REDWOOD CITY — There's relatively little that residents can do to stem the rising tide of gang activity — but it's the little things that can add up to a lot.

The smallest steps — befriending a young neighbor, painting over graffiti — can make a difference, city officials said Thursday night.

About 50 southeastern Redwood City residents attended the community meeting at the Peninsula Christian Center, moderated by the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center.

The first in a series of neighborhood meetings this month, the forum was geared toward giving frightened and frustrated residents information about the city's response to the recent increase in gang activity and to collect the resulting feedback.

Reeling from two gang-related homicides and anattempted murder this summer, Redwood City officials increased the Police Department budget but admitted the problem required the community's help.

In addition to providing residents with phone numbers for reporting graffiti and suspicious behavior, City Manager Ed Everett urged them to take personal responsibility for improving their neighborhoods.

"The way you build a neighborhood is a block at a time, four houses at a time," he said. "It's all the little things you can do."

Obstacles to enthusiasm

The trouble is, some Stambaugh-Heller neighborhood residents said, when you don't have children and you're surrounded by short-term, run-down rental units, getting to know your neighbors isn't a practical option.

James Rice, a Stambaugh Street resident who has frequently lodged complaints about gang-related graffiti on his fence and 3 a.m. parties next door, said his neighbors are often the very people he fears most.

"I don't have neighbors I could trust to pick up my newspaper if I go away for a weekend," he said. "Actually, I would feel afraid to let them know I would be away."

Similarly, 20-year-old Emily Lehr-Anning scoffed at the Police Department's Gang Resistance and Education Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program for sixth-graders, arguing that the "D.A.R.E." (Drug Resistance Awareness Education) model had backfired with many of her classmates.

"D.A.R.E. made people more curious to try drugs," she said. Increasing youth mentoring, tutoring and after-school programs would draw kids away from gangs without making them curious about gang activity, she said.

Using a translator, Spanish-speaking residents said the city needed to take their language barrier and unfamiliarity with American gang culture into account, providing more community policing and bilingual parental outreach.

Breaking the tension, Redwood Village Neighborhood Association Chairman Keith Daum said he felt the first step toward protecting his family and neighbors was just to be friendly to the children on the block.

"If they do become part of a gang, they'll remember me as the nice guy who used to help them out," he said, prompting laughter and applause.

More information

The next Redwood City community forums on gang activity will take place at 6 p.m. Monday at Mid-Peninsula Christian Academy, 901 Madison Ave., and Oct. 21 at the Fair Oaks Community Center, 2600 Middlefield Road.

To report graffiti, call (650) 780-7304. To report suspicious criminal behavior after business hours, call (650) 780-7171. For more information, visit http://www.redwoodcity.org.

Staff writer Nicole Neroulias can be reached at (650) 306-2427 or nneroulias@sanmateocountytimes.com.