Councilmembers Parks and Wesson Agree with Mayor
By Kenneth Miller, Assistant to Executive Publisher By Jennifer Bihm, Sentinel Staff Writer
Councilmembers Herb Wesson and Bernard Parks said they are glad to see Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who gave his third annual State of the City address April 14, making gang prevention and intervention priority. The mayor’s plan will involve a $24 million strategy, which breaks down to $500,000 for six areas.
“Public safety is the first obligation of government. When you don’t have safe streets, everything falls apart,” he said.
“People become isolated. Kids turn into prisoners. Jobs evaporate. Families struggle just to survive. Public safety is the foundation of everything we are trying to build in the city of Los Angeles.”
“I think that the mayor is going about this in the right way in the sense that everything is on the table except for public safety at a time when gang incidents are at a very high level,” said Wesson.
“ It’s good to see that there is recognition that we need to focus additional funds on intervention and prevention. It will be our job on the council to take his thoughts and his ideas and vet, properly vet every one of the concerns... For the first time in my tenure in government it would appear the city is going to put their money where the needs are. “That is good for us if we can get away from this divide by fifteen where you feel as though every area needs to have x amount of money. That is not accurate. We need to have more money in the area where we have the problems.
“So you’re going to see there are already eight gang reduction zones. There is going to be an increase of four.”
The new intervention plan will most likely come at the expense of almost 800 city employees who face layoffs amid a $400 million shortfall in the city’s budget. It will also come at the expense of city residents in the form of service fee hikes like trash pick up and transportation. Other employees may be subject to mandatory unpaid vacations and shortened work weeks.
But Wesson and Parks say that the entire council is unified on the notion of aggressive gang intervention and prevention, even placing more scrutiny on existing programs. However, Wesson seemed slightly leery over Villaraigosa’s indication that L.A. Bridges, which has been a kind of default city program, would be cut.
“Where it relates to organizations that are run by African Americans there’s no way that you can reduce those or the man power that deals with the African American gang side of the problem,” Wesson said.
“Because, we do, unfortunately play a significant part in that gang problem. So what I expect to see for the first time is a unified approach coming out of the mayor’s office where they will address these things. But I will do what I can to protect the agencies in my district [like] Bo Taylor’s [Amer-I-Can], Project SAVE out of Community Build, Unity 2 and 3... there are some good agencies.”
Parks, who will be involved in oversight of the new budget plan, said he, other councilmembers and the mayor are “in sync” on the issue of tackling gang violence as first priority.
“I don’t think in prior city councils that the ultimate goal was ever in dispute. We’ve had disputes on how to get there,” he said.
“I think today that there are more people talking about prevention intervention than I can recall. Those are consistent patterns that will bode well for the city.”
Since January, Los Angeles has experienced an upsurge in gang murders, with recent victims like Los Angeles High student Jamiel Shaw, having no affiliation with gangs.
“Our community will be in a very in depth analysis maybe a week after the mayor’s budget is published,” Parks explained.
“We’re going to go line through line and put attention as to where revenue sources are coming in, what might be new revenue sources and where they are allocated.
“The council is going to mesh along what they believe their priorities are and I think we’re going to have, as we always do, a little difference on some issues. [But] the fact that he’s putting money in prevention intervention is a council policy that we support. I think the key for us as a council will be to ensure that there’s a grading criteria that’s appropriate... to select a program that is appropriate for the community and to ensure that they’re performing. We’re not just looking to move money from one program to another.
“How are we going to deal with development versus waiting for kids to join gangs and then having to rehabilitate them? Our real focus should be on youth development. That should be on everyone’s lips because the community has already called and said, ‘I don’t want my kid to become a gang member before you help them.’
Areas to receive money for prevention programs are Cypress Park, Ramona Gardens, Baldwin Village, Pacoima, Florence and Newton.