Officials discuss safety at Westside town hall

About 50 residents filled Harbor Christian Fellowship church Monday night to share their concerns about speeding traffic, rehabilitation homes, gang and drug activity, and other Westside issues during a town hall meeting sponsored by Councilwoman Wendy Leece.

"Our City Council wants to work with the residents and the Police Department and know your concerns," said Leece, her words translated from English to Spanish by Pastor Christian Parra.

Officer Julian Trevino said the area near the church — the Police Department's 10th district — saw 382 calls for service in January that ran the gamut from traffic tickets and patrol checks to fires and assaults. Calls for service to the entire city during the same time period equaled 7,533, according to police.

The district reaches north-south between Joann and Victoria streets and east-west from Harbor Boulevard to the river bank. In 2012, the area saw 6,000 calls for service, Trevino said.

Last year, the Costa Mesa Police Department arrested 4,100 suspects. The largely Spanish-speaking audience seated inside the A-frame building at 740 W. Wilson Street gasped when a translating mix-up related that 4,100 were arrested in the district alone. The area saw 123 arrests in all of last year.

"Don't scare them," Trevino said.

Other residents wrote questions to the speakers regarding poor lighting in an alley near Joann Street, while some voiced concerns about drug and gang activity.

"It made some sense, and we'll review the issue … and look to address it in the next budget," city CEO Tom Hatch said about the lighting Tuesday morning.

At the meeting, Trevino addressed the drug and gang activity, saying, "We do still have a narcotics unit and gang unit. They're still here working, doing their diligence. Again, it's all about communication. We're here 24 hours. Give us a call. You can always be anonymous."

Some residents were surprised at the town hall meeting when Hatch said 126 rehab homes — 26% of the total countywide — are inside Costa Mesa city limits.

"Too many, that's too many in Costa Mesa," Hatch said. "We're carrying more than our share of those facilities in our city."

The city hired three employees to address issues surrounding rehab homes, Hatch said.

"If they're not being good neighbors or they're creating problems in their area, we'll crack down on them," he said.

While one resident said police didn't respond to her call for an extended period of time, Hatch said the city worked to balance cost and safety, hiring the sixth police officer in six weeks Monday.

Adding 100 officers, though, wouldn't be feasible, he said.

Multiple residents asked about police officers at TeWinkle Middle School, requesting more patrols.

"The police chief does know this is an important issue to you, and again, we are hiring, but we know the schools are a high priority," Hatch said. "I will say it's not just an issue of having an officer standing at a school. If you have kids at TeWinkle, you need to get involved in the school."

Margarita Barrera, an eight-year Costa Mesa resident, said she came to the meeting because she's concerned about the safety of her neighborhood for her 8-year-old son. While she hopes the city can install more streetlights in her area near Joann Street, she noted that she has seen an improvement since moving there. Life in Costa Mesa, compared with Santa Ana or Anaheim where her family lives, is much more tranquil, she said.

"I like it a lot more here," Barrera said.

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