Egleston Main Streets tackles public safety issues

David Tabe

EGLESTON SQ.—A recent surge in drug activity, public drinking and panhandling in the area has sparked action by local community members, and Egleston Square Main Streets (ESMS) is leading the charge.

In response to a petition signed by 31 local merchants, the ESMS board in September decided to make dealing with quality-of-life crimes a priority. The entire board decided to take the issue on instead of creating a subcommittee, said ESMS Director Clarissa Quintanilla.

“People are not feeling safe,” Quintanilla said, noting that some business owners have begun installing buzzers on their front doors.

“The economic viability of the district is in danger if people don’t feel safe,” she said.

ESMS presented its preliminary Greater Egleston Community Action Plan at a November community meeting. The action plan, which at this stage is a three-page list of bullet points, calls for an increased police presence, including a new police sub-station; more security cameras; the establishment of a merchants’ crime watch group; and the installation of signs reading “No Drinking, Drugs, Loitering—Zero Tolerance.”

The draft plan also calls on police to attend community meetings out of uniform, and recommends that classical music be piped into the streets along the Egleston commercial district.

Solomon Lemma, the proprietor of Egleston Liquors at 3036 Washington St., who circulated the original petition, said he has seen an increased police presence after the preliminary action plan meeting, but not consistently.

“It’s still inconsistent. [The police] will be out in full force for a couple of days, and then you won’t see them again. It’s cat-and-mouse,” Lemma said.

Quintanilla said there are no plans to formally move forward with any of the initiatives before further consultation with the community takes place.

“Our first priority is to evaluate our stakeholders groups, and form a coordinating committee with representatives from each stakeholders group,” Quintanilla said.

Identified stakeholders include police, residents, merchants, property owners, youths, elected officials and community groups, she said.

At least one of those stakeholders, state Rep. Liz Malia, who represents the square, as well as other sections of JP and Roxbury, said focusing on quality of life issues in Egleston seems like déjà vu all over again.

In the early 1990s, Malia worked as an aide to then state Rep. John McDonough, whom she later replaced. At that time, “There was a lot of violence in the city, particularly in this district and this area,” she said.

City leaders, community organizers and groups like the non-profit community development corporation Urban Edge put a considerable amount of energy into revitalizing the area, Malia said.

“We had a long-term plan and dealt with a lot of day-to-day problems, and over the years we were successful,” she said.

“Over the last couple of years we are really coming back to a crisis again,” although this time, “I don’t see it as gang activity so much as general malaise among younger folks,” Malia said.

Among other things, she pointed to a lack of youth services in the square and years of revolving-door leadership turnover at the district E-13 police station as contributing to Egleston’s recent deterioration.

In its fourth leadership change in the last three years, Capt. Christine Michalosky was recently given command of E-13. [See related article.] Malia said she hopes Michalosky will stick around long enough to devise and implement a long-term policing strategy for the square.

Neither Michalosky nor interim E-13 commander Lt. Michael Kern were available for comment by press time.

Likewise, the Egleston Square YMCA has not been as active in providing youth services as it used to be, Malia said. But, she said, new organizations are moving in to fill that hole. The Teen Empowerment Center recently opened a site at 2010 Columbus Ave. [see Agenda], and the 826 Boston youth writing center at 3035 Washington St. is having its grand opening on Dec. 1. [See Happenings.] The cable access Boston Neighborhood Network also plans to open new studios in the Square.

In general, Malia said, a community response like the one she recalls from the early 1990s is ”starting up again. Egleston Square Main Streets started it up again.”

Quintanilla agreed that there is new energy in the square.

“I definitely feel like there is a new energy. A lot of groups have been doing things individually, and it has created a synergy, basically something where the whole is greater than the parts,” she said.

Lemma said he has noticed a new energy, too and he hopes it will attract more businesses and customers to Egleston. “Overall the square is getting improved,” he said. “Due to that improvement, the price of real estate is going up. You can see some yuppies are moving into the area. You can see that at the [Main Streets action plan] meetings.”

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