Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: County neighborhoods are being left out of Oak Park’s revival

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

No one could control the pit bull that stormed onto Lisa Currie’s property and horribly mauled her dog in a way that left her entire family – especially her 22-year-old daughter – deeply traumatized.

“It was her baby,” said Currie of the long-haired Chihuahua they’d named Roxi. The dog’s injuries were so extensive, Currie had to put it down.

“My daughter doesn’t want another dog. She is so upset.”

If this were Currie’s only story of feeling violated in her neighborhood, she could live with it even though the July 30 incident has left emotional wounds that have not yet healed.

“I’m trying to teach my kids that you don’t let people run over you,” the 49-year-old mother of two said.

But Currie’s attempts to imbue her teenage son and daughter with strength and self-confidence are being undone by frequent indignities caused by the people around her.

There was the used condom she found in front of her house recently. There were two pit bulls that lurked around her front fence on the Fourth of July, virtually trapping Currie and her house guests inside for a time.

There are the homeless people who squat in nearby abandoned buildings. There are illegal dumps on her street. There are the mentally ill passers-by, the drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps and unsavory characters who lurk everyday on her desperate little stretch of Roosevelt Avenue.

The street is in an unincorporated portion of the county surrounded by the city of Sacramento, with the city’s Oak Park lying immediately to the north and South Oak Park to the west.

You’ve heard of the great Oak Park revival in the media, how the northern edge of Oak Park is moving from blight to right?

It’s a feel-good story about the entrance to Oak Park on Broadway and Third Avenue being rebranded as the “Triangle District.”

The area is getting $12 million in new investment. It’s adding urban housing for young hipsters, and a brewery and a farmers market.

It’s a wonderful story, the best urban renewal story in the city.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, the most famous product of Oak Park, was an early supporter of bringing investment to the neighborhood gateway at Broadway – this after Oak Park had been a victim of an urban sprawl that siphoned away jobs and residents between 1960 and 1980.

Johnson escaped Oak Park in the early 1980s to become a basketball star at Cal and an elite NBA player, who later returned home to transform neighborhood schools into charter schools and to bring investment back to one of Sacramento’s urban nightmares.

But Currie’s side of Oak Park is disconnected from this story.

There are two Oak Parks now – the northern edge moving ahead and areas to the south that are being left behind.

Worst of all is an area of roughly 6,000 county residents with borders that run from 14th Avenue on the north, Fruitridge Avenue to the south, Martin Luther King Boulevard to the west and Stockton Boulevard to the east.

According to census figures, more than half of these people live below the poverty line and most of this group is under the age of 18.

Nearly 25 percent are unemployed. According to statistics from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, there have been 155 crimes reported in the area from Jan. 1 to July 31 – with most of those crimes being aggravated assaults, burglaries and robberies.

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna represents the area and had his eyes opened when he drove through on his own recently.

Serna then set about trying to find a Neighborhood Watch group of residents who could partner with him to turn things around.

He found none.

“In other neighborhoods, you would have people calling to report illegal dumping or dogs loose on the street or boarded buildings,” Serna said. “We weren’t getting any calls.”

It’s not that people don’t care. Currie cares. Her neighbor Debbie Haas cares. Other neighbors care.

But those who don’t care or those who are part of the problem outnumber them.

Fear is an everyday occurrence on Roosevelt Avenue. Currie said it begins with a marked difference of services between city and county, one she never knew existed until she moved from a city neighborhood in Oak Park to her current rented house.

“It’s like night and day,” she said, adding that she’s called the Sheriff’s Department on four different occasions and deputies responded only once.

Haas, who owns several properties on Roosevelt, said county dispatchers have told her that nothing could be done about her concerns over loitering and prostitution.

The biggest problem, Currie said, is that the simple rules of neighborliness, such as a respect for property rights, don’t exist here.

“On the city side of Oak Park, people were always out on the street. There was more of a feeling of community,” she said. “Over here, there are always sirens and hookers. Then we found a used condom in front of our home.”

Currie is contemplating moving for the sake of her children.

“Please don’t go,” Haas implored her recently while sitting in the tidy living room of Currie’s home. “We can’t let these people drive you away.”

If Currie does leave, it would be one deeper cut in a neighborhood that’s been bleeding for too long.

To save the neighborhood, county authorities will have to demonstrate they are backing residents who want to live in a nicer place.

“I want to have better relationships in this area,” Serna said. “I’m the guy that is supposed to be accountable.”

If others don’t take the call seriously as well, the neighborhood will sink even lower and only make the newspapers for terrible reasons.

It’s an urban crisis waiting for a response.