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WARREN Program would empower residents



Published: Sat, July 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By DENISE DICK

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- One council member wants to revive a program that empowers residents to address problems in their neighborhoods.

Alford L. Novak, D-2nd, will request legislation to allocate at least $2,000 to resurrect a program patterned after Safe Streets Now.

It would involve establishment of a citizens committee to address problems throughout the city, from property maintenance code violations and vacant houses, to loitering and drug sales.

Safe Streets Now started in 1990 in Oakland, Calif., by a woman who was frustrated with the condition of her neighborhood and the lack of success of governmental agencies to curb it.

"It would deal with anything that's interrupting the peace and sobriety of the neighborhood or affecting property values -- anything affecting quality of life," Novak said.

The $2,000 would cover costs such as copy fees, paper and postage. Eventually, the amount may have to be increased if the group becomes more active, pursuing cases in court.

A few years ago, a citizens group worked to close a convenience store that had been a sore spot for the Palmyra Road community.

Louann Kenyon was involved in that effort. "It took us a while, but we documented what we saw," she said.

The residents logged, photographed and videotaped activity at the store, which they said involved alcohol sales to minors and drug activity. They also got copies of police reports.

"The police worked with us really well," Kenyon said.

When the city objected to renewal of the store owner's liquor license, group members attended the hearing and presented the evidence they'd compiled.

"[The state] refused to renew the liquor license and the man closed the store and eventually sold it," Kenyon said.

Its goal accomplished, the group became inactive, but Kenyon said she may be interested in participating if a similar group forms again.

Organizing

Novak believes the time has come. He's already spoken with some residents who are interested in participating.

"It's not just for my ward," he said. "We want it to be citywide. I'm asking all of the council members to submit names of people from their wards who would be interested in getting involved."

After the committee is established, members will elect their own officers.

"This won't be a committee of elected officials," Novak said. "They can attend, but it's primarily a citizens group. We're going to put it in their hands."

Because of the workload of the city's law department, the committee may have to rely on outside counsel to take cases to court. An outside lawyer worked with the previous group.

The new group could work to get problem homes declared public nuisances, sue in small-claims court and lobby financial institutions to maintain the neighborhood properties they acquire through bankruptcy and foreclosure.

Novak envisions not so much a traditional block watch, but more of an awareness program -- an eyes and ears of the neighborhoods, he said.

dick@vindy.com




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