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Who's Guarding Our Housing Projects?

A suspect in a Pacoima drive-by shooting, in which a 2-year-old girl and two women were hurt, worked as a security guard at a nearby public housing project.

Juan Lara, 20, a resident of the San Fernando Gardens, had been a guard there since last April, according to the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. Police said Lara and two alleged rival gang members exchanged gunfire in a shootout last Sunday afternoon in the 11100 block of Glenoaks Boulevard.

Lara was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and is being held on $4.2 million bail; Ernesto Calvillo and Ernesto Robles are being held on $750,000 bail each, according to the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.

Police said Lara and a fourth man, Rafael Macias, who is still at large, opened fire from their 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass on gang members standing in front of a house. The gunfire missed the intended victims and struck the two women and toddler in a passing car. The two women were treated at a hospital and released. The toddler, hit in the chin and head, underwent reconstructive surgery and was listed in guarded condition.

Two police officers said they witnessed the shooting and arrested Lara about four blocks from the scene. Officers found 16 firearms — including four assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition — in the Glenoaks home where the rival members lived.

The shooting prompted Councilman Alex Padilla and Police Chief Bernard Parks to declare a renewed war on gangs. They said that the weapons cache shows how dangerous gangs have become.

For residents of the San Fernando Gardens, the shooting underscores complaints they have been making for months about the quality of their security force. It is not uncommon for a gang member to show up on the force, said Sandra Obando, the resident leader of the San Fernando Gardens.

Obando said the Housing Authority’s executive assistant director, Lucille Loyce, ordered her to hire Lara and several other men who belong to the Pacoima Project Boys, a gang under a city injunction that makes it a misdemeanor for two members to gather in a designated "safety zone."

"We have complained to housing officials about this for months and in many meetings. But they have done nothing about it. They tell us that gang members also should have a chance to work," Obando said. "We don’t have a problem with them working, but they have terrorized the residents since day one."

During a meeting with residents in February, Loyce acknowledged that a man with a police record had been hired as a guard in the past. She said the agency has been diligent in ensuring that no current employees have a criminal record. She said residents who say that the guard program is run by thugs flabbergast her. "I am appalled by those comments," she told the residents. "But don’t some of the people — even those who have had trouble with police — deserve a job?"

Consuelo Candelaria, a mother of four, hoped the police protection would improve. "We are in fear for our lives," she said. "There are shots fired almost every night, and my wall is full of bullet holes."

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