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'Gang wall' comes tumbling down

On Saturday morning, October 17, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn and Sheriff Bill Gore took sledgehammers to a cinderblock wall in the 1100 block of South Vine Street that has been well known for shielding gang-related crime.

Horn said the message he wanted to send to members of Fallbrook’s street gang is “We know you’re here and we don’t want you here.”

Horn explained his intent was to make a strong statement that county officials, law enforcement officers, civic organizations, and individual community members are working together to create safer neighborhoods.

He said he has been “very aware” of the problem associated with the wall for “about eight years.”

Located in a cul-de-sac, the wall has a long history as a “graffiti magnet and gang hideout,” authorities said. It has been known to shield drug dealing and numerous other crimes.

Gore confirmed the area surrounding the wall has been “a chronic problem for years” and said the demolition of the wall is “just the beginning” of the effort that needs to go into the area to make it a safer place for citizens.

“Next, we have to work the apartment complexes more intensely and get them on board with the Sheriff Department’s Crime Free Multi-Housing Program,” said Gore.

The wall was located on property owned by Fallbrook resident Lori McKissick, who has a seven-unit apartment building on the same parcel.

“The wall was initially constructed in 1986 to try and control illegal trash dumping that was going on here,” said McKissick, who admitted trying to control graffiti on the wall had been a never-ending task.

“I bet we’ve painted the wall 300 times,” she reflected.

Michael Sternberg, who manages the rental complex for McKissick, said he has routinely painted over the graffiti as well as replaced light bulbs that gang members have removed or shot out on the property.

McKissick said she has mixed feelings about the wall being removed.

Her concern, she said, is how thoroughly law enforcement will be able to manage the area in the interim, until the rest of the improvements are finished.

“It just makes me nervous, but it looks like [the Sheriff’s Department] is going to monitor it,” said McKissick. “I’m just concerned about my tenants’ safety. The worst timeframe for activity there is from 2 to 4 a.m.”

On the other side of the now-demolished wall is a vacant parcel of land measuring less than one acre, commonly used as a gang ‘hangout’ area.

Owned by Rich McDaniel of San Diego, the lot is something county authorities say they would like to purchase in order to further improve the area and drive away gang activity.

In a telephone interview, McDaniel confirmed he has been contacted by the county regarding the possible purchase. “I’m more than happy to sell it,” he said. “I don’t have any long-term plans for it.”

Making it clear that the talks are in the “very early stages,” McDaniel said the county has told him they will do an appraisal of the parcel, but a potential purchase would be “a long process.”

McDaniel said he’s not concerned if it takes some time. “I’m in no rush,” he said. “It just makes me feel good that [the county] is trying to help the situation. As long as it’s a fair price, I’m for it.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Brumfield, who headed up the wall removal project as part of a larger Problem Oriented Policing effort, has only been stationed in Fallbrook one year but has taken a firm stand about the need for change on South Vine.

“It’s been such a nuisance to the community,” he said. “We’ve taken so many reports out here.”

According to dispatch records, Fallbrook deputies responded to 154 calls for service on South Vine from January 1 to October 19. During the same period last year, they answered 134 calls.

Brumfield explained that several changes and improvements are needed to make the area safer and effectively gain better control of crime. He said he is personally committed to the task.

“We’re starting the cleanup process and I want to be part of it,” he said.

One safety measure currently being installed is designating a long segment on the west side of South Vine a fire lane and/or ‘no parking’ zone.

“When a fire occurred in an apartment complex in this area [on August 24], there were severe problems with access for the emergency workers,” said Sgt. Ron McCracken. “There were cars lining both sides of the street, making things very difficult.”

The overall vision for the project, Brumfield said, consists of the fire lanes, landscaping improvements, the monitoring of density of population in apartments, vehicle safety barriers and possibly a park for residents to enjoy.

The McDaniel property could serve as a potential park site, Brumfield said.

Roy Costello, who has owned commercial property on South Vine for the past seven years and been part of the effort for positive change, said that instead of a park, he would rather see a parking lot put in.

“Parking is badly needed in the area,” he said. “With the west side of the street now marked as a fire lane, parking is going to be an even bigger problem than it is now.”

Costello said he felt a parking lot could contain landscape amenities and possibly even generate income for the county if properly monitored.

Judy Mitchell, director of Mission Resource Conservation District, a charter member of Keep Fallbrook Clean & Green (KFCG), said she was happy to see the wall come down.

“[KFCG] has done cleanups in the past in that neighborhood,” said Mitchell. “We removed shrubbery that residents said drug trafficking was taking place in, trimmed up a bunch of things and painted out graffiti.”

“When we’ve done cleanups on that street, families there have told us they are upset they live in a neighborhood with crime but said that’s all they can afford,” she added.

In an effort to minimize trash in the area, KFCG has sponsored a program where multi-unit tenants are eligible for free vouchers (on a certain frequency) to dispose of large items at Fallbrook Refuse.

Without the voucher, apartment residents would have to pay a $35 fee per large item. “We are trying to help them dispose of things properly,” said Mitchell.

Another help to the effort has been local crime prevention activist Pat Braendel, founder of the Fallbrook Citizens Crime Prevention Committee (FCCPC).

McKissick said Braendel has put considerable time and effort into bringing positive resolution to the problems on South Vine.

Braendel and other founding members of the FCCPC, like Millie Thompson, have worked for the past several years with many of the property owners and managers, encouraging them to participate in efforts to improve the area.

“Pat has been a big advocate of trying to clean up South Vine,” said McKissick. “She has really kept on it and tried to help.”

For Supervisor Horn, who has been outspoken about the need to target and reduce gang activity throughout North County, the opportunity to swing a sledgehammer at the wall on South Vine fit perfectly with his goal.

“We are literally tearing down another wall in our fight against gangs in North County,” said Horn.

Standing at Horn’s side, Sheriff Gore scanned the crowd watching the demolition of the wall. When asked if he thought any members of the area street gang were present for the removal of the wall, he surveyed the crowd and said, “The gangbangers are still in bed. They’ll see what’s happened when they wake up.”


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