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PARTY IN THE 'HOOD A SUCCESSFUL BLOCK PARTY BRINGS NEIGHBORS TOGETHER TO HAVE FUN, SHARE SAFETY INFO.

Byline: Story by Katie Cobb Correspondent

As a police chopper circles tightly above the 13100 block of Margate Street, it's clear something is going down.

On the street below, a DJ raps energetically to the crowd, while an LAPD mobile command post pulls up next to an inflatable bounce house. Nearby, a firetruck raises its ladder through the smoke of a trio of barbecues. Bingo players wait for the next call.

With their units in place, police officers and firefighters mingle among the crowd in Sherman Oaks, rubbing shoulders with neighbors holding their third annual block party.

``It's fun to see everyone out of their house and at the party,'' says block party organizer Andi Schoffman, surveying the scene. ``From bobbing for apples to learning how to put in that car seat, it's all here,'' she says proudly.

The modern block party dates to the 1970s, when home-styled DJs would steal power from outdoor street lights and draw neighbors to listen and dance. Local law enforcement turned a blind eye to the raucous events, figuring if everyone from the neighborhood was in the same place a crime wasn't being committed elsewhere.

LAPD presence

But these days, block parties invite local law enforcement -- not only to be part of the fun, but also to provide important public safety information. ``The block party is really an offshoot of Neighborhood Watch,'' says LAPD senior lead officer Justin Bergman, who is the department's liaison to the local community. ``Neighbors who come out and get to know each other keep an eye on each other,'' he adds.

Neighbor Harvey Hirsch, shrouded in smoke from multiple grills sizzling with hotdogs, hamburgers and sausages, agrees. ``It's the one time everyone in the neighborhood gets out of their car and interacts.''

At the sound of the tune ``Celebration,'' folks jump to their feet. ``I bring the magic element: energy,'' says DJ Dennis Testa of Let's Party L.A. Later, he segues from funk to classic rock to a contest where kids are encouraged to wrap up their ``mummies'' with toilet paper.

Parents let their kids roam a bit, surrounded not only by adults and other children they know, but by local law enforcement as well. ``I haven't seen my daughter all afternoon,'' declares an unalarmed Tina Summers. ``She's been in the bounce house having the time of her life.''

But it's the potluck table that has the most buzz this year, with Summers' homemade baked beans the focal point. A stack of boxes from D'amore's pizza up the street dominates the adjacent table of donated provisions from local establishments.

``We asked neighbors to make their best dish, but also asked local vendors to contribute in exchange for displaying a menu or their name,'' said Schoffman. Most complied.

Nearby is a table displaying disaster preparedness gear that was set up by block party co-chair Janet Richmond.

``We want to make it easy for people so when they have some down time from the fun, they can come get serious about safety,'' she says. The display features everything from a solar-powered/hand-crank radio/flashlight to a toilet seat and lid that fits snugly on a five-gallon paint bucket.

``Being good neighbors is not only about making sure someone's car doesn't get broken into, it is also about being prepared for a large-scale disaster, like an earthquake,'' says Bergman, raising his voice to be heard over the music. ``You need to know who knows CPR, who has all the bottled water, the contact information, a generator, who is a doctor.''

Next to Richmond's table, LAPD Officer Norman Kellems mans a display of three child car seats, demonstrating correct and incorrect installation. While parents in the street are drawn to the serious stuff, the kids scramble to the LAPD command post with its flashing rooftop lights, siren bleats and radio chatter. Other officers affix silvery LAPD sticker badges to each youngster as he or she takes a turn on the P.A.

Fire department, too

As kids climb into the cab of his ladder truck, Capt. Jeff Celemens of Fire Station 102, on Burbank Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, says his unit averages about one block party a month. ``It's not just about letting kids climb all over the trucks,'' he says. ``It's also about spreading messages like `stop, drop and roll.' ''

As in previous years, the Margate Street block party offers a chance for neighbors to meet local elected officials and their staff. Joan Pellico, a field deputy for Councilman Jack Weiss, chats with constituents near the Play-Doh table.

``When I go into my office on Monday morning, I have calls from four or five people I've met over the weekend who call me with their issues and I take care of them. It's satisfying on both ends,'' said Pellico.

And real-estate agent Alan Taylorsaid he used the annual event as a key selling point in a recent listing a block away on Weddington Street. ``These days, people don't just want to buy a house,'' he observed. ``They want to buy a neighborhood.''

GETTING STARTED

Here are some basic tips for organizing a successful block party:

Set the date

With Southern California weather, any season is good for a block party. But organizers suggest staying away from holidays because folks are traveling and local officials are busy with municipal events. Once you choose a date, send a flier out to neighbors at least two months in advance, alerting them of the party and asking for assistance.

Set a budget

``The first year, I guessed how much it would cost,'' said organizer Andi Schoffman. ``By the third year, you know.'' She charged $20 per household plus a dish. Additional friends or family were $5 a person.

``Start collecting a month ahead of the date, and have a cutoff, so you know how much money is coming in,'' she adds.

Set up committees

Fliers should also include information about volunteering for the party set-up committee. The committee divides up tasks: budget management, neighborhood notification, food shopping, food preparation, kid activities, party rentals, contacting local officials, set-up and clean-up. ``One neighbor volunteered to do face painting while another who works with the city offered to get the permits,'' said co-chair Janet Richmond. ``It's more gratifying for a neighborhood if everyone does a little something.''

Get approval

Contact your city's Bureau of Street Services to let them know you are planning a party. The permit costs $312 and allows you to block off your street from one end to another.

One hitch in the process is that you must turn in 51 percent of the residents' signatures in order to get the permit. The city provides the barricades. A committee member can pick them up and return them. The city will put up ``no parking'' signs a day before the party. Local elected officials can also assist.

``We want to see neighborhoods do it, so we try to make it easy for them,'' said Joan Pellico, field representative for Councilman Jack Weiss.

Get food vendors involved

Local vendors often donate food if asked, especially if the owner runs the establishment. Also, some managers of big chains can give money or food without corporate approval. For example, Ralphs in Sherman Oaks donated $50 worth of food without corporate approval for the Margate party. ``You'd be surprised -- even local vendors are eager for a greater sense of community,'' said Schoffman.

Include officers, officials

Call your local police department to find out who your community's lead officer is.

This officer can assist in setting up a Neighborhood Watch in addition to creating a law enforcement presence at a block party. ``It's a community service and, as long as we are getting the information out to save lives, it's all good,'' said Van Nuys traffic officer Norman Kellems.

And don't forget: Call your local fire station to get your block party day on their calendar.

-- K.C.

CAPTION(S):

8 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Takin' it to the streets

How to organize a great block party

(2 -- 8 -- color) Clockwise from top, Don Altman yells ``bingo''; the party has ``no stopping'' signs; Shelia Presley calls out bingo numbers; kids tour a local firetruck; an LAPD helicopter does a flyover; and barbecue, pizza and salads are standard at this block party. Far right, it's neighborhood bingo.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer

Box:

GETTING STARTED (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 11, 2006
Words:1396
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