Joe Everhart is pro-neighborhood.
Well, who isn't? Most of us want the same things. Safe streets. Attractive homes and lots. A place for kids to play. Interaction among neighbors. (Positive interaction, that is.) Proximity to amenities. Tranquility.
Everhart, however, worries his own neighborhood could be beyond repair, done in by obnoxious youths, vacant homes or absentee property owners.
Everhart isn't shy about sharing his thoughts. He is a periodic letter writer to the Times opinion page and just this week he urged parents to do a better job of raising their children or else face potential tragedy if there is a confrontation between unruly teens with criminal intent and a gun-owning resident.
Everhart is married and has a 19-year-old son and 18-year-old stepson, so he figures he is entitled to talk about parenting. Teen behavior and crime by young adults are his top worries, but over the past couple of years he has weighed in on: a foster parenting controversy in Forest Lake Estates; the Operation PAR clinic in Port Richey; deployment of deputies; use of police cars by off-duty officers; homeowner associations; enforcing no-parking rules; and vandalism at Lake Lisa Park. Most of his letters carry a common theme: Neighborhoods need to be protected and children are at risk.
He drew media attention to an abandoned house that sported gang graffiti, a property that has since been cleaned. He also confessed his own former addiction to pain killers in a letter urging Port Richey neighbors to be appreciative of the benefits of a drug-treatment clinic moving to their city.
Everhart, 45, lives in Embassy Hills, part of the network of aging residential neighborhoods in unincorporated west Pasco between U.S. 19 and Little Road. His most recent letter published Tuesday. Coincidentally, that was the same day Richard Gehring, the county's growth management administrator, briefed commissioners on long-range redevelopment ideas with an acknowledgement there are "a lot of neighborhoods in that corridor to turn around.''
Given the broader view from the county for better planning, I asked Everhart, as a concerned resident, to talk about his neighborhood and to provide an up-close perspective.
He moved here as a youth in 1976. The family came from Staten Island, "the same place most of the neighbors came from. Now, I don't know who lives here anymore.'' He graduated from Hudson High in 1980, joined the U.S. Air Force and later worked as an aviation contractor, which took him wherever there was work.
The Embassy Hills he remembered as a kid was idyllic with evening strolls, seniors riding tricycles, children bounding among the back yards, or swimming in Lake Lisa — long before the county turned that vacant property into a neighborhood park. Homeowners pulled weeds from the manicured front yards. The worse mischief he remembered was pilfering fruit from someone's citrus tree. If there were fights, he said, it was over high school football or girls, not gang turf or drugs.
But as Everhart bounced around the country as an adult, west Pasco's demographics changed from a senior citizen enclave to working-class population. A back injury put him on disability a few years ago and he returned to the area because he still had family here.
His impression upon returning to Embassy Hills?
"Oh, wow, it had gone from a nice little quiet retirement village to a thug-invested ghetto.''
Disrespect is the biggest problem, he said, pointing to the recent spate of teens brawling with school resource officers as proof.
He's called authorities when youths, out late at night, threw rocks at a seasonal residence; when a baseball-bat wielding group chased others down the street; when the gang graffiti surfaced. He suspects a street-level drug dealer used to live nearby and he bemoans trashy appearance of some properties.
"Call me a nag,'' Everhart said, "but I don't like what's happening here.''
Beyond raising public awareness, Everhart apparently will not be part of any long-term answers. He has ambitions to attend truck-driving school, return to work and move to Montana. It is an regrettable reality — it is easier to identify problems than to work toward solutions.
"Maybe the next generation could turn this place around,'' he said.
Maybe it could. Maybe it will start closer to home than even Everhart realizes.
His son, James, 19, plans to enroll in the police academy.