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Making Shasta Park part of neighborhood

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POSTED February 5, 2009 4:11 a.m.
American Legion Park can be rather picturesque, particularly during the early evenings when Yosemite Lake draws a reflection of lights from the nearby mostly upper middle class homes.

Aging stately trees coupled with the knoll surrounding this longtime central Stockton recreation area make for a nice canopy while folks enjoy a leisurely stroll.

For more than five years, the locals know better than to stay on their toes while aware of any suspicious characters lurking.

Others just avoid the park altogether after what happened on Oct. 10, 2003.

Back then, a 29-year-old Stockton man and his girlfriend decided to take a romantic walk through American Legion Park after dining at a nearby restaurant. The couple was approached by two gang members, who not only robbed the two at gun point but also fired shots. He died but remarkably his girlfriend survived the attack despite a head wound.

About a month later, one of the two suspects – both were affiliates of a notorious Asian gang – was stopped for drunk driving. He had in his possession cartridge cases and other items in connection with that particular shooting and some 45 others during a three-month spree of violence.

In an unrelated case, Aaron Kelly Jr., 13, was with family when threats from known gang members was followed by shooting that took place in broad daylight at Louis Park on Feb. 8, 2008.

The youth was a passenger in his mother’s car. But as they fled, he was struck and killed by a bullet.

Incidents such as those are everyone’s worst fear.

Perhaps power in numbers could be one way of discouraging gang influences in city parks.

Several Manteca residents are hoping to do just that at Shasta Park.

Keith Jackson and his wife, Helen Hankal-Jackson, took it upon themselves to do a little addition from subtraction.

Neighbors had been none too pleased about their park perhaps being ruined when Manteca Unified received the go-ahead to construct the joint-use gymnasium / multi-purpose building, thus, taking away several trees from Shasta Park in the process.

During one of the community meetings, some mentioned suspected criminal activity taking place in the neighborhood park, particularly during the wee hours, and even feared an increase of this element with the new addition.

The Jacksons, meanwhile, led a fundraising effort, collecting $20,000 from various donors while securing grants to revamp the old playground.

Last month, the new Shasta Park playground opened, attracting hundreds of youngster during the three-day weekend.

The first part of the project had opened to much fanfare as youngsters, to their delight, scaled, swung, and even teetered while playing on the new state-of-the-art equipment.

This was the sort of atmosphere Jackson had hoped to create after leading his neighborhood group into a partnership with the City of Manteca’s Parks and Recreation Department.

In another month or so, he’s hoping to schedule the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, recognizing those who helped contribute to the cause while inviting dignitaries not to mention those from the neighborhood to the special event.

Shasta Park is going through some changes.

But sometimes change can be for the good.
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