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Santa Maria Council Unsure About Planned North County Task Force On Youth Safety

FIfth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino urges city to join effort to be modeled after successful South Coast group

Fifth District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino is urging the Santa Maria City Council to join a North County effort to stem youth violence.
Fifth District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino is urging the Santa Maria City Council to join a North County effort to stem youth violence. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Maria City Council is hesitant to join forces with Santa Barbara County to form a task force to battle youth violence, fearing it won’t have any control over the effort. 

The topic came up during a budget discussions Tuesday night regarding several policy decisions. 

City Manager Rick Haydon said the budget included $48,000 for a part-time employee to be an outreach coordinator, working with One Community Action, the grassroots group united to stem youth violence.

Other options include making the position a full-time job, directing the money to the North County Task Force on Youth Safety, or giving it to another nonprofit organization. 

Fifth District county Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who represents Santa Maria, urged the the city to put that funding toward the $75,000 provided by the county to form a North County Task Force, modeled after a similar and successful effort on the South Coast. 

“I don’t think it’s feasible for the city to hire a part-time outreach coordinator,” Lavagnino said. “I just don’t think you’ll get your bang for the buck. Gang violence is not a part-time issue.”

While the ideas needed to be flushed out, Lavagnino said, the city and county must work together on the issue of youth violence.

“This is our chance to do something. I really don’t want to waste this opportunity …” he added.

The person hired needs to be someone who knows the streets, is connected to the community, and is able to operate at an executive level, with a direct line to the city and county leaders, Lavagnino added.

Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said the city employee would operate a program aimed at reducing youth violence using a model like one in Stockton, start a mentoring program and more. Initially, it was envisioned as a full-time position with $75,000, with funding trimmed in the budget process.

“One of the things we wanted to emphasize in our focus was to have immediate impact on youth,” Posada said.

Councilwoman Terri Zuniga said that despite a plethora of programs, teens are still truant from school and winding up in gangs, and gaps still exist. 

“Why would we not partner with the county to put our money together to really do something that is not just a band-aid. It’s a something that is thoughtful and really creates an impact,” Zuniga said. 

“I just think it is folly if we don’t combine the money with the money the county is offering us as a gift,” Zuniga said, adding it’s going to be “a slap in the face” to the One Community Action members who have worked toward the effort.

Councilman Jack Boysen also favored partnering with the county. 

“It just seems to me we would get a lot more traction by partnering with the county,” Boysen said, adding he likes the idea of a task force being co-led by county and city representatives.

But Councilman Bob Orach said he is concerned with the Santa Maria Valley, not North County.

“I would certainly think that the council would like to have that overview of what is going on in our community to answer to the all the residents that asked us step up and deal with this issue,” Orach said. 

He recalled a One Community Action group meeting attended by many soccer-playing kids and their parents seeking more fields.

“I’ll tell you what, a coordinator outside our purview is not going to move that along, quite frankly,” Orach said. 

Zuniga said the task force is envisioned as a coordinated effort, and does not call for Santa Maria to abdicate control.

Mayor Alice Patino recommended approving the funding, and volunteered to work with Lavagnino to talk about how to form the program.

“Maybe we’ll go with the county on this when we sit down and put it together,” Patino said. “I think what everyone’s saying, and I will say too, is I don’t want the Community Action Commission overseeing this. I want this body up here in the city of Santa Maria overseeing this. 

“I think the little nuances, I think we can work out,” she added.  “We all want to go forward. We all see a  need. We know that there’s things that need to be done out there…The bottom line is we want to be in charge,” Patino said. 

“You guys got it. You’ll be in charge, believe me,” Lavagnino added.

Stemming gang violence was designated one of the top goals of the City Council after a special session earlier this year. 

Also during budget discussions Tuesday night, the council rejected a request for more than $22,000 for the 211 Helpline, but agreed to give $24,000 to the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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