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Saturday, Feb 24, 2024

Spotlight

North Hills Year Founded: 1915 Origins: The area got its start as Mission Acres, a subdivision that boasted one-acre plots with gardens, chickens and rabbits. In 1927, the community changed its name to Sepulveda, but the word became synonymous with drugs and prostitutes. In 1992, residents changed the name to North Hills, but the bad reputation persisted. Business Profile: Galpin Ford heads up the local business community. The area is also home to myriad grocery, auto parts and other stores as well as restaurants and motels. By CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter For one enterprising group, North Hills has it all: Convenient freeway access, low overhead and a word-of-mouth reputation that draws customers from throughout the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, it’s a group of drug dealers from one of the Valley’s most notorious gangs. With support from businesses and residents, police and prosecutors have been battling the gang for years to make the neighborhood a safer place to live and do business. In the latest offensive, City Attorney James Hahn is seeking a court injunction that would impose a 9 p.m. curfew on gang members while forbidding them from hanging out on private property and flagging down cars a common tactic during drug deals. Harry Coleman, president of the North Hills Coordinating Council, said it could be a decisive move in the war against the Langdon Street gang. “For the first time, the visible drug activity has all but disappeared,” said Coleman. “It doesn’t mean it’s gone, it’s just not visible Now we’re in the final phase in terms of enforcement, and it’s starting to pay off.” Business owners long have been caught in the middle of this melee, pointing out that local customers are often afraid to come out at night. In addition, North Hills’ reputation as a gang hangout makes it difficult to attract customers from other areas of the Valley. Rudy Alvarado said that the area has improved in the eight years he has been manager of a Tommy’s Hamburgers at Sepulveda Boulevard. When he first arrived, North Hills was at its worst, with graffiti splashed throughout the neighborhood, prostitutes walking the streets, and drug dealing at an all-time high. “We had to take the public phones away,” Alvarado said. “The drug dealers and prostitutes were using them to conduct business at our store. It was outrageous.” In response, Alvarado launched a graffiti clean-up campaign, hired a security firm to guard the premises, and joined a Business Watch Program that tire merchant Flip Smith started along Sepulveda Boulevard. Meanwhile, police and prosecutors also took aim on the area with an ongoing crackdown that resulted in 10,000 arrests in the past six years 4,000 last year alone in a one-square-mile area where the gang is centered. “We’ve really seen some big improvements throughout the community,” Alvarado said. “I’m happy to say North Hills is one of the (communities) that is trying the hardest to change its image.” Originally known as Sepulveda, the community enjoyed a thriving business district along Sepulveda Boulevard in the ’50s and ’60s. But the area declined with the development of a number of low-income apartment complexes. It wasn’t long before middle-class families moved away and gangs began to appear along some streets east of the San Diego (405) Freeway. Coleman said drug dealing became so flagrant that customers came to expect curb-side service day or night. “All you had to do was get off the freeway at Nordhoff (Street), drive less than 150 feet and a person would be in drug heaven,” he said. The area’s reputation prompted business owners and residents in 1992 to rename the area North Hills. Then came the police crackdown and now the proposed gang injunction. Coleman also credited businesses like Green Arrow Home Center, Galpin Ford and McDonalds for contributing time and money to improving the area. Brad Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin Motors Inc., said keeping the dealership well-lit at night helped stop car thefts and vandalism. “The efforts of the Police Department have absolutely been positive,” Boeckmann said. “I haven’t seen a street walker in I can’t tell you how long.” Nancy Hoffman, executive vice president of the Mid-Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents merchants in the North Hills, Van Nuys and Panorama City areas, said developers and merchants are showing increased interest in the area. As examples, she pointed to the new Vallarta Supermarket that opened on Sepulveda Boulevard in North Hills, and the construction of The Plant, a retail and industrial project in neighboring Panorama City. “The whole area is improving,” said Hoffman. Guillermo Chavez, assistant manager of Amar Ranch Market, said business has picked up since his firm took over the business in the 8700 block of Sepulveda Boulevard a year ago and changed the mix of merchandise to appeal to the Latino community. So far, the store hasn’t had a lot of crime problems. Still, Chavez is hoping the gang injunction is granted and helps keep the streets quiet after 9 p.m., when business usually slows down because of customer concerns about safety. The injunction has come under fire from some community members who fear police will abuse their power. But the city attorney said a similar injunction filed against a Bryant Street gang in Panorama City led to a decrease in crime and sparked renewed development interest in that community. “If we can break the stranglehold of that (North Hills) gang, it will give the area a chance to come back,” Hahn said. “More than one-third of the narcotics arrests made in the San Fernando Valley come out of that neighborhood. We’re hoping the injunction will take the most active gang members and force them to get off the street.”

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