National Night Out Controversy Erupts: Response to Mid valley News 8/15/12 National Night Out Article
By Sean Telles
San Gabriel, CA – National Night Out Controversy Erupts: Response to Mid valley News 8/15/12 National Night Out Article
Last week I wrote an article comparing National Night Out celebrations in San Gabriel and Rosemead. While I gave credit to both events for their charm, I suggested Rosemead’s event was more inclusive because it was at a public space, was well publicized, needed no reservation, and offered community tables for local non-profits to distribute information. Not everyone agreed, and below are a few excerpts from emails we received followed by an abridged response I sent to those who wrote. The complete emails and my letter are available online. Names are omitted unless where permission was given to publish.
“San Gabriel has repeatedly received honors for its National Night Out programs and because of the community’s engagement, we have one of the most effective Neighborhood Watch programs in the country….I resent the fact that the article presents a negative view of something in which we take such pride and gives the idea that those of us involved are part of some type of “exclusive club”.”
“Your article was completely out of line. It should have been presented as an “opinion” piece; not the news. I question your journalism background. You are entitled to express your opinion; but it should be labeled as an opinion.”
“My wife and I are Captains of our Neighborhood Watch on our street in Northwest San Gabriel. Your point of view written in the Mid valley News 8/15/12, concerning a National Night Out gathering in the Rosemead City Park is not always better. The population of Rosemead as of July 2011 is 54,154 and San Gabriel is 40,005. We had 17 people gathered at our home which was a smaller turnout than last year. I think it was because of the hot weather. If the 40 block parties in San Gabriel had at least 17 people at those homes, that would have been 680 people. That is 30 more people than the 650 people gathered in Rosemead City Park where the city has a population of 14,000 more people than what San Gabriel has.”
“I believe your article regarding the Neighborhood Watch describing San Gabriel’s event was unfair, incorrect and perhaps biased. I don’t believe you understand what Neighborhood Watch is about; it is to know your immediate neighbors so you can watch out for them! Our yearly potluck gives us the opportunity to meet with our neighbors and greet the new ones…I did not appreciate you seemingly pitting one city against the other. I think we can learn from each other, but this was not helpful. By the way, have you read the mission statement for the Mid Valley News? It is to let people know of the positive activities of the local cities as the media often do not report it. Perhaps, you have forgotten it or decided to ignore it.”
“I feel I need to explain the San Gabriel National Night Out to you. NNO is one night when the neighborhoods who participate in the Neighborhood Watch program can get together IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS to meet and greet government officials, police officers, and City personnel. It takes a brave politician to come out and see first hand what is going on in the neighborhoods be it graffiti, pot holes, abandoned houses, etc. It is amazing to see how quickly problems are solved when the local officials see first hand what needs to be done.”
“I read your article and didn’t feel it was negative. It’s one person’s opinion and observation about the event. I guess that goes with the territory. Keep the local articles coming and in due time, people will get a feel for your style and hopefully realize you are just reporting not attacking.”
Sean Telles’ Response: In the case of San Gabriel’s National Night Out (NNA), the 43 events in question were not made public and I have yet to receive the information from the city or from Alex Acosta on where the events took place and who led each event. When I asked for a list, I was first told to show up the day of at the Mission Playhouse, and that I would attend the events with a city official. When I let Alex know I had to cover Rosemead’s event as well, he then gave me a list of 9 addresses without names or phone numbers. The one house I visited from that list was not involved in the event, and the woman who answered the door was actually scared to see me. I’m sure this was just a typo, but it shows the importance of public information.
I have since again asked for the complete list and have yet to receive it.
I do believe San Gabriel does not get information to its citizens as well as other surrounding cities in general, or specifically concerning the NNO. I believe San Gabriel recognizes this problem, thus the recent revamp of the Grapevine and new website. It’s a step in the right direction, but the website is still missing simple information, like the bio of Councilmember Gutierrez, and includes odd, subjective information, such as City Hall and the hospital as top destinations within the city.
I recently wrote City Council and spoke at a City Council meeting regarding my concerns about how the city distributes information. I also voiced my concern that San Gabriel is the only city in our surrounding area that does not give its residents access to City Council meetings – either through television or online.
Other cities are actively getting their residents to participate and provide feedback. Cities like Temple City offer residents month-long workshops to understand how their city is run. South El Monte offers regular bike rides with the mayor and advertises these events through new, free technologies like Facebook and Twitter. When I mentioned this to Mayor Sawkins he asked me to email him information, but neither Mayor Sawkins nor other councilmembers responded.
Other interesting programs I’ve seen around the valley which develop community are Temple City’s contests to showcase the musical talent of its youth, and sleepovers in the park for whole families to enjoy. Rosemead offers a free chain link fence removal program, and is starting an adult basketball league. Something to think about as well is that this summer, San Gabriel was the only city to not have a free summer concert series for its residents. The Circle the Square event was nice, but it was a one shot deal that many missed.
I take nothing away from the charm of San Gabriel’s NNO or in Alex Acosta’s contributions to the city – as stated in my article – but I do think it celebrated the night in a way that left many not knowing about the event, and missed a chance to teach each others who live in our city about resources available to them.
I was recently at an event at the San Gabriel library where an adult woman asked whether it cost money to call 911. In one of the fastest changing cities in Southern California, we need to make sure we are keeping pace building community and civically educating – and that means spending time together getting to know each other. Ultimately, that is our own hands, but all-inclusive community events provide a wonderful catalyst for that which other cities, like Rosemead and Temple City are taking advantage of more often than San Gabriel.