BARSTOW The tone remained civil throughout a nearly three-hour town hall meeting where Riverside Drive-area residents publicly aired their concerns to the Barstow City Council Tuesday.

Officials and citizens alike said they were pleased with the dialogue at the meeting held at the Union Missionary Baptist Church. It was the first in a series of town hall forums that Mayor Joe Gomez said he hopes to hold at different locations throughout Barstow.

Pastor Seth Williams, who worked with the city to set up the meeting, said since taking over at the Baptist church in December, he had heard a number of concerns from his congregation and wanted to give them a chance to talk to city officials directly.

A number of residents complained about the lack of lights both on the street and at Sturnacle Park. They also voiced concerns that the park is less used by children and more by drug dealers since the city erected a six-foot chain link fence around it about two years ago.

Parks and Recreation Manager Jeanette Hayhurst said Wednesday that the fence was initially erected to combat a problem with illegal dumping, and it has been successful in doing so. She said the request for a light in the park can be included in the parks department's capital improvement budget for 2009-10.

The residents voiced concerns about the large number of abandoned houses and vacant properties in the area, the lack of activities for the youth and services for the elderly, and a lack of public transportation combined with the fact that the neighborhood has only one access road.

They requested more posted speed limits or speed bumps to deter drivers from speeding through the residential neighborhood, and a three-way stop to replace the current two-way stop on Yucca Avenue and Riverside Drive.

The Barstow Police Department came in for a share of criticism over response times, lack of visibility, and insensitivity in handling some incidents.

Chief Dianne Burns told the residents that short staffing often leaves the officers in reactive mode, scrambling to respond wherever the radio sends them.

Contrary to the belief of some in Barstow, Burns said, "The Riverside area is not a high-crime area in the eyes of the police department. We get very few calls for service. ... We would like to do more, but we just don't have the number of officers to do it."

While Burns and the Council members promised to follow up on the residents' concerns, they also urged them to get more involved, from joining the city's newly reinvigorated Neighborhood Watch program, to paying attention to City Council agendas and showing up to Council meetings to voice their concerns.

Riverside Drive residents said after the meeting that they will be watching closely to see if the city officials follow through on addressing their concerns.

"It was a good start, a good beginning," said longtime neighborhood resident Malcolm Sims, Sr., an employee at the Marine Corps Logistics Base maintenance center. "... Now, are they going to be proactive with this, is what the question is."

Gomez promised to meet with Williams and some of the neighborhood residents in about a month to update them on the city's progress.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or asewell@desertdispatch.com