the mayor, Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski and representatives of the city Planning Department met Thursday night at Van Nuys Elementary School to set priorities on spending a $3-million federal block grant in the community over the next three years.
For nearly two hours, frustrated residents sounded off about the lack of support they say they have received from city agencies.
In a heated exchange over the homeless issue, Anne Martin, a volunteer at the Independent Living Center, handed pictures to the mayor of human waste on the lawn outside the facility for adults with disabilities.
"We have to have someplace for the homeless to go and use the restroom and take a shower," Martin said. "If you refuse to give them a place to go then what do you expect them to do?"
Riordan responded to residents' complaints by saying the money being used for the TNI could help solve some of the problems, but that the key was for people in Van Nuys to get involved.
"If you expect government to solve your problems without you getting involved, government will always fail you," Riordan said. "You have to get together as a community and have a commitment to improve your community. The leadership has to start in the community."
At the end of the evening, planners asked for a show of hands to get a sense of priorities. The number raising their hands in support of cleaning up Van Nuys Boulevard was so overwhelming that planners immediately named it the top priority without an actual count.
On issues that did get a count, crime and gangs received 40 votes, improved lighting garnered 21, adding speed bumps received 17, addressing homelessness got 14 and affordable housing received 12. Another issue that garnered support was cleaning up illegal dumping.