Creating a community

Claudia Peschiutta

SOUTH GLENDALE -- Margarita Ruiz will tell you La Crescenta is the

better, more tranquil area, that southern Glendale has seen only negative

changes since she first moved into the area in 1967.

But she lives in a cozy apartment on Chevy Chase Boulevard and has no

plans to move.

"I feel good here," the 69-year-old Cuban native says in Spanish.

The incongruity comes as little surprise from a woman who shows off

the scar from her recent open heart surgery while keeping an open pack of

Pall Malls within reach.

Ruiz explains that everything she needs is near her apartment -- a

Cuban market, her doctor, a post office.

"Esta muy [handy]," she says.

Her best friend, Rosa Ynocencio, who lives a few blocks away, usually

drops by in the evenings, when the two enjoy watching "novellas," or soap

operas, over fruit shakes or hot chocolate.

A COMMUNITY OF CONTRASTS

Beyond the door of Ruiz's home lie more contrasts.

Near a strip of sidewalk marked by colorful graffiti, a storefront

boasts a certificate announcing participation in a "CLEAN Sweep" effort.

Down the block from an apartment building marred by fading paint and

water damage is a house with a carefully tended garden, blooming roses

filling its large, circular planters.

On streets where residents complain about gang activity, kids ride

their bikes without fear.

Perhaps the most noticeable of all the contrasts is that southern

Glendale -- which contains much of the land that made up the city when it

was incorporated in 1906 -- has come to be its most ignored area,

according to many of the people who live there.

"The city fathers never paid much attention to south Glendale," said

John Cianfrini, who has lived and done business in the area for more than

30 years.

"[Before the mid 1990s] there was a different group in City Hall. They

all lived in north Glendale," he said. "They took care of themselves."

A NEED FOR ATTENTION

As the city expanded and attracted increasing numbers of residents

over the years, many settled in southern Glendale, making the need for

attention greater.

From 1980 to 1990, U.S. Census figures show the city experienced a

surge in its population. The most dramatic growth came south of Broadway,

where the number of residents grew from 38,491 to 55,453.

Many of the new residents found homes in southern Glendale, where

several apartments were available to accommodate the influx.

Today, the area is recognized as the most densely populated district

of the city.

The high concentration of people and the number of aging buildings in

the area have generated deterioration, said Jess Duran, assistant

director of the city's Community Development and Housing Department.

"Southern Glendale has neighborhoods that need revitalization, that

need extra attention in order to arrest continued decline," he said.

'MONEY STARTED COMING OUT OF THE CRACKS'

Observers say the area sparked extra attention from city officials

beginning in the mid-1990s.

"The money started to come out of the cracks and into south Glendale,"

Cianfrini said.

In the past four years, city officials and others have made

significant efforts to improve the area for business owners and

residents.

Projects such as the Glendale Galleria attracted much of the city's

focus to the downtown area in the 1970s and '80s, but officials

eventually shifted some of their attention to other areas.

"While the Galleria continued to do well, the rest of the retail

market was struggling," states the Greater Downtown Strategic Plan,

developed in 1996. "The surrounding neighborhoods were experiencing

problems. The impact of the unprecedented building boom of the 1980s was

being felt. These dramatic changes resulted in a strong sense of

frustration concerning the quality of life in the neighborhoods."

A COMMERCIAL ENDEAVOR

A year later, the city looked beyond the Greater Downtown area and

began work on a revitalization of the Adams Square commercial district,

which houses about 40 shops and other businesses in southern Glendale.

City officials, working in conjunction with local business owners and

residents, have developed a two-part improvement plan for Adams Square,

which begins at Chevy Chase and Acacia Avenue and winds south along the

boulevard to Adams Street and Palmer Avenue.

Street lights were installed along Acacia in 1999 and the Adams Square

Merchants Assn. formed in March.

Hoping to enhance the appearance of the district, where many of the

storefronts are in need of repair, a facade improvement grant program was

developed through which merchants could apply for up to $10,000 for

repair costs.

"The buildings are old and, maybe, to keep rents reasonable, property

owners aren't likely to spend money on them," Duran said.

Cianfrini, who runs Crysti Cleaners on Adams Street and heads the

merchants' association, compared the rundown area to a "derelict ship."

But he has high hopes for the facade program. Its first six projects

could begin within one or two months, and other improvements are planned.

"If you look at it a year from now, you'll be shocked," he said.

"It'll be a completely different place. It's going to be beautiful."

Within the next six months, Duran said the city will start work on

projects to slow traffic along the streets of Adams Square and to

beautify the area.

The improvements include a central plaza with trees, benches and a

fountain for the corner of Chevy Chase and Adams and a landscaped center

median further east on Chevy Chase, near Acacia.

The second part of the revitalization plan remains in the development

stages but could include sidewalk improvements and additional street

lighting, Duran said.

Since 1995, the city has budgeted nearly $750,000 for improvements in

the Adams Square area, he said.

PARTNERS IN IMPROVEMENT

A much larger investment is being made, by the city and the Glendale

Unified School District, to improve another section of South Glendale.

The $39-million Edison-Pacific school and park relocation project will

transform the square block where Pacific Park now sits into a community

center with an elementary school, library, park and multipurpose

building.

The city, which is putting up $17.8 million of the total, has

purchased most of the 25 properties that will be razed for the project

and has begun relocating the people in those buildings.

Construction is expected to begin next year. The project could be

completed as early as 2002, Duran said.

Veronica Rangel, who lives in the area and has a child attending

Edison Elementary School, is anxious to see the Edison-Pacific complex

completed.

"I adore that project," she said, waiting for her 5-year-old son,

Alex, to finish his swimming lesson at the Pacific Park pool. "I love

what they're doing with it."

That's exactly the kind of excitement Duran hopes the Edison-Pacific

and Adams Square projects will generate among residents.

"If people see that the city and some of their neighbors are acting as

partners to make improvements in their neighborhoods ... then, it seems

to us, that they'd be more likely to take greater pride in their

neighborhood and in maintaining it," he said.

PROMOTING PRIDE

City Councilman Gus Gomez, who lives in the Adams Hill district, said

area residents already have a lot of pride.

"Most of the people I know in the southern portion of the city take a

great deal of pride in taking care of their properties. They take pride

in their neighborhoods, they take pride in their schools," Gomez said.

"There's a perception that, in essence, if you're north of the [134]

freeway, you have single-family homes and they're more established and

they're safer," he said.

"That's really a misconception ... I don't see our neighborhood as

being any different than any other neighborhood in the city. It's got its

pluses and its minuses. It's got its problems and benefits."

THE PARK PROBLEM

Among the minuses is a noticeable lack of park space.

Glendale Parks Director Nello Iacono said the entire city lacks

developed park land, "but the greatest deficiency is in the southern

portion of the city."

The root of the problem may go back as far as 70 years, he said.

"Adequate park land space was not set aside," Iacono explained. "Our

population increase far outstripped the park land."

While 30.8% of the city's residents live south of Broadway, there are

only five parks in the area, totaling about 18 acres.

At the request of community members, the city formed a 25-member panel

last year to find ways to improve parks and recreational facilities

throughout Glendale.

In February, the group recommended the city develop 23 acres of park

land in southern Glendale by 2010.

"Parks are an integral part of our community," Iacono said. "It's one

of those ingredients, like libraries, like police, like streets, that

combined, enhance a community's quality of life."

Despite the needs in her neighborhood, Rangel, who grew up in southern

Glendale and has moved out of and returned to the area twice, said she

likes it there.

"Frankly, I would leave everything the way it is," she said.

But she realizes not everyone will see the area as she does.

"They have to live here in order to appreciate it," she said.

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