Residents speak out at neighborhood council

the South LA constituent service center | Southwest Neighborhood Council

Residents bring concerns to monthly meetings at the South L.A. constituent service center | Southwest Neighborhood Council Facebook

Imagine 212 apartments and one overflowing trash chute. Imagine filthy carpets and beds crawling with bugs. Imagine walking into your laundry room to find homeless people sleeping in piles of dirty clothes.

Now imagine senior citizens living day-to-day in these conditions with no sign of imminent relief. The residents of this senior citizen apartment complex in South L.A. are retired and relying on fixed incomes from the government.

Regardless of its inhabitants, though, the depictions of the complex expressed at a Neighborhood Development Council Meeting for the southwest area in late October sounded almost inhumane.

Chairwoman Leonella Enix began the meeting, held at a local community center, with this pressing issue. Residents of the southwest region eagerly chimed in and pleaded for solutions. (The neighborhood development council’s jurisdiction roughly spans the neighborhoods of Vermont Knolls, Manchester Square and Gramercy Park.)

On top of the aforementioned issues with the senior citizen complex, rent recently increased. Enix said that one resident’s rent is now $27 per month more than the monthly stipend she receives from the federal government to cover housing. She walks around the neighborhood trying to find ways to come by the extra money every month, according to Enix.

Furthermore, the property management team does not speak English, only Spanish, so residents’ complaints frequently go unresolved. The majority of the residents are English-speaking African Americans.

The chairwoman went on to emphasize that the Development Council must figure out ways to help the senior citizens to help themselves. Residents want to convene to discuss possible improvement plans, but there is a $100 fee to use the community room at the complex. Sean Fleming, a representative for U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), at the meeting said Waters’s office would request the money to cover a preliminary meeting. Regardless of the outcome of this re-quest, the council plans to raise funds to cover residents’ meeting fees.

Enix said that South Los Angeles needs to find ways to advocate for more resources in general. The conversation then transitioned from senior citizens’ living conditions to concerns about gang activity in the L.A. Police Department’s Southwest Division.

Middle-aged men and women and senior citizens stood up and shouted at the chair, noting that their fear of gang violence increased on the weekends, when much of South L.A.’s police forces are sent to cover the University of Southern California for game days.

These community members took turns trying to convey to the council that they felt “forgotten.” Enix said that the Los Angeles Police Department was currently working on new strategies to combat gangs in the area, but that attempts during the last two weekends had failed.

LAPD officers left the neighborhoods around 9:30 p.m., according to Enix. Residents told her that gangs “waited them out,” and simply struck later in the night.

A cracked sidewalk in Los Angeles | waltarrrrr/Flickr

A cracked sidewalk in Los Angeles | waltarrrrr/Flickr

The last concern discussed at the late October meeting was the condition of the neighborhood’s sidewalks. Margaret Peters, the council’s treasurer, said that she has been a homeowner in the area for 26 years, and her sidewalks looked more “atrocious” than ever.

According to Peters, the city of Los Angeles is discussing options to help residents fix the sidewalks. One is the Fix and Release Program, in which the city would repair the sidewalks once, but any subsequent repairs will be the responsibility of the homeowner. Another is the 50/50 Program, in which half of the cost of a sidewalk repair would be covered by the city and the homeowner would cover the other half. Under both plans, part of the deal entails homeowners being liable for any injuries occurring on their section of sidewalk.

The resounding response in the room was an insistent plea for another resolution to the hazardous sidewalk situation. Community members indicated that trees planted by developers decades ago were the cause of the unsafe sidewalks, and they did not see themselves as liable for buck-ling walkways. Chiefly, they did not want to pay for something they believed was a matter for the public works department.

This meeting provided an opportunity to hear many aspects of local governance that residents of southwest L.A. want to change. They want better living conditions for senior citizens. They want increased protection from gangs. They want safer sidewalks. Above all, they want to stop feeling forgotten.

The Empowerment Congress Southwest Area Neighborhood Development Council meets at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of every month at the South Los Angeles Constituent Service Center.

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Update: An earlier version of this article said that the city is considering two programs to fix sidewalks. In fact, these are among various options still under discussion.

Arrests made in South LA Craigslist murder

A Samsung Craigslist listing turns deadly | Photo Credit: Creative Commons

A Samsung Craigslist listing turns deadly | Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Sandra Balbuena was doing homework at her school in Irvine when she got the phone call.

She could tell right away by her aunt’s tone that something was wrong.

“Where’s my dad? Where’s my dad?” Sandra asked repeatedly.

“Mija, you need to calm down,” said Sandra’s aunt, Ana Guerrero, over the phone. “Your daddy was shot.”

At a police press conference on Oct. 28 announcing the arrest of two suspects, Sandra Balbuena, a 19-year-old UC Irvine student, described the painful moment when she learned that her father and brother had been shot.

Markell Thomas, 18, and Ryan Roth, 17, have been charged with murder, attempted murder, robbery and gang affiliations, according to LAPD.

On Oct. 19, Sandra’s father and brother responded to a Craigslist advertisement for a $300 Samsung Galaxy cellphone in the 9200 block of South Gramercy Place in South Los Angeles, said police.

They had no idea it was a trap.

Rene Balbuena, 41, and his 15-year-old son, Steven, texted the men who had posted the Craigslist ad and sat waiting in their car around 7:30 p.m. that Saturday, said Detective Chris Barling at the press conference Monday.

Thomas and Roth approached the car and demanded their property, according to police. Thomas allegedly entered the rear passenger door and pointed his gun at the 15-year-old boy.

Balbuena proceeded to exit the vehicle and was fatally shot three times in his torso by Roth, said police. His son suffered a bullet graze wound.

Sandra said she was the first family member to show up at the hospital after the attack. When she saw her brother in a neck-brace underneath blood-soaked sheets, she realized things were much worse than she had anticipated.

“Steven was worried,” Sandra said, recalling those first moments at the hospital. “He’s like, ‘I’m okay, I’m okay. I didn’t even notice I got shot, but I’m really worried about dad.’”

She choked up then, recounting the difficult experience of breaking the news to her little brother.

Their father was dead.

Thomas is believed to have been involved with at least seven other robberies between Aug. 2 and Oct. 7 involving similar Craigslist postings about a Samsung phone throughout the Baldwin Hills area, according to Barling. Both suspects are being charged as adults.

Family members have been streaming in and out of Balbuena’s South Gate home since the murder took place.

Neighbors of the close-knit community all expressed sadness about what happened and said that Balbuena was a good father.

“He was responsible,” said Juan Martinez, Balbuena’s next-door neighbor. “He was always working and always taking care of his kids.”

Although the arrests brought some consolation to Balbuena’s family, the Balbuenas made clear that legal action wouldn’t lessen the pain of their loss.

“My dad was my best friend,” said Sandra. “He was everything to me and nothing’s going to bring him back.”

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This story was originally published on Neon Tommy. Follow Guest Contributor Anna Sterling on Twitter.