Anaheim parents in the Edison neighborhood have had enough.
They’re demanding city officials address safety and equity concerns in their neighborhood – calls they say city council members have ignored for years.
Their renewed demands come about a month after Juan Carlos Reynaga, a 17-year-old Anaheim High School student and varsity football player, was gunned down on a dimly lit street while walking home after finishing his shift at Walmart.
A car pulled up and asked him if he was part of a gang.
He told them no.
They killed him.
For many in the neighborhood the murder of Juan Carlos, a teenager who had nothing to do with gangs, is the last straw.
“We’ve had enough, we lost a young man who was trying to be something different who had a lot of dreams,” Sandra Levya, a resident and parent, said in a Friday phone interview in Spanish.
City leaders got a stark warning a decade ago about the dangers and challenges gangs and other indicators pose to Anaheim’s youth – following a riot that triggered a commissioned study suggesting more city investments in at-risk neighborhoods.
City leaders can’t easily speak to what kinds of programs they’ve developed over the past decade to give kids like Juan Carlos a better chance.
In the wake of Juan Carlos’ killing, there is more talk from city leaders at Edison on Friday about programs that are coming.
Both youth service providers and educators said gangs were among the top challenges Anaheim’s youth face according to a youth services assessment done by the Anaheim Community Foundation back in 2012.
“Providers saw gangs and gang involvement as a top challenge facing Anaheim youth, having seen violence on the increase in recent years. More offerings, safe supervision, and parent education were identified as potential solutions to address this challenge,” the assessment reads.
Read the assessment here.
When asked in an email how city officials have implemented that report in Anaheim since its release 10 years ago, city spokesman Mike Lyster didn’t have an answer.
Parents said not much has changed in their area even after many years of attending city council and school board meetings.
The killing is also sparking questions on the disparities found in city resources in different parts of Anaheim and why a city that is home to the Disneyland resort just a few miles away from the neighborhood is struggling to provide community services to working class families in this part of town.
Two Anaheims: Disparities Between Different Parts of Town
Levya points to a disparity when it comes to public safety and quality of life aspects in the Edison community in the 92805 zip code versus the more affluent neighborhoods in Anaheim Hills in the 92807 zip code.
“We don’t have parks like Anaheim Hills. We don’t have parks that look like theirs. We live in the same city,” she said. “We are the zipcode with the most poor, the zipcode with the most violence, the zipcode where we don’t have the same resources.”
“We don’t have a community center like Ponderosa Park.”
According to data available on the city website, the city in 2019 had a crime rate of 2,662 per 100,000 residents – higher than the County which that year had a crime rate of 2,084 per 100,000 residents.
The dataset can be used to show the difference in crime rates around two different parks in the city roughly the same size – Edison Park in the north central side of the city near Fullerton and Sycamore Park in Anaheim Hills.
A crime map on the city’s website shows that within a 2 mile radius of Edison Park there have been 300 crimes between July 9 – Aug. 4 one of which was homicide. The most reported crime was larceny with 70 incidents reported and the second most was assault with 48 incidents.
In that same time period, the crime map shows that within a 2 mile radius of the Sycamore Park located in Anaheim Hills there have been 42 crimes reported including 2 assaults. No homicides were reported. The most reported crime was larceny with 16 incidents reported and the second most was drug/alcohol related incidents with 10 reported.
To view crime trends in Anaheim click here.
Councilman Stephen Faessel – who attended Friday night’s walk and took questions from a reporter – said the city works hard to address inequaties.
When asked for specifics, he said that the city is in the process of hiring more police officers.
“However, hiring police right now at this point in time is difficult but we’re doing our best (offering) up to and including a $15,000 signing bonus,” Faessel said.
Anaheim City Council members allocated about $172 million of the city’s $409 million general fund to police spending and about $41 million for community services, according to the city’s 2022-23 adopted operating budget.
In general terms, that means Anaheim spends 42% of its general fund on police, while spending 10% on community services.
Orange County’s Health Equity Map also shows disparities in crime in Anaheim between census tracts in the hills and the areas west of the 57 freeway.
Four of the census tracts in the east part of town in or around Anaheim Hills averaged 118 violent crimes per 10,000 residents while the rest of the census tracts in the area averaged 82 violent crimes per 10,000 residents or less.
Meanwhile, over 20 census tracts west of the 57 freeway average 118 violent crimes per 10,000 residents including the census tract that encompasses Edison Park, according to the equity map.
The only part of the city where the average was 61 violent crimes per 10,000 residents was one census tract in Anaheim Hills.
Crime is not the only disparity the equity map shows in Anaheim.
In the census tract that encompasses Edison Park, close to 17% of households are on food stamps.
The Edison Park area, along with the neighborhoods West of the 57 freeway, is one of the most densely populated areas of Anaheim in terms of housing overcrowding, according to the map.
It doesn’t stop there.
About 16% of the people living in the census tract that encompasses Edison Park don’t have internet access – among the highest in Anaheim.
Loreta Ruiz, Latino Health Access’ Director of Strategic Operations, also notes disparities between the two sides of Anaheim in regards to overcrowding classrooms, poverty levels, and youth services.
“There’s a big difference – Definitely a big difference between this zip code and other parts of Anaheim,” she said in a Friday phone call. “When you mention Anaheim Hills, I mean, there’s no comparison at all.”
Ruiz said the disparity can also be seen by the impacts of COVID – adding that the 92805 zip code and the Edison community was one of the highest impacted areas in the county.
“The death rate is super high,” she said. “These are working families, parents who have two or three jobs, parents who are essential workers, parents who do not qualify for other services, and they have to continue working to bring food to the table. These are the differences.”
Residents Demand Change
Gabriel Reynaga, Juan Carlos’ older brother, said he found out about his brother’s murder through a phone call. The family had lost their father nine months prior.
“The community where my mom lives at, it’s not the same anymore. The parents don’t want to let their kids out,” he said.
“I believe if I was still to live with him, it wouldn’t have happened. Because we were always busy at the gym. I would come home from work, we’d go to the gym together,” he said. “It’s devastating.”
Gabriel said the case hasn’t been solved and questions the commitment of the Anaheim Police Department in doing so.
He described his brother as generous.
“He always carried a smile everywhere no matter if anyone was rude,” he said.
Gabriel is now calling for a safer community and quicker response times from emergency services.
On Friday, a little over 50 parents, kids and residents including Gabriel and some of his siblings marched along the sidewalks around the Edison Park area demanding simple infrastructure investments from the city: more lights, better safety and a cleaner neighborhood.
Equipped with flashlights, they made their way through an area parents said had a lot of gang activity. They walked through parts that were dark and parts where there was trash in the gutters and around the sidewalk.
Some of them only spoke Spanish.
They chanted “Si se puede” and cars drove by honking in support. Other neighbors watched from the shadows outside their homes.
One car pulled over to ask a reporter what was going on and when the people inside found out it was a march for more safety and lights one person inside the car said:
“Please, we really need that.”
At one point the group stopped at the spot where Juan Carlos was killed and had a moment of silence.
The residents were joined by Faessel, the district representative, and city staff including Jason Perez from Neighborhood Services who would occasionally stop looking at where lights could potentially go.
“There’s already plans for improving the lighting in the park but that’s different than street lighting,” Faessel said. “Street lights, we can do quickly, park lights take longer.”
Faessel had met with parents a month earlier to discuss their concerns. He said that meeting took place the same day Juan Carlos was killed.
At the end of the walk Faessel and staff spoke and listened to parents – with Levya suggesting the building of a skatepark as a way to keep kids from gang involvement.
City staff and police will have a meeting with the parents regarding their safety concerns on Wednesday at Edison Elementary at 8 a.m.
The walk was hosted by Grupo de Edison – a neighborhood community group that formed almost eight years ago to call for safety and equity in their part of town.
The group was supported by Latino Health Access who have worked with the group for years.
Ruiz said that parents want to see increased police response times to their neighborhood and increased lighting of public streets and parks.
“We definitely applaud the courage of these parents to continue fighting and not giving up in trying to make a change for the city,” she said. “This has been a place and an area where there’s been a lot of violence and a lot of crime.”
Josefina Jimenez, a coordinator with Latino Health Access, said in Spanish parents don’t want to be worried when their kids go to school or go out and play.
“They want them to come back home,” she said, repeating herself twice.
Jimenez said there needs to be programs for kids so they don’t fall into gangs.
Faessel agreed to tackle that issue there needs to be more “positive opportunities for young people” as parents have recommended.
“There’s going to be some other after school programs offered here at the park soon. That will start with the new school year and all those help,” he said. “From what I understand, gang (involvement) starts at very young ages so you have to find alternate positive opportunities for the kids.”
Anaheim’s S.T.A.R.S (Study-Time, Arts, Recreation, and Sports) program is coming back to the park after a COVID hiatus.
And there is a Mobile Family Resource Center through partnership with nonprofits that started during the pandemic that brings resource center services to neighborhoods that don’t have one.
Faessel said the resource center has come to neighborhoods adjacent to the area and will be coming to Edison park.
Maria Alejandra Barboza, a Uruguayan American mother who walked with the group and chanted on a megaphone, said to a reporter in Spanish the area could use more open green spaces where kids can play and run and that can help keep kids away from the gangs.
Barboza said the environment children grow up in can have an effect on their mental and emotional health and set internal limitations on their aspirations and ambitions.
While she’s not a neighborhood resident, Barboza said she came for support and that what happens in one neighborhood can affect others.
On her walk Barboza pointed to the trash on the street saying it was old and had been there for awhile.
Barboza said to her, the trash build up says alot about Anaheim’s municipal priorities, which she fears shift unfairly depending on where you live.
“Why are parts of the city cleaned and others not,” she asks, “if we all pay taxes?”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.