Sylmar community, police debate gang injunction

By Brandon Lowrey Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 05/07/2008 11:14:36 PM PDT

SYLMAR – Los Angeles prosecutors and police told hundreds of Sylmar and San Fernando residents Wednesday that an injunction limiting gang movements is needed to stamp out a violent San Fernando Valley gang, despite fears that the measure would criminalize their communities and cause home values to plummet.

The injunction was requested last month against the San Fers, one of the San Fernando Valley’s oldest gangs, which has ties to the drug trade and the Mexican Mafia.

“This is a long-term problem and a gang injunction is truly a long-term solution,” said Bruce Riordan, head of anti-gang operations for the City Attorney’s Office.

“They choose their territory, and they’ll fight to the death over it.”

In the request, prosecutors said the San Fers are so menacing on the streets of San Fernando and Sylmar that they have turned residents into “virtual prisoners in their own homes.”

While residents say they applaud police efforts to make their neighborhoods safer, they think the injunction – which covers 9.5 square miles, or all of San Fernando and Sylmar – is too broad and unfairly criminalizes a wide area.

Eugene Hernandez, a local community activist and a former Sylmar Neighborhood Council member, was one of about 200 people who crammed into an auditorium Wednesday night at Olive Vista Middle School.

“Don’t stigmatize the entire community,” he told officials and the audience. He said the injunction is like using a “broadsword” instead of a scalpel to attack the gang problem.

The town-hall meeting was called by Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarc n after complaints from Sylmar residents who fear that the injunction will cause property values to fall.

Alarc n said Wednesday that he wanted to learn more about the injunction, which he said he was not aware of until the request for the court order was made.

The councilman could not say whether he is for or against it at this point, but he questioned the way prosecutors depicted Sylmar in their injunction request, filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court.

“I just don’t get the sense that most of the people in Sylmar are walking around terrorized,” he said, noting that he spent a recent afternoon in a Sylmar park and did not see a gang member.

Some middle-class homeowners say they have sunk their life savings into homes and that the injunction – one of the largest in the city – could scare away homebuyers, and reduce home values. But others say it could raise property values by cutting crime.

Frank Gonzalez, 38, lived in Sylmar for 30 years before moving away, but returns often to visit his mother.

“I don’t think it will lower the value (of homes). I think it will raise it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s going to lower the crime rate. … because they’re clamping down on crime.”

Michel Moore, deputy LAPD police chief and the San Fernando Valley’s top cop, said officers have been powerless to do anything about known gang members who hang around on street corners, up to no good.

“What is occurring? Is it a pinochle game?” Moore asked the audience rhetorically.

The audience appeared split on the issue, with healthy applause greeting comments for and against the injunction.

A judge is scheduled to hear the request June 24.

If approved, it would be the fifth gang injunction in the San Fernando Valley and the 37th citywide.

Gang members would be restricted from gathering in public places, being in the presence of drugs, or carrying spray paint or anything else that could be used for graffiti.

The San Fers, started in 1920s by the children of immigrant farmers as a protective group, has since evolved into a major drug distributor, police say. The gang claims the area between the 118 and 210 freeways and Interstate 5, where, officials say, gang members terrorize neighborhoods and recruit kids.

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