The numbers speak for themselves.
While crime rates are spiking countrywide, they are going the opposite direction in Huntington Beach’s historically underserved Oak View neighborhood. Violent crimes have dropped 41 percent since 2006 and property crimes have gone down by 49 percent.
While many deserve credit for the turnaround in this 99-percent Latino community, the lion’s share goes to the Oak View Renewal Partnership (OVRP), a nonprofit started in 2006 by local business leader Jack Shaw.
“Until now, we were just a story and something people talked about,” said Yesenia Velez Ochoa, OVRP’s executive director, at a celebration this week of the organization’s accomplishments.“But now we have the proof and the data to support the impact we have made through the past ten years.”
Among the more notable improvements have been police-resident relations. “The police got more involved with the residents and we got to know each other on a more personal level, leading to better relationships and communication,” Lt. Kent Ferrin, watch commander for the Huntington Beach Police Department.
The progress can also be seen in the neighborhood schools.
“We got parents involved,” said Robert Tapia, the community outreach specialist for Ocean View High School. “We found a way to have them be more involved in getting their kids to college while giving them an opportunity to gain new skills as well.”
The parents were invited to join in on computer literacy classes which teaches them to use email, Google translate and a slew of other resources that allow them to check on their kids’ education as well as allowing them to develop their own skills.
The Oak View parents have also become more knowledgable about the health issues within their community. Within the past decade, there has been a 28 percent reduction in childhood obesity as a result of a greater emphasis on exercise and nutrition.
“It has been great to come back to my community and help in such a positive way,” Jadira Lopez, Healthy Communities Manager at the OVRP and Oak View resident. “The zumba classes I started organizing are really successful and I now have women so involved that they teach their own exercise classes.”
One reality that the OVRP has not been able to change is the neighborhood’s minuscule homeownership rate — 97 percent of its residents are renters.
Vice President and community development officer at Wells Fargo and OVRP board member, Vivian Pham, said “We can’t just build new housing, that would take millions of dollars. So right now we do our best to keep the residents informed about tenant rights.”
There is also talk about making the community more environmentally friendly. With help from the University of California Irvine and the city of Huntington Beach, the Oak View community is working to become more sustainable.
“We have empowered the community and brought it together to build a better environment and it will be great to move forward and watch it remain positive and begins to stand on its own,” said resident Jadira Lopez.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Robert Tapia’s job title.
Vanessa Sandoval is a Santa Ana resident and student at UC Irvine. She can be reached at [email protected].