Friday, June 20, 2008

Residents angry about condition of neighborhood (Plano Courier)

Residents angry about condition of neighborhood
By Stephanie Flemmons, Staff Writer
Created: Thursday, June 19, 2008 10:37 PM CDT

Residents of an east Plano neighborhood are giving up on help from the city and police after they believe numerous calls reporting illegal activity have gone unanswered.

The Southwood Estates, tucked away off Jupiter Road. and 15th Street, houses families who claim their lives are in danger.

Resident Al Acosta believes he sees the writing on the wall.

“Prostitution is becoming a problem on Avenue R and E. 15th,” he said. “Gang graffiti is appearing when it never was before. The litter and trash being thrown in our yards and street is unbelievable. If the City of Plano doesn’t keep a close watch on all this, we will have much more crime and litter to deal with. East Plano is going down and nobody cares.”

Acosta believes the apartments surrounding his home are being rented to illegal immigrants who have their own method of justice.

“Everyone thinks the illegal immigrants in east Plano are Mexican,” Acosta said. “They are Guatemalans, and the Amber Vista Apartments houses hundreds of them. They will never assimilate into the community.”

Acosta said his daily routine consists of picking up dirty diapers, used condoms, beer bottles and drug paraphernalia from his front yard.

After calls to the city manager, Plano police and federal immigration authorities went unanswered, Acosta believes he’ll have to sell his home and move to a safer neighborhood.

Resident Barbara Hilliard, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1979, said the music at night is so loud it rattles her windows. She believes the drug activity, too, has become increasingly worse.

“It started getting scary in the late ’80s early ’90s,” Hilliard said. “I will never allow her grandchildren to play in the yard by themselves. My husband is now deceased and my children want me to move. This is my home and I don’t want to leave.”

Deborah and Jim Donavan, who own a 5,800 square foot home sitting on 1.5 acres, have offered their backyard for police to place surveillance so they can too witness the illegal activity.

“We walk outside to enjoy our backyard and we’ll smell dope,” Deborah said. “The foot traffic through our yard and neighborhood has increased. The violations have increased and it doesn’t seem the police support to keep up with it is increasing. I’m afraid to allow our grandchildren in the yard in fear of what they may witness.”

The Donavan’s backyard has served as a shortcut for individuals from surrounding apartments and townhomes to travel to the Plano Bazaar or the beer store, they say.

“We have major issues,” Jim said. “We have called the city over and over in the five years we have lived here. We can smell people smoking dope, people are drunk in the grass and urinate on our fence. It’s as if they don’t care if you can see them. I know the city can’t control everything, but something needs to be done.”

Hilliard said she put up the tallest fence she could to eliminate backyard traffic.

“I don’t know what we can do to stop this,” Hilliard said. “I’d like the city to do something.”

Rick McDonald, Plano police spokesman, said beat officers and neighborhood officers have been working in that area, contacting numerous businesses and apartment complexes and addressing these issues.

“Anytime a citizen notifies the police of any violation we do report on the call,” McDonald said. “We’ve had officers in that area for every shift.”

McDonald said if someone calls reporting a possible illegal immigrant residing in their neighborhood, they refer them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He said if there is criminal activity involved, Plano Police will investigate.

“If it consists of a class b misdemeanor or higher, we notify ICE,” McDonald said. “If they are charged with a class b or above they are usually deported.”

Carl Rusnok, ICE spokesman, said people have to have evidence to support criminal activity in order for ICE to get involved.

“Because of the number of illegal aliens, we have to organize our mission based on the threat they make to the public,” Rusnok said. “We target the violent street gang members as opposed to the nonviolent. But, anyone in the country illegally could be arrested and deported to their country of origin.”

Rusnok said ICE works closely with local law enforcement agencies for the anti-gang initiative, which has been in effect since Feb. 2005.

“Operation Community Shields is designed to handle the gang problem,” Rusnok said. “We have up to date intelligence where gang members reside and hang out and we work together with local law enforcement to accomplish the common goal of combating crime.”

Acosta said he does not believe there is an overwhelming amount of gang activity in his area, but does believe the crime still affects the citizens of Plano.

“It would be nice if ICE would focus on crime at this level, but they won’t,” Acosta said. “There is too much out there.”

Rusnok said ICE has a specific annual budget used to deport illegal aliens every year.

“It’s only a matter of time before innocent bystanders will be affected,” Rusnok said. “Again, this is why we work with local law enforcement agencies across the country.”

He said this year, 8,300 illegal aliens have been removed from the country and 700 gangs have been depleted.

Acosta said since ICE is unresponsive, he hopes the city building standards will enforce their city codes to change the standards of the property.

Dianna Tullius, Amber Vista property manager, said on April 1, the property was repossessed by Trans America Band, and since then Tullius said multiple changes have been made.

“We are managing the banks money and changes are already done,” she said.She said when she took over control from the old managers, the property was in deferred maintenance.“There was nothing being done,” Tullius said. “They had no money to fix anything.”

Since April 1, Tullius said the rod hand rails have been replaced, the trees have been trimmed, landscape has been planted and the curbs have been painted.

She said a security company has been hired to monitor activity Fri.-Sun to help eliminate loitering and drinking, which will come in affect today.

“The people from Keep Plano Beautiful have praised me on the amount of less litter and leaves around the property,” Tullius said. “When I first came I got tired of picking up the trash. Since I have fined residents and sent out a letter using strong language reminding people that this is there home and the stop acting like pigs.”

Potential buyers are being interviewed, which Tullius said she take place in approximately 60 days.

Scott Neumeyer, Plano Building Inspections said they have a current sub-standard structure case that is currently active, which the department plans to re-inspect next week.

He said when it comes to inspections, many it is common to have non-critical and critical violations. He said the Amber Vista staff corrected most violations in the time given.

As for the residents of Southwood Estates, they can only hope this is the change they have hoped for.

“The standards will be up for awhile and then they’ll go back down,” Hilliard said. “The landlords are making money, and it seems like that’s all they care about.”

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