Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011 | Dozens of residents of Anaheim’s Ponderosa neighborhood filled their local library Monday evening to voice their concerns regarding funding issues and threats to their safety.

More than a hundred people attended the meeting at the Ponderosa Elementary School library, which was organized by local residents and the nonprofit organization OCCORD to foster dialogue between the community and city leaders.

Residents of the low-income neighborhood have been at odds recently with City Hall over public access to the new library and promised renovations to the adjacent park.

A joint-use agreement between the city and the Anaheim City School District calls for public access to the library after school hours and on weekends. But eight months after the library first opened, its doors continue to close when school lets out.

Residents involved in the park renovations are being told that the city won’t know before next spring whether the grants to fund the project have been approved.

Sitting in the front rows of Monday’s meeting were Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and City Council members Lorri Galloway, Kris Murray and Gail Eastman. The officials listened as several parents expressed concerns about school safety and funding for the library and adjacent park.

One woman spoke of a man threatening to rape her while she was on her way home from an evening computer class at the school library. She said she called Anaheim police and reported the man’s threat, as well as children trespassing on school grounds and others who had jumped off the roof of the library.

But, she said, the dispatcher didn’t treat her report as urgent, telling her that if she was in no immediate danger, police would put her call low on their priority list.

“Do you know how unsafe I felt at that moment?” the woman asked  council members. “To me it’s like the lady was telling me that I had to have gotten raped for someone to come and help me.”

William Mazariegos said his young daughter was almost run over by a speeding car while crossing Wilken Way, a road adjacent to the school. He added that many cars speed next to the school and asked that the city look into installing speed bumps.

“I know that sooner or later, somebody’s going to get into an accident,” he said. “Somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Later in the meeting, Carlos García told the council members that his son was run over by a car on that same road.

María Rosales, a parent and schoolyard supervisor, said she has found drug paraphernalia on the school grounds and beer bottles in the school’s play area.

“We are ready to work,” she told the council members. “We are open to hear from you, and we just need to organize ourselves in working with you.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Tait and the other council members praised the residents for opening the conversation and seeking solutions to community problems.

“We’re so proud of this neighborhood,” said Tait. “On your own, coming together to say, ‘You know what, this is our park, this is our school, and this is our library. And we want it fixed.’ “

The council members said they couldn’t respond to the concerns or make commitments at the meeting due to restrictions under the Brown Act, the state law governing public meetings, though they offered to meet individually with community representatives.

At the end of the meeting, Maria Villegas, the principal at Ponderosa Elementary, confirmed the parents’ concerns and asked city leaders to work with the residents to address the issues.

“What the parents are saying is absolutely true,” said Villegas. “There is a great need, but along with the great need there is a great group of families here who are invested and committed to seeing their kids succeed.”

Nick Gerda is a Voice of OC intern. You can reach him directly at ngerda@gmail.com

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