East Lake foundation director brings message of hope

'You are all so far ahead'

Megan Blaney, Staff Writer

SAN BERNARDINO - This city needs a champion. Maybe more than one.

An auditorium full of potential candidates listened to a presentation Thursday about how one community eliminated the violence that plagued it.

San Bernardino could do the same, said Carol Naughton, executive director of the East Lake Community Foundation in Atlanta.

East Lake Meadows was a 650-unit housing project that police called "Little Vietnam" because of its lawlessness and desperation. Crime emanating from the complex accounted for a large percentage of all crime in Atlanta.

One man, real estate developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins, recognized its potential and threw all his resources into making it a viable community. Now it's a thriving neighborhood called The Villages of East Lake.

"There are many characteristics of a champion," Naughton said. "And they've got to be in it for the long haul."
But it's not just one person that changes a whole city.

It takes vision, faith and partnerships, Naughton said.

The East Lake overhaul required the participation of city government, the private sector, the Atlanta Housing Authority and the people who lived there.

In San Bernardino, local leaders are seeking a similar outcome in the wake of a year that saw a decade high number of homicides and the city ranked the 18th most dangerous in the nation.

In November, The Sun founded a community action group called Mynesha's Circle in honor of an 11-year-old girl who was gunned down by gang members.

It was at one of that group's meetings that the Rev. Reginald Beamon told members about the transformation of the East Lake community, and in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Gangs & Drug Task Force, they decided to bring Naughton to San Bernardino.

Naughton's visit was the first time the East Lake representative has traveled to another city to present the model.

She told the audience of about 120 people that San Bernardino is better positioned to effect change than East Lake was.

"You all are so far ahead," she said. "(East Lake) had no governmental support. Just a kind of benign neglect."

San Bernardino's two mayoral hopefuls - Superior Court Judge Pat Morris and City Attorney James F. Penman - expressed enthusiasm for the East Lake example and participated in the discussion about how a similar transformation could be accomplished here.

Penman suggested Seccombe Lake as an option for the area where San Bernardino focuses its rejuvenation efforts.

City officials have discussed remaking Seccombe Lake into a gated recreation area with upscale homes. The park has become overrun with homeless people, but Penman envisions it could be remodeled in the same fashion as East Lake.

Others have suggested the much-touted North Lake Project Area, more commonly known as Lakes and Streams, to rejuvenate downtown San Bernardino.

Beamon said the components of the revitalization were coming together. He and Naughton have emphasized the importance of participation from government, residents and the private sector.

Larry Sharp, president and CEO of Arrowhead Credit Union, attended the presentation and said he was interested in joining the effort.

"I wanted to glean as much of it as I can," Sharp said. "I'd like to find out what role the financial institutions are able to play."

Naughton said the solution involves the whole community.

"We didn't do anything by ourselves," Naughton said. "Sometimes that partnership was inelegant. Often it was hard and sometimes it was contentious. But we found a way to do it together."

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