Even so, the neighborhood shares in visible and visceral signs of neglect just the same.
On any given morning during the work week, numerous children are walked by their parents across the street to board buses for the school day. The yellow crosswalks were only recently put up by the city and only after residents of the community raised the issue. It was a welcomed improvement in an area far from the glare of media and nonprofits, in an area where many more improvements still are needed.
Helping to facilitate the process that led to something as simple to community as yellow crosswalks was former resident Marisol Ramirez.
It took many weeks and a lot of phone calls to the city, as the 21-year-old college student recounts it, just to get a city worker physically
there. She helped translate from Spanish as parents addressed the needs
as they saw them. In addition to the yellow crosswalks that came after the
meeting, white parking lines were also painted along side streets where lack of space is often an issue.
The neighborhood, sometimes dubbed 'ABC' for the avenues of Alameda, Brownwood and Catalina that form its parallel boundaries, is a tapestry of apartment complexes all in differing conditions with no singular landlord. STAR honor student posters proudly shine from windows where they are displayed on some rental units. After having listened to residents over time, the quality of life for all children is chief among their principal concerns.
Hidden from street view are central courtyards in the interior of many complexes and what passes for playgrounds. They lay barren with little to no grass, have swing sets without swings, and slides that are all tagged up. At dusk, there's no lighting. “I keep my children inside,” one resident tells me in Spanish. All but one of the swimming pools are empty. They stay fenced off collecting garbage and dirtied rainwater.
Ramirez remembers having spent most of her childhood years growing up in the community. The family originally moved into her aunt's apartment there when she was around the age of four. After a number of years, they
settled into their own unit down the street where she lived until she
was sixteen. “The conditions are actually the same now as I remember
growing up,” Ramirez says.”Only when we moved out did we see how different things were.”
Many apartments didn't have air conditioning back then and those with wall units didn't always work. “During the summer, when it would get really hot, the pool was always
something I remember my parents asking the landlord about,” Ramirez remembers. The promises ultimately turned out to be as empty as the pools themselves and remain so to this day. For summer play, she and her childhood friends improvised with water balloons or by inventing flips off the swing sets without swings.
Though the courtyards are not public property, the city of Anaheim does have community preservation services with property maintenance standards. The Planning Department has the ability to hold those who own buildings, among others, accountable for conditions. “The city comes for some things and not for others,” a resident relays.
Without any rent control or basic tenant rights, there is a palpable trepidation about raising concerns. With managers in between, some residents don't even know the name of their landlords. One person spoke about being no longer able to afford the rising cost of a two-bedroom unit and having to move into the crowded quarters of a one-bedroom apartment instead. It's an experience that Ramirez can relate to.
“There were months where our rent would get increased every time for no reason at all,” she says, noting her mother's worries about making ends meet. “In apartments and neighborhoods like this, rent doesn't match the living conditions at all.” Though her family ultimately moved out, the neighborhood remains,
with new generations moving in and experiencing the same old neglect.
Ramirez sees potential in revitalizing the parks and the possibility of a community center on a plot of open land that currently rests as dormant as the dirt. Some of Ramirez's peers went down the path of gangs and drug abuse, so she's hopeful that raising the quality of life here would lessen the chances of that for others in the future. Either way, it shouldn't take a tragedy, whether in the form of hood violence or a police shooting, for people to start paying attention.
For Genevieve Huizar, mother of Manuel Diaz, a 25-year-old killed by a policeman in a July 21, 2012 shooting currently under investigation and subject to a massive civil rights lawsuit, it's already too late. At an emergency city council meeting at Cook Auditorium on August 8, 2012, she made a heartfelt plea for the city's future following the summer's unrest that echo the concerns of residents here in this community on the west side of town.
“It's time to make a change in Anaheim. It's time to make a difference in the neighborhoods of Anaheim,” Huizar said. “Give the children a chance to grow in a healthy environment. Give them a recreation place. Give them a swimming pool.”
Those words from a grieving mother reverberate through Anna Drive and beyond.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!