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Frustrated Neighbor

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Jumping Mad: The Beach Area Plan quotes a study saying 69 percent of the residents of Beach Flats want to move, but the study has since been discredited.

Maria Gutierrez says she's too busy to 'chase down planning meetings,' but she'd still like to know what's going on

'I WORK EVERY DAY and have six kids to feed at night. When I come home, I am so tired," Maria Gutierrez tells me. "Many of us Mexicans in Beach Flats don't have time to read newspapers--even if we do understand English. So how can we make time to chase down planning meetings all over town? Most of them are during the day when I'm at work anyway."

Gutierrez speaks candidly while sitting in the small office of her apartment complex on Leibrandt Street. She moved into Beach Flats 23 years ago and lived in the neighborhood until 1995. Then, she recalls, harassment from drug dealers pushed her and her family out. She says she had just bought her building when she began having trouble with the dealers and reported them to the police.

"My tires were slashed 27 times, and they were smashing my windows," she says. "Someone threw a big rock through my window and smashed our television set. It almost hit my daughter, who was just a baby at the time. That was when we decided to move." Her husband, Fructoso, nods quietly in agreement.

Even though she's moved from Beach Flats, Gutierrez still owns three homes and feels strongly connected to the neighborhood. She says she first heard talk of redevelopment more than 20 years ago, but believes that most residents, especially Spanish-speakers, aren't aware of the changes facing them.

"I'm really scared about redevelopment," Gutierrez says, nervously twisting her hands as she sits on the edge of her chair. Next to her is a statue of Jesus exposing the Sacred Heart. "A lot of Latino people, they don't understand English. Four of my tenants heard about a planning meeting downtown and got someone to drive them to it. They didn't know they had to arrange a translator in advance, so there wasn't one there. They told me it was the first they'd heard about redevelopment."

Gutierrez seems quite fluent in English. However, she says before the city recently hired a professional translator for Planning Committee meetings, she would leave frustrated at not understanding issues being discussed.

"The members of City Council are working for the city," she says. "City employees don't tell us anything, they just tell us not to worry. The activists have their own agenda. They're not looking out for our interests. The Seaside Company is going to benefit, not the people who live here. They just make promises."

With a note of frustration in her voice, Gutierrez adds, "It's all promises, promises. Then they back up and nothing changes. So they ask for our input, then say, 'We're going to do what we want anyway.'

"I keep asking why they don't inform people in Spanish, why the planning books are in English only. I think that's why they stopped sending me invitations to meetings. Often Francisco Cerna at the Community Center gives fliers to the kids. But I know a lot of them never make it home, because I find them crumpled up in the street when I'm picking up trash. That's how I find out about meetings now."

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From the April 30-May 6, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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