The streets around Edison Park in Anaheim are brighter.

The changes to the neighborhood come after years of calls from residents for lighting improvements.

Too late for Juan Carlos Reynaga, a 17-year old neighborhood teen shot and killed on a dimly lit street in July. 

But the scores of local residents who mobilized in the wake of the shooting may have prevented another. 

More than 50 Anaheim parents, kids and residents in the Edison community who took to the streets after the shooting in a neighborhood flashlight walk back in August, demanding greater safety improvements, seem to have resonated with local officials.

[Read: “Enough is Enough”: Anaheim’s Edison Community Demands Safer Streets]

A couple of days after the walk, city and local police officials met with neighborhood parents at Edison Elementary to further discuss their safety concerns and how to address them.

For years, residents have demanded more street lights in their neighborhood calling out the lack of engagement by local elected officials in their part of town. 

“Finally they listened,” Sandra Levya, a parent and resident, said in a Tuesday phone interview.

Levya is part of Grupo de Edison – a neighborhood community group which formed about eight years ago to call for better safety in an area which residents say is ripe with gang activity.

The killing of Juan Carlos Reynaga – a 17-year-old who had nothing to do with gangs  – devastated the community spurring parents and residents to step up the pressure they’ve been putting on city officials for better lighting.

“We put more pressure,” Levya said. “Because we don’t need one more person killed close to here.”

Sandra Levya stands in the area where Juan Carlos Reynaga was killed on July 8, 2022. During the neighborhood march on Aug. 5, 2022, Levya spoke to residents and said they could not identify the body of Reynaga that night due to poor lighting. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Organizing residents is paying off. 

Anaheim City Councilman Stephen Faessel, who currently represents the district the Edison community is in, said at a city council meeting last month that city staff has been out in the area to work on the street light issues and other concerns.

“Public Works has done more than their share recently in some maintenance issues, up and around Acacia (Street) and up and around La Palma (Avenue),” he said at the meeting. 

“There’s more work to do.”

Faessel, along with his wife Susan, and city staff members including Jason Perez from Neighborhood Services joined residents in last month’s flashlight walk. 

He didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Faessel was also at a meeting with residents to discuss those same concerns in July – hours before Juan Carlos was gunned down walking home after a car pulled up and asked him if he was in a gang, to which Juan Carlos replied, no.

According to Anaheim spokesman Sgt. Shane Carringer, there are no updates that can be shared publicly on the investigation into Juan Carlos’ killing.

Loreta Ruiz, Director of Strategic Operations  for Latino Health Access – a group that has been supporting neighborhood residents, said in a Tuesday phone interview it is important that the people who killed Juan Carlos are arrested and brought to justice.

“If there is no punishment people will continue conducting criminal activity because there’s no consequence,” she said.

From left, Gabriel Reynaga, Leny Orozco, Rosie Gonzalez, 10, Denise Reynaga, 16, Rosie Reynaga, 10, Hilda Reynaga, 26, (bottom, from left) Ivan Orozco, 5, and Johnny Reynaga, 6, all relatives of Juan Carlos Reynaga, stand for a photo before the demonstration begins on Aug. 7 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Meanwhile, parents have been calling not only for light improvements but for programs and resources for the local kids to deter them from joining or participating in gang activity.

The city was warned about the need for such programming to address the dangers and challenges gangs pose to Anaheim’s youth back in 2012 after a riot that triggered a commissioned study suggesting more city investments in at-risk neighborhoods. 

Read the 2012 Anaheim Youth Services Assessment study here.

It has been a little more than a month since that flashlight stroll through those dark streets around the Edison Park area and about two months since Juan Carlos was killed.

Here’s what has changed.

Levya said the city has replaced dim lights on Acacia Street and Romneya Drive with LED lights.

“It’s bright now,” she said.

According to City Spokesman Mike Lyster, 60 streetlights in total have been fitted with LED lights along Acacia, Romneya as well as La Palma Avenue. 14 new lights have been added on Acacia and Romneya as well.

“All of this took place over two weeks through Aug. 19.,” Lyster said in a Tuesday email. “All 19 lights at Edison Park will be replaced with brighter LED bulbs by the end of October, or earlier based on delivery of bulbs.”

Levya also said there have been weekly cleanups where volunteers and residents pick up cigarette buds and water bottles at the park.

Lyster said Better Way Anaheim, a nonprofit, has been doing weekly deep cleanups with the neighborhood moms for the past four weeks including painting park benches.

“Better Way now will visit Edison Park as needed or about once a month, as they do at other Anaheim parks,” he wrote.

Levya said Love Anaheim has been helping with cleanups as well.

After the Flashlight walk, Faessel and city staff said the  S.T.A.R.S (Study-Time, Arts, Recreation, and Sports) program would return to the park after a COVID hiatus.

And it did for a bit until extreme heat put the program on pause for the last two weeks, according to Lyster.

Levya said not many kids are utilizing the program however and more outreach needs to be done.

Lyster said there are four kids in the program.

“That is after extensive neighborhood walking and flyer distribution, as well as fun enticements such as Popsicle parties to get kids and families to visit and take part. We will continue with outreach to work back to our pre-pandemic level of about 15 kids,” he wrote.

Is More Change Coming?

Levya said there are still other changes needed.

“We need more stop signs around the school,” Levya said to regulate the traffic around Edison Elementary.

Lyster said public works will be assessing the neighborhood in the next coming weeks for an update on traffic signs.

“With permit parking or traffic calming measures such as speed bumps and humps, we look to residents to initiate those efforts to ensure there is neighborhood consensus,” he wrote. “We shared the process with residents in our Aug. 10 community meeting. We have not received any requests at this time and stand ready to assist if this is something residents want to explore.”

The traffic isn’t the only concern.

Levya has called for a permanent community center at the park like at Ponderosa Park and a skatepark to keep kids from joining gangs.

But those changes don’t seem to be happening anytime soon, if at all.

“We do not have an update on a community center at Edison Park, and it is something we will continue to look at,” Lyster wrote. “As for a skate park, we don’t have any update to share. Anaheim already is home to eight skate parks, and we’re always open to looking at one where it might work for a neighborhood.”

Lyster said the cost for a community center depends on size and that the center at Ponderosa Park  at 18,400 feet cost $13 million to build back in 2017.

A Mobile Family Resource Center will however be coming to the park on Sept. 20 from 4:30-6 p.m. to offer services to families in the neighborhood and will return in January and April, according to Lyster.

Amiel Perez,15,(middle) takes a break after walking through the night with Grupo Edison on Aug, 7, 2022. Perez sign reads in Spanish,”Signs for schools.” Perez worries for all the children that have to walk to and from school. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Levya said another meeting is going to be held next month with the city to discuss more changes but the date has not been set yet.

According to Lyster, the city has had a presence in the Edison neighborhood for years working with a nonprofit to build a playground in 2011, making improvements to the park in 2016 including lighting and in 2018 adding more security lights.

Local neighbors remain hopeful about the changes but warn city hall needs to stay engaged in their neighborhoods for any of the hardscape improvements to matter. 

“They need to keep their attention all the time here and not only when something bad happens,” Leyva said. 

“I hope the clean ups continue,” Levya said.  

“I hope they continue to check the lights.” 

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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