OCEANSIDE — Eastside neighborhood residents “took to the park” to claim their neighborhood and celebrate National Night Out on Aug. 3. Music, games, face painting, police canine demonstrations, community resource information and an outdoor movie filled Joe Balderrama Park with a night of family fun. The message of the event is to empower community members and say no to crime.
Girl Scout troop leader Olivia Rife brought a dozen girls from Troop 1810 to the event. “It’s about community unity,” Rife said. “We participate in the community so we can be united.”
Gloria Ortiz, a member of the North Coastal Prevention Youth Commission, helped lead games at the event. “I really want to help youth have a better youth without alcohol or drugs,” Ortiz said. “And let them know there’s people that really care.”
Joe Balderrama Park is located in the center of the Eastside neighborhood. The park’s community center, playground and recreation courts bring the community together, but neighborhood Posole gang members also use park grounds as a gathering spot.
“We are trying to motivate residents to became involved with their community and help them understand that they are important and they can make a positive difference in our community,” Maria Russell, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, said. “Neighbors start to know each other and
wonderful things can happen.”
The overall crime rate in Oceanside has dropped in the past few years, but summertime has brought a spike in graffiti and vandalism to the park. Early this summer a fire was set under the playground slide that burned a hole in the structure. It has since been repaired. Park lights were vandalized several times in the past month. The city has kept up with repairs, usually seeing to incidents within 24 hours, but the damage is costly. The city spent $20,000 last month in numerous light repairs. “It’s a high valued area,” Police Officer Joe Torres said. “There’s a lot of vandalism in this park.”
Gang tags have been left on most of the vandalized items. Police are on alert and are stepping up to show their presence and educate the community, especially with old gang members stepping out of a life of crime and new gang members or “peewees” ready to “prove themselves” with criminal acts, Officer Torres said.
The current park layout makes it challenging for police to patrol the park and “see” everything that goes on. It also fails to utilize park space to its maximum benefit. The hope is that grant funds will come through to help refurbish the park and build one central recreation center. Currently there are several small buildings for meetings, activities and restrooms.
Plans for the new recreation center have already been drawn up and a grant application to fund park improvements is being processed. “There are so many possibilities,” Russell said.
National Night Out Celebrations were also held in the Crown Heights and Libby Lake neighborhoods.