Recovery in Atlanta may aid SB

Presentation to be given on East Lake's about-face

Megan Blaney, Staff Writer

There once was a violent ghetto in Atlanta, where children feared to play and drug lords ruled the streets.

People survived or didn't for years in the forsaken neighborhood known as East Lake Meadows until a benefactor rallied local businesses, government agencies and the most essential factor the community itself.

This civic-minded group tore down the dilapidated structures and built new units that included businesses and mixed-income housing. Crime rates plummeted.

In San Bernardino, city officials and local community leaders hope to rejuvenate the community in a similar fashion, possibly using the North Lake Project Area, formerly known as Lakes and Streams. The project centers around a reservoir that is intended to provide water for the city and surrounding municipalities as well as breathe life into a dying downtown.

The Sun is flying Carol Naughton, executive director of the East Lake Community Foundation, to San Bernardino to discuss East Lake's transformation.

"With the right partnerships, community participation and buy-in, my guess is there are some really great assets there (in San Bernardino)," Naughton said by telephone. "What they need is a real creative eye to bring it to bear."

The Rev. Reginald Beamon recently brought the East Lake project to the attention of members of Mynesha's Circle a community action group named after an 11-year-girl killed Nov. 13 in an apparent gang-related shooting in San Bernardino. Members of Mynesha's Circle, which is sponsored by The Sun, include local leaders, businesses and community residents.

Naughton's presentation and workshop begins at 10 a.m. Thursday at San Bernardino's Norman F. Feldheym Central Library, 555 W. Sixth St. The public is invited.

"This can happen for us," Beamon said. "We were asleep for a while, and crime came creeping on in. But we're not going to sleep anymore."

San Bernardino's crime rate has never been as bad as East Lake's, which was once 26 times greater than the national average.

But San Bernardino's downward spiral since its heyday as an all-American city in the 1970s has garnered it a place on the list of the nation's top 20 most dangerous cities. Residents seem ready for a change after the city tallied a decade-high number of homicides in 2005. Two teenagers already have been killed this year.

East Lake and San Bernardino have their differences. San Bernardino is a city of about 200,000. The Villages of East Lake the Atlanta community's new name has fewer than 600 homes.

They are also working with different assets.

East Lake is located next to a country club and golf course that were once the stomping grounds of golf legend Bobby Jones. But crime grew so unmanageable that club patrons were regularly mugged on the fairways, and the facilities were abandoned.

"It was as scary and dysfunctional place as you can imagine," Naughton said.

In the early 1990s, real-estate developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins decided to use the historic golf course as an economic generator to rehabilitate the forsaken neighborhood. Fifty percent of the apartment homes are rented at market rate and 50 percent are leased to low-income families whose rents are subsidized by the Atlanta Housing Authority. The entire project cost about $120 million.

In San Bernardino, some officials believe the city's rejuvenation is intrinsically tied to the city's ambitious lakes project.

"We don't have an abandoned country club but we do have a core of the city that is old," Mayor Judith Valles said. "The lakes project is exactly what we need to do here."

The lake in the eponymously named project would be a 44.5-acre reservoir to be built by the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and surrounded by parkland, homes and shops. The North Lake Project is expected to cost more than $150 million.

The city intends to clear about 82 acres containing 437 houses, about 30 businesses and six churches.

The East Lake area in Atlanta had to be torn down as well. But there, 650 units were demolished and 542 of them were rebuilt.

Former tenants who wanted to return could apply to live there, and they were approved as long as they passed a hefty barrage of screening tests, Naughton said. It wasn't easy convincing the community that they would be welcomed back, she said.

"The hardest part was building the trust to do it together and the integrity to rely on one another," she said. "It was a process of making small promises and keeping them and making big promises and keeping those and ultimately putting everything in writing."

Affected San Bernardino residents have fought the project vigorously. Only 72 houses will be rebuilt.

The reduction of homes by about 84 percent is detrimental to the revitalization effort, said Councilwoman Susan Lien Longville, who represents the 2nd Ward where the North Lakes project is planned.

"If we build it that way, we will become the poster child for the most egregious use of eminent domain to displace poor people and put in luxury homes," she said.

Furthermore, she said there's no guarantee that any of the homes will be set aside as affordable housing units.

"And I don't personally believe they ever will be," she said.

Lien Longville supported a smaller lake for the project that would have preserved about 111 affordably priced homes on the west side of the lake. But that proposal was voted down in 2003.

Beamon said there would need to be enough housing to make the project appealing to the community.

"It may not be the same scale," he said. "But here's something that we can believe in."

North Lake Project Manager John Hoeger agreed that the project could be inspirational.

"This isn't just putting a lake down in the middle of a few blocks," he said. "This is longer term. We're talking about something that's more citywide."

Lien Longville is hopeful the City Council will "do the right thing" and preserve more homes.

"It sounds to me like East Lake is more progressive in that it maintains some of its affordable units," Lien Longville said. "But time will tell. We're still several years away from the bulldozer stage, so there's time to improve it."


EAST LAKE - A CLOSER LOOK

The East Lake Community Foundation was established in 1995 to lead the revitalization of the East Lake neighborhood in Atlanta. The East Lake neighborhood had been home to a 650-unit public-housing project called East Lake Meadows.

East Lake Meadows was demolished and The Villages of East Lake was built in its place.

Progress through January 2005

Housing

  • 100 percent of the East Lake Meadows housing project demolished.
  • All 542 units of The Villages of East Lake completed.
  • Apartments serve families across a broad range of incomes.

Education

  • Opened the first charter school in Atlanta … Drew Charter School.
  • Students of Drew are making "adequate yearly progress'' under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
  • More than 325 students are enrolled in foundation-sponsored after-school programs.

Crime

  • Crime in The Villages of East Lake is down 94 percent compared with East Lake Meadows.
  • Crime in the surrounding neighborhood is down 77 percent since 1994.

Neighborhood redevelopment

  • Revitalization effort has spurred East Lake's first new residential construction in 30 years. Developments include high-end townhouses and apartments as well as single-family homes.
  • From 1996-2002, East Lake's property values have increased more than 20 percent per year (highest in metro Atlanta).
  • A Publix supermarket opened in November 2001, the first grocery store in the community in 40 years.


Source: East Lake Community Foundation

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