Monday, July 30, 2012

Please Don't Call It Anacrime

So much has been reported elsewhere already on the powder keg that Anaheim has become.  Two more names added to a growing list of those killed in Officer Involved shootings. Protestors in masks screaming into bullhorns. A demonstration gone terribly, terribly wrong. Rioting and looting. Horrific images that seem to be of some other place, some other people. Is this really Anaheim?

Other than finger pointing and blame, nobody is really talking about the underlying cause of the spark that lit a fuse years in the making. Mainstream Anaheim wants to blame the gang members and the ’hood rats who enable their criminal activity. The violent gangs are certainly one of our major issues, but can any of us really look Manny “Stomper” Diaz’ heartbroken mother in the eye and tell her that her son had it coming to him? The disaster facing Anaheim today is the outcome of many influences, including different cultures, various political agendas, severe budget cuts, raw ambition, and exploitation from special interests, mixed with extreme failure to communicate in even the most basic sense.

This week I am reporting on that giant melting pot of misery, and hopefully we can begin to lay some blame where it belongs (you will be surprised-or maybe not), but, most of all, I hope to begin some discussion that might create some positive and constructive solutions, in the hope that never again will I turn on the evening news to see my favorite neighborhood grocery clerk cleaning up shattered glass from rioters who rampaged within walking distance of my home.

To that end, I have spent the last week quietly interviewing people from a variety of backgrounds, each with a compelling story to tell that illuminates our surroundings. What I found fascinating was how each of those stories became a puzzle piece, and when they are all put together we hopefully will have a better idea of the picture on the front of the jigsaw box. I suspect it is not going to be an image we want to frame for the family room wall.

 The neighborhoods where these fatalities take place scream disenfranchisement. It is easy to understand their bitterness. Let’s face it, few Council candidates walk the precincts of Ponderosa, Anna Drive, or Guinida Lane looking for votes, nor do they spend much time there after they’ve been elected. Except, perhaps, to show up for a neighborhood event long only enough for a photo op. (Arriving for a “work day” in a blinding white skirt and gardening gloves is a dead giveaway. But I digress.) The residents of these neighborhoods know who is, and who is not, really there to help. These people are poor, but they are not stupid. A very, very few have reacted with anger. Most are gathering strength for something more constructive. Perhaps something like Anaheim used to be.

Once upon a time, Anaheim benefitted from true CommunityPolicing programs,bringing together local residents and business owners, boots-on-the-ground police officers, Code Enforcement, and social services agencies. Those cops had the time to get to know the people they were protecting, and they got to know them as people. As a cop who knows his beat, when that thug-who-needs-to-go-to-jail runs for the alley, you know where he’s going, because you know his Mom, and his sister, and his next door neighbor. You know that when you get to Momma’s apartment she is going to hand that kid over to you, because she knows you are only taking her son to jail, not the County morgue. Code Enforcement went after the slumlords to improve living conditions, creating a sense of pride in areas that had long lived without it. Social services helped residents with access to resources, including helping the homeless with programs, rather than moving them on to someone else’s neighborhood park. Locals stepped up and took responsibility for themselves, knowing that someone with power and authority finally had their backs. It worked.
That effort was successful because those who knew what was needed worked together to create a plan, and that plan received the backing and resources of City Council and, specifically, then-Mayor Tom Daly (yes, occasionally even Democrats can be the good guys). For a time, government in Anaheim did what government does best-provide the services as a collective whole that allow individuals to provide for themselves. No nanny-state, just a true partnership of taxpayers and the stewards of those tax dollars.
Then, under Mayor Curt Pringle’s reign, Community Policing programs came to an end, at least in function. They still called it Community Policing, but the opportunity for cops to get out of their cars and get to know the key players face to face was lost to long shifts without partners or back-up. Tensions rose as Police and residents became nameless faces separated by the window of a cop car on a slow cruise down a street that none of them wanted to be on anymore.

Code Enforcement was changed to “Community Preservation” in an attempt to be more “freedom friendly.” In large part, that worked out to just be slumlord friendly. Residents lost hope as their complaints of hot and cold running cockroaches were ignored, then became bitter following the retaliation from absentee owners acting with the complete knowledge that the City Attorney would do nothing to them. Graffiti trucks routinely sat in the City yard for lack of repair funds, although a replacement truck could be had for the cost of, say, one Rose Parade float  (not that I am bitter). The message was loud and clear: business was the priority at City Hall. Residents, at least those who did not contribute to campaigns, would have to take a back seat.
I want to believe that the previous administration’s motives were pure, at least in the beginning. Focus on building a tax base through business development, the logic goes, and eventually we can bring that economic resource into the community. The grand experiment in business-centric policy failed. Anaheim’s unemployment rate at the end of when Pringle’s term actually exceeded that of the County as a whole

The downward spiral had begun. The economy in the toilet, neighborhoods in decline. A Police force so underfunded that cops were stressed out and afraid of the streets they were sworn to protect, with the result that the people began to fear the stressed-out cops. Quite a legacy to be handed to a new City Council.
Anaheim is not lost. Dazed and hurt from a beating, but not lost. Today, we tart up my neighborhood with the moniker of “Anaheim Colony Historic District,” but the reality is that I live in the inner city. Unless those brave souls who moved in here before me stood their ground in what had become a war zone, I would never have brought my kids here. It was an effort that made a real, long lasting difference, and thankfully “the Colony” was able to hold onto many of those improvements despite the last decade of civic leadership.
Mayor Tom Tait has looked to those success stories like “the Colony”, as examples of how the City might be pulled back from the brink. “HiNeighbor” has been ridiculed by some as a band-aid on a cancer patient, but it is based on the success of the Anaheim Colony neighborhood, and it is a beginning. The Council as a whole has balanced the budget, managing somehow to stop depleting the reserves while beefing up the APD budget to replace cops as they retire.  And an outside investigation of previous APD incidents had been authorized prior to the latest shootings, for which the State Attorney General and Federal investigators have been called in. If we learn from our mistakes we can fix this. The images of Tuesday’s riot are not indicative of who Anaheim is as a city. Instead, the image of Anaheim is the volunteers who showed up Wednesday  morning, activated by facebook and twitter, to quietly clean up someone else’s mess.

Anaheim did not get to this place overnight, and recent events are not the result of any one situation. To say that everyone on either side is all good or all bad is just too simplistic. While I hope that through strong leadership and a sense of purpose Anaheim can recover our sense of place faster than we lost it, I guarantee it will not happen until we all take the time to work together, and that starts with putting our own political agendas aside listening to what others have to say.

While interviewing people this last week I heard things I could never have guessed at, from some folks in and out of Anaheim I would not ordinarily encounter. Some of what I heard made me cry, and quite a lot of information led me to apologize, profusely, to people I had characterized as evil. Some information just confirmed the evil I had long suspected in others.

I greatly appreciate Marlena Carrillo of Kelly’s Army agreeing to speak to me, and set the record straight about events I had blamed her Fullerton group for. I am awaiting video proof that shows both sides of the argument, but I will be proactive and publicly apologize in advance.

My greatest apologies go to Mayor Tom Tait. I liked him, even when he was running against my friend, Shirley McCracken. But my only memory of his leadership on City Council was based on his last two years, as he helped his friend, and newly elected Mayor, begin those “Freedom Friendly” policies that became such a disaster for our neighborhoods. And when so many people, with agendas that appear to be polar opposites of Tait’s voting record and stated philosophies, began pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign, one has to question what they think they are buying.  I feared that his platform of “Freedom and Kindness” would apply only to well-heeled developers.

 If all that campaign money was intended to buy Anaheim’s special interests a Mayor, Tom Tait never got the memo. He has rooted out special interest back-door deals and slammed those doors (and a few windows left open by previous leaders)  firmly shut.  I have never been so glad to be so wrong about another human being in my life.

One can imagine that if this long-winded diatribe is my introduction, the body of the series is likely to be involved. We are going to break down the elements of how Anaheim got here, one by one, and make hamburger out of a few sacred cows. Please stay with us for the series. 

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