By Mary O’KEEFE and Pat KRAMER
It was all about community and emergency responders at Tuesday night’s National Night Out across the Crescenta Valley and Glendale.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. held its NNO event at the CV Sheriff’s Station on Briggs Avenue. There were booths from local law enforcement and emergency responders there as well as from local organizations.
In many areas Neighborhood Watch took the lead as several neighborhoods hosted block parties. NNO promotes community policing. It is a way for neighbors to ask questions of their local law enforcement and fire departments, and to get involved with Neighborhood Watch programs. At the Crescenta Valley Water District location on Sycamore and Glenwood, Neighborhood Watch leader Julia Leeper handed out prizes to neighbors, kids had their faces painted, CVWD gave out water saving devices and discussions continued on how to get involved with the community.
“This neighborhood is close-knit and wonderful,” said Anthony Portantino, a longtime civic leader of the CV and La Cañada community. “I have been coming out here for years as a Twelve Oaks board member. Many of the [NNOs] were held at Twelve Oaks [Assisted Living] and it is important for me to be here to support the community that has been so important to Twelve Oaks.”
Twelve Oaks had been closed amid threats of selling the unique property to developers. The community supported the National Charity League of Glendale, which was the rightful manager and owner of the property, when it fought to take back possession of the facility from the company that had threatened to sell it. The property is now in transition and is hoped to once again support the senior population.
Portantino has served as a state assemblymember and is now running for state senate but before that he was on the La Cañada City Council. The city has a close working relationship with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept.
“We are a contract city with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. and always treated the [LASD] as our own local police force,” he said.
NNO events were held in neighborhoods on Lauderdale Avenue, Los Olivos Lane, Glenwood Avenue and Santa Carlotta Street to name a few locations in the CV area. A large event that has been held for years gathered neighbors near and far in the 3500 block of Buena Vista Avenue.
“It is important to have a dialogue. It is important to have a night when people understand the role of protecting and serving the public,” Portantino added.
National Night Out and Neighborhood Watch go hand in hand, said Jon Von Gunten, the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council board member appointed as Neighborhood Watch representative. Over three years ago, Von Gunten began attending Neighborhood Watch meetings where he soon discovered that valuable information that came out of these meetings wasn’t being broadcast to the community. So he started writing his own reports and sharing them with neighbors. After he began posting his reports on social media, attendance began to ramp up at the monthly Neighborhood Watch meeting as more people wanted to get involved.
During his first two-year term on STNC, Von Gunten’s priority was simply to raise the attendance level at the monthly evening meeting held the third Tuesday at 6 p.m. at North Valley City Hall, 7747 Foothill Blvd. in Tujunga. Von Gunten recalled how attendance was sometimes as low as 10 to 15 community members compared to today’s average of 30 or more people.
Two morning meetings later were added: in Tujunga at 8:30 a.m. the first Tuesday of the month at McDonald’s, 6510 Foothill Blvd., and in Sunland at 8:30 a.m. at the training room of Berkshire Hathaway Realty, 8307 Foothill Blvd. For each meeting, residents are joined by LAPD Senior Lead Officers Cesar Contreras and Gloria Caloca as well as other invited guests in law enforcement.
“The involvement of our SLOs is at an unheard level,” noted Von Gunten, “with three Neighborhood Watch meetings per month in one community. This shows residents that LAPD is on the job and will respond as strongly as staffing allows, given the current permissive legal framework such as Prop 47, AB 109, and the lawsuits that try to handcuff police enforcement.”
Some of the issues discussed at the meetings include back street speeders, dope smoking in parked cars, persistent drug houses, homeless and vagrant crimes, public inebriation and traffic issues.
“National Night Out began as a statement to gangs and criminals that residents would not be intimidated,” Von Gunten said. “Over the past 30 years, it has grown into an effusive community melding of safety and crime-conscious residents where everyone can exchange ideas with their local police force.”