CITY HALL — In a pair of moves anti-gang advocates hailed as significant steps forward, the City Council was set on Tuesday to approve an “action plan” for preventing youth violence and award a $25,000 grant to support the Youth Resource Team, an inter-agency effort aimed at helping at-risk youth.
The expected actions were in response to a “March for Peace” in January that was organized by school board member Oscar de la Torre after a 20-year-old Santa Monica resident, Richard Juarez Jr., was shot and killed at Virginia Avenue Park last November.
Also in January, de la Torre, who directs the Pico Youth & Family Center, a City Hall-supported nonprofit, presented a “white paper” to the council that recommended officials conduct a formal assessment of youth programs in Santa Monica, create a task force on youth violence and enhance regional partnerships to reduce gang activity, among other recommendations.
On Tuesday, de la Torre said the council’s increased support for youth violence prevention was a welcomed reaction to his recommendations.
“This is the most comprehensive effort seen to date in the city of Santa Monica. We feel that it’s a step in the right direction,” he said, though he added the council should double its support to $50,000. “One has to question whether $25,000 dollars is enough to really make this effort give the results that we expect.”
The City Council budgeted $25,000 of its contingency money for youth violence programs in June on Mayor Bobby Shriver’s recommendation.
The funds will help pay for a part-time staff person to coordinate the Youth Resource Team (YRT), which was established in 2006 as a forum for social service, law enforcement, school and other agencies in Santa Monica to collaboratively address the needs of gang involved youth.
A City Hall report stated the funding will assist the YRT in “focusing, prioritizing and providing effective advice to council” on youth violence reduction measures.
The group will use the action plan — a broad framework for addressing youth violence through early childhood programs, after school activities, parent involvement and youth employment — as its guiding document.
Richard Juarez Sr., whose son was shot to death last year, applauded the planned moves by the council but also urged city leaders to commit more resources to preventing youth violence.
“I don’t want Richie’s death to go in vain. My hope is that the action taken by the Santa Monica City Council will inspire community leaders to step up their commitment to preventing youth from joining gangs and participating in violence,” he said. “If our collective work saves one life, then that’s one more family that does not have to suffer the pain of losing a loved one to violence.”
A City Hall report released last week detailed Santa Monica’s efforts in the past 20 years to combat gang violence and noted this fiscal year’s budget includes $32.4 million in funding for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, nonprofit organizations and city programs designed for youth and families.
The report also urged surrounding communities to take additional steps to reduce gang involvement.
“Youth violence, and specifically gang violence, in Santa Monica is affected by the larger region of Los Angeles, which has one of the most significant gang violence epidemics in the nation,” the report stated.
Between 1995 and 2009, there were 59 homicides in Santa Monica, 25 of which were gang related, and 1,800 assaults with deadly weapons, 168 of which were gang related, according to the Santa Monica Police Department. Serious crime, though, has decreased 36 percent over the past five years, the SMPD said.