‘Project Revitalization’ in Vallejo, California, has developed a comprehensive strategy to address alcohol and other drug related crime in the city’s worst areas. The project relies on a strong community partnership comprised of Vallejo Fighting Back Partnership, Vallejo Code Enforcement, Vallejo Chamber of Commerce, Vallejo Police Department, Vallejo Neighborhood Housing, California Employment Department, the Private Industry Council, and neighborhood associations.
By integrating neighborhood revitalization, alcohol policy, neighborhood safety, job training, and coordination of human services into a comprehensive effort, the project aims to reduce code violations and police calls for service and to improve safety and the quality of life of residents in deteriorating crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Project Revitalization is based on the following four complementary premises:
• The physical makeup of a community has an important influence on its vulnerability to crime. Physical signs of disorder and illegal activities in a neighborhood such as abandoned cars, problematic liquor stores, drug dealing, and deteriorating housing invite crime and disorder if left unchanged.
• Neighborhoods where residents have some level of commitment and shared interest in improving their environment can influence the level of crime.
• Individuals and families must personally gain from the revitalization of an area. When people are drowning in problems such as unemployment, addiction, lack of childcare, and other social service needs, it is unrealistic to expect their engagement in improving their neighborhoods.
• Problems with alcohol can and do contribute to the overall level of area deterioration and require appropriate enforcement and policy interventions.
A Five-Step Process
Revitalization is a five-step process beginning with assessment and ending with ongoing evaluation. While the following steps are presented somewhat in sequence, overlap and intentional repetition is inherent in the process.
Initial problem assessment
The project relies on a block-to-block component, which is designed to accurately determine which areas of the city are the worst hot spots for crime, violence, and physical deterioration. To accomplish this, we rely on the use of the Alcohol/Drug Sensitive Information Planning Systems (ASIPS), coupled with a Geographic Information System (GIS).
ASIPS, a planning tool developed by CLEW Associates in Berkeley, CA, engages the Vallejo Police Department to identify alcohol and drug involvement in every call for service. Officers end their calls to dispatch with a three digit alpha numeric indicator that identifies whether alcohol or drugs – both or neither – was involved in the call for service. For example, the code A11 means “alcohol in a single family detached residence.”
This simple process yields a tremendous amount of information about the nature of the call, as well as the location and setting of the event. Calls for service that are alcohol or other drug-involved are then mapped through the GIS. These maps graphically depict where crimes occur and provide project workers with the locations in the city to move to the next phase of assessment.
After identifying potential hot spots, project workers visit each of the areas to assess the level of physical deterioration of housing in the surrounding environment, which often acts as a magnet for certain criminal and social problems. In the final assessment stage to select target neighborhoods, project staff speak with residents to see if they are interested in working in a revitalization process.
Staff members contact neighborhood associations – if they exist – to discuss the project. Areas are not selected unless residents invite the project in and are committed to participating in the process.
Once areas are selected, the intervention phase begins. It includes the following components:
• Law Enforcement. Often, problem residences where illicit activity occurs are part of neighborhoods that suffer from crime and physical deterioration. These locations have an effect on the willingness of neighbors to interact socially and form the social structures that can be effective in reducing problems. Therefore, it is important for law enforcement, as part of the early stages of the project, to weed out these locations and create a safe environment for residents. Part of this weeding effort involves the police in towing abandoned vehicles. This action alone creates a significant improvement in the quality of the neighborhood and begins to prove that the revitalization effort is serious about improving the quality of life for residents.
• Code Enforcement. Concurrent with the law enforcement effort, code enforcement staff engages in a residence-by-residence appraisal of building code violations.
• Community Organizing. During this stage, community organizers begin to establish relationships with residents in order to better understand each individual’s social service and employment needs.
As the police engage in various law enforcement activities to address crime and violence in project neighborhoods, streets become safer. This transition slowly increases the feeling of safety on the part of residents and work on forming a neighborhood association or block watch can proceed. In addition, the community organizer can deepen personal relationships with residents and begin the social service work in earnest. Residents are organized to create political pressure for stores to clean up their acts.
‘Project Revitalisation’ – Vallejo – Project elements:
Residents Code Enforcement
Code enforcement staff work with homeowners and renters to bring property up to city standards. Together, they form plans about how homes can improve beyond minimum city requirements. Code enforcement is critical in this process for it holds the legal tools to cite owners that refuse to voluntarily cooperate with the revitalization process. During this stage of the intervention, all project agencies and organizations are also organizing a clean-up day during which large numbers of volunteers from all over the city work with residents to paint, haul debris, build fences, do carpentry, and cut and trim landscaping – performing essentially a neighborhood make-over. Clean-up days include a barbecue to further cement relationships between neighbors, volunteers, and project workers.
The final phase can last from 6 to 9 months. After the clean-up, the community organizer steps up efforts to work with the residents to form a neighborhood group and to adopt a set of community standards to serve as the basis of how the area should be maintained in the future. The organizer also continues to work with the residents to help them get whatever services they need to improve the quality of their lives.
How is this process working? To date, work has begun in two areas of Vallejo (Alabama Street and Springs Road) and the results look promising. The first project area – Alabama Street – was a test to determine if the process was viable. The neighborhood experienced a reduction in police calls for service and improvement in the perception of safety on the part of residents.
The second neighborhood revitalization project in Springs Road was much larger in scope than the first project. Started in November 1997, the Springs Road project is in the final stages of implementation. This ambitious and far-reaching project featured joint efforts of many partners. On its clean-up day, streets were blocked off as teams of volunteers painted, trimmed trees, rebuilt fences, swept and hauled away debris and weeds. More than 225 people signed up to work during the day. Highlights included the live broadcast of music and interviews of residents by Radio KDIA and a barbecue for all participants. In all, 22 dumpsters of trash were hauled away, totaling over 37 tons; 6 old vehicles were towed; and more than 50 residences were worked on. But the day is as much about bringing neighbors and volunteers together as a real community as it was about a clean up.
The role of policy
Alcohol policy and other policy development are critical to the long-term success of this effort. Helpful policies include:
• A conditional use permit for alcohol outlets to regulate new outlets
• An approved ordinance for alcoholic beverage establishments to regulate existing outlets
• A teen party ordinance to reduce non-commercial access of alcohol to minors
• A social nuisance ordinance to hold non-compliant property owners accountable to a standard of property maintenance and resident conduct
• A rental inspection ordinance.
These policies help neighborhoods proactively address problem properties before they become nuisances and are part of the structural changes required to sustain the positive neighborhood changes that result from the revitalization process. Based on early results, the revitalization project is about to move into its third and fourth neighborhoods. Ultimately the project will engage between 10 and 15 neighborhoods. Real, sustained improvements in people’s lives are the mark of success for this project. Will residents assume long-term responsibility for their environments? Can this effort reduce crime citywide? And can the project continue with the broad base of support it currently enjoys? In perhaps a year, these and other important questions will be answered.