Graffiti down? Gangs moving out? Whole-scale litter removal and a community garden to boot?
Welcome to the new Lake Park Villa apartments. It's the subdivision between Redwood Road and Decker Lake. The one with the sizable Southeast Asian population right outside of Chesterfield. The one that's been better known as Little Saigon and Marina del Decker for a number of years.Well, the makeup's essentially the same, but the song has changed.
Property owners and residents are cleaning up the area's 52 four-plex buildings and grounds, initiating neighborhood watches, forming a property owners association, holding English-as-a-second-language classes and generally taking more pride in their community.
"It's getting to where we can go out at night. It's changed a lot in two months," said Julie Giles, a resident organizer of the local neighborhood watch. "They're evicting people left and right and trying to get the mellower people in. We're trying to make it a better place, more family-oriented."
John Jonkman, the majority property owner in the multiowner subdivision, got the ball rolling earlier this year, after he lost his full-time job. Jonkman, a former customer representative accustomed to 60-hour workweeks, says his No. 1 priority is "getting this place cleaned up."
He puts in significantly fewer hours at Lake Park - a resident manager and maintenance man work under him - but he's just as dedicated to the current task at hand. Jonkman calls his new project "a work in progress."
In April, Jonkman organized an apartment owners association. The group's goal is to coordinate resources and share information. There are 26 property owners at the 52 buildings. Jonkman, who owns 12 buildings, says he has nearly $1.5 million invested in Lake Park.
"We're trying to get it back to the potential the subdivision has," Jonkman said. "We're trying to improve the quality of life of the people here."
But Jonkman also said he's targeting a more upscale, professional clientele. Specifically, he has his eye on the estimated 5,000 employees at nearby Decker Lake business park. He noted that the current rents, now $450 to $465 per month, will be "going up significantly." Right now, Jonkman is concentrating on making visible improvements and evicting trouble-makers.
Lake Park Villa was built in 1972 by United Homes. But in the early 1980s, nearly 75 percent of the buildings were in foreclosure. They were also owned by mostly out-of-state investors, said Jonkman, who purchased his property in 1978. A valleywide vacancy rate of 25 percent during the 1980s only compounded the problem, he added.
"We were letting them go for cheap. We weren't taking security deposits and we weren't doing background checks. Our standards were very low. We just wanted to get them occupied," Jonkman said.
Giles, a longtime resident of the area, has lived at Lake Park only three months now. But having grown up in Chesterfield, she remembers the old days when Lake Park was "very gross" and "filthy."
"There were a lot of drugs and gangs because that was the only way they had of getting on their feet," Giles said. "There were lots of shootings."
Consequently, there was a lot of fear of retaliation among residents. But no more.
West Valley police statistician officer Dave Shopay reports calls are up from the community, an indication that residents feel empowered enough to report what they see and hear to police. And although violent crime like aggravated assault, assault and homicide has yet to show significant decreases, community oriented police officer Andy Shavers says "there's not much of a gang problem anymore." Graffiti, which tends to erupt in cycles, has shown a recent decline, he said.
"We're on the phone to 911 immediately," Giles said. "You gotta do it. You have to stand up and fight or they'll run all over you. It's been a lot of work for us as a neighborhood, but there have been a lot of improvements. I'm just fighting for what's right for my kids."
In May, Lake Park received a neighborhood watch program. In June, volunteers helped residents plant a now-flourishing community garden. English-as-a-second-language classes also began that month in the COP office. Last month, a neighborhood cleanup for kids netted a six-pack of soda for a girl with nine garbage bags full of trash. Still, a neighborhood picnic is planned next week; artists are being sought to help design the first Lake Park Mural Project; and a minipark is scheduled to open sometime in the fall.
"I've lived here all my life, and I don't plan on leaving it. My roots are here, my family is here and my kids here," Giles said. " I like it. (Lake Park is) getting cleaner and safer. If we can just keep the communication up with the landowners and residents, we can keep it going."