A shooting left two dead, but one of Fresno’s worst neighborhoods is improving
Agrouping of candles and some homemade signs adorn a driveway at a West Shaw condo complex, put there to honor the memory of Peniamina “Ben” Romero.
The 17-year-old was killed just outside his home last Monday in yet another appalling shooting in Fresno, and while police aren’t calling it gang related, the suspect was believed to be a gang member. A man who was with the teen, Jesse Villanueva, 28, was also shot dead. A 13-year-old was shot in the leg and is recovering. Police on Thursday captured the suspect – he is an 18year-old Fresno man.
In the immediate aftermath, a police lieutenant told reporters that the West Shaw Estates condos were “the worst apartment complex in Fresno.” Police Chief Jerry Dyer walked that back a day later, saying things were improving and steps were being taken to keep the positive momentum going.
Violence is not new at West Shaw Estates. Yet despite the latest slayings there, West Shaw Estates has the potential to be a model for improving other crime-ridden neighborhoods in Fresno.
Some background: West Shaw Estates, near Shaw and Marks, opened in the 1970s and offered the chance of home ownership to young families and first-time buyers. It consists of more than 200 condominiums, controlled by more than 100 owners. When West Shaw Estates opened, a condo could be purchased for just under $40,000.
Many of those units were bought by out-of-town owners, who in turn rented out their properties. There was no property manager to screen tenants, since the residences were individually owned. People with criminal backgrounds began moving in.
Fast forward to three years ago: Dyer said West Shaw Estates was a major problem area and at the top of the department’s list for calls. Officers were rushing there at least twice a night, sometimes more. According to police, from August 2015 through July 2017, there were 1,482 calls for service – an average of 62 per month.
The property management company and its security team during that period were ineffectual in dealing with bad renters, Dyer explained. Those tenants were a minority, but had outsized negative impact. “The majority of people living at West Shaw Estates are good people, raising their families and trying to do the right thing,” Dyer said.
Many of the units were in disrepair, so at the end of 2016 police and city code enforcement officers went through each home to identify problems, and major fixes were made to structures and plumbing and electrical systems.
Then this past March Regency Property Management took over and began cleaning up common areas than had been left to decay. Regency was the firm called to restore the Summerset Village Apartments in November 2015 when tenants there discovered they had no heat or hot water.
Plans were made to install video cameras around the condos that will feed images directly into the police department’s real-time crime center. Those cameras are scheduled to go in this month, Dyer said, and will help officers respond quickly at the first sign of trouble.
A new on-site security firm has been hired, and its staff will team with an off-duty officer from FPD who is on a threemonth contract to provide extra help, Dyer said.
Additionally, the northwest police station is just about a block away. Dyer has asked its 85 officers to drive through West Shaw Estates as they come and go to add their presence to the neighborhood.
In the first seven months of last year, Fresno police responded to 400 calls at West Shaw Estates. Through July this year there have been 307 calls – a 23 percent reduction, Dyer noted.
Still, five shootings have happened this year, and Dyer admits problem tenants continue to be a challenge. Police can assist property owners trying to evict bad renters, and that will need to be done rigorously as the ultimate answer to improving West Shaw Estates is having decent tenants.
Police, city officials, West Shaw Estates residents and property owners must keep the focus on improving the neighborhood. Only that way does West Shaw Estates become a safe place where anyone might want to live.