On a recent overcast November morning, a dozen people trekked from Anaheim's Anna Drive to Guinida Lane in the name of barrio healing. With sage wands burning, an elder sang a song near an apartment complex nicknamed by residents “The Sandbox.”
“No more bloodshed/No more bloodshed in the barrios of Aztlán!” he sang in a ritual cadence, ending with “tlazocamati” (“thank you” in Nahuatl). And then, the runners were off.
If there's an area of the city needing TLC, it's this one—but who will do the healing and how is a matter of contention. Nowadays, everything here is politicized. The neighborhood is tucked under Interstate 5, with the entrance to Disneyland on one side, while a Howard Johnson resort hotel casts a shadow over Guinida's palm-lined streets. The placas of the Anaheim Vatos Locos gang that claims the neighborhood dot the area, alongside “For Rent” signs. Residents are overwhelmingly working-class Latinos, mostly Mexican immigrants and Chicanos who live in row after row of drab, uniform duplexes or larger complexes. At least eight young men have been killed here in the past decade, including 21-year-old Joel Acevedo, who died on the second night of back-to-back officer-involved shootings that sparked angst and riots.
“The living conditions here aren't that great,” says Sandbox resident Zia Back. Before moving earlier this year into her $1,100-per-month, one-bedroom apartment, she was evicted from the complex near where Acevedo was killed. She noticed other evictions and an increase in police patrols—as well as a team of investors touring the property.
“Code enforcement took a huge interest in our building all of a sudden,” Back says. She believes this was the first step in Anaheim's plan to change up Guinida Lane via a joint proposal submitted by the Irvine-based Jamboree Housing Corporation and Irvine Housing Opportunities Inc. (IHO).
The strategy? Destroy the neighborhood in order to save it.
The proposal details a two-part process that involves buying vacant lots to build new apartments, as well as “rehabbing” the Sandbox and a large complex next to it. Jamboree and IHO claim that a market survey ensures that all residents in the first phase will qualify to remain and that permanent relocation won't be required. “We believe that [it] will assist in furthering the city of Anaheim's goal of achieving quality, livable places that are free of crime and blight,” reads a July cover letter signed by the companies' CEOs.
Though the proposal to “revitalize” Guinida was submitted in July 2013, its roots stretch back further. In October 2012, a brainstorming session between Anaheim's then-Deputy Chief Craig Hunter and other department heads was called to “generate ideas to support a council initiative to eliminate blight in residential neighborhoods within three to five years,” according to notes obtained by the Weekly. Coming just a few months after the aforementioned riots, Planning Director Sheri Vander Dussen reviewed outlined goals shared by an unnamed council member that included focusing “efforts on specific neighborhoods to maximize impact.”
“Revitalization” efforts were already under way in other problem neighborhoods, according to the meeting, and new projects would require subsidies. Those in attendance wanted to next target Guinida, not just because of the national spotlight shined there after the Acevedo killing, but also because the city already had a “foothold” in the form of vacant lots. Attendees looked at Jamboree Housing for an exploratory follow-up as they “created associations comprised of multiple property owners” to ready the area for change.
If an effort to revitalize a Disneyland-adjacent barrio seems all too familiar in Anaheim's history, it's because it has already happened. Early last decade, city officials targeted Jeffrey-Lynne, which sits across from Disneyland to the west. The redevelopment project got off to a rocky start after a contentious meeting between residents and then-redevelopment chief Elisa Stipkovich (see Nick Schou's “Inside Revolutionary Anaheim”), but the plans eventually smoothed out as apartment buildings were razed and replaced. By 2002, Jeffrey-Lynne was rechristened Hermosa Village; eight years later, the Orange County district attorney's office imposed a gang injunction on the area, completing the city's plans.
Unsurprisingly, part of the IHO developer team is Stipkovich.
A longtime activist who was involved in the fight over Jeffrey-Lynne as part of the United Neighbors organization, Duane Roberts remembers Stipkovich's name well. “As I recall, the city was leaving the residents out of the process,” he says. “They, of course, talked with the property owners and the developer.”
Back set up a meeting with Roberts, who later pulled public records that revealed the Guinida proposal. Though the interested developer has been in negotiations with landlords, residents say no one from the city has alerted them to the plans. “No one knows anything,” says Back of her fellow neighbors. Back faces eviction again in December.
“Guinida Lane is being targeted for gentrification—in other words to push the lowest income residents out of the neighborhood that the city thinks pose a problem to [not just] the local community, but, more specifically, the Anaheim Resort Area,” Roberts says. “The reality is there will be a reduction of people living in that community through occupancy restrictions.”
Residents who were at the Aztec ceremony were skeptical of the city's plans. They gathered at a Día de los Muertos-inspired altar in the Sandbox, where pictures of loved ones lost to hood violence and police shootings over the years were arranged beside small pumpkins, marigolds, pan de muertos and other ofrendas. Among those pictured was Acevedo. His mother, Donna Acevedo, put a bottle of Tapatío and Maruchan Ramen in remembrance, while those assembled—mostly youngsters, including one sitting on a lowrider bike with arched handlebars—listened to the runners' message of peace and prayer.
“You know how many times I've heard that story, that they're going to change something here?” says Frank Romero after being shown the revitalization-proposal cover letter. He's also facing the specter of eviction. “There's three generations living here. People that have had kids; their kids are now having kids.
“[Anaheim officials are] no different than the people from Bell,” Romero adds, referring to that city's 2010 scandal. “Residents didn't know what was going on until somebody raised their eyebrow—and look what happened.”