Garden Grove PD, city officials continue to help neighborhood reinvent itself

By Lou Ponsi

The police chief was grilling hot dogs and the mayor was planting trees.

A community services officer was blowing bubbles and firefighters were handing out plastic fire helmets to the kids.

A five-foot high cinderblock wall at the end of cul-de-sac on Palma Vista Avenue in Garden Grove, often sullied by gang graffiti, was being transformed into a mural, bursting with color and festooned with handprints from neighborhood kids.

Garden Grove PD Community Service Officer Kris Backouris blows bubbles for the kids.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The festivities on Palma Vista Avenue on Sunday, May 21 was an example of community pride in action and the most recent in a series of activities organized by the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Committee (NIC), with a buy in from residents on the block.

Palma Vista and the adjacent El Dorado Mobile Home Park have been the focus of a year-long program that began in November that aims to create a safer, more aesthetically pleasing neighborhood.

Asuzena Suarez, 11, puts her handprint on the Palma Vista community wall while holding her 8-month-old brother, Pedro Hernandez, during Palma Vista’s community cleanup day. The mural, which includes handprints from local children, hopefully will keep graffiti off the wall.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Ongoing issues on Palma Vista, such as gang activity and drug use, prompted the Garden Grove PD and the city to take action.

Palma Vista resident Kacie Cardoza, manager of an apartment house on the street and active advocate in the Palma Vista beautification effort, baked cupcakes for Sunday’s event.

“It’s a good way to get everybody together,” Cardoza said. “I think it’s a positive movement here. I think a lot of people have it in them to do it, but they are just too scared to get it started themselves.”

Kassandra Suarez, 5, left, her sister Lindsey, 6, and their mother Roxana walk through the neighborhood looking for trash to pick up.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

With the GGPD playing an active role in the Palma Vista transformation, the community gets to see another side of the police, Cardoza said.

“It’s just a good vibe,” she said.

Resident Roxana Suarez and her children helped pick up trash and participated in the mural project.

Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz, left, Mayor Steven Jones and City Manager Scott Stiles plant an Australian willow tree in the Palma Vista neighborhood during the community cleanup day.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“I think it’s a good idea having the wall painted like this,” Suarez said. “To have events like this with the police is good for the kids.”

Over the past few months, residents also have organized exercise activities and tutoring sessions for the neighborhood youngsters.

Police have connected with the residents, especially the children, through periodic, informal educational events, displaying their vehicles and crime-fighting tools and answering questions.

Neighbors gather for the Palma Vista community cleanup day.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Police also are empowering residents to contact them if they see suspicious activities on their street.

“You can see that kids are out here playing and families are out here,” said City Manager Scott Stiles, who spent the morning planting trees and mingling with residents. “They are having a good time, but they are also learning that there are a lot of people out here that care about them and we want them to trust us. In turn, we are here to learn from them about what we can do to best help their communities. At the end of the day, it helps all of us.”

Steven George contributed to this story.

Lizett Sanchez, 9, of Garden Grove helps Tim Wallingford of Garden Grove Public Works plant an Australian willow tree in the Palma Vista neighborhood.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Six-year-old Lindsey Suarez creates a handprint on Palma Vista’s community wall as an artist paints flowers that include handprints from neighborhood kids.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Neighborhood kids reach for bubbles made by Garden Grove PD CSO Kris Backouris.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Garden Grove City Councilwoman Stephanie Klopfenstein, left, GG Fire Chief Tom Schultz, GG Police Chief Todd Elgin and GG Mayor Steven Jones plant an Australian willow tree in the Palma Vista neighborhood during the community cleanup day.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC