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Santa Maria Council OKs Roadmap to Quell Youth Violence

Strategic plan crafted by Mayor's Task Force draws criticism again

Ernesto Olivares from the California Cities Violence Prevention Network served as a consultant to the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety in Santa Maria. On Tuesday night, the Santa Maria City Council unanimously adopted a blueprint of assorted programs and other actions aimed at ending youth violence in the community. Click to view larger
Ernesto Olivares from the California Cities Violence Prevention Network served as a consultant to the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety in Santa Maria. On Tuesday night, the Santa Maria City Council unanimously adopted a blueprint of assorted programs and other actions aimed at ending youth violence in the community. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday night unanimously adopted a blueprint of assorted programs and other actions aimed at ending youth violence in the community, but not before hearing renewed criticism that youths were excluded from the process.

The Mayor’s Task Force for Youth Safety crafted the strategic plan after meetings held over several months under the guidance of a consultant, Ernesto Oliveras from the California Cities Violence Prevention Network.

“You now have the road map and plan to continue on with,” he told the City Council.

The plan will provide the foundation as city staff begins seeking grants, with the first application due Jan. 22 .

“I think the advantage we have is you have a plan hot off the press,” Olivares said. “The momentum is here.”

The strategic plan has four pillars — prevention, enforcement, intervention, and re-entry — with assorted actions recommended through a communitywide approach to address the problem.

The city’s approach is modeled after other communities facing similar gang-related violence, with creation of a policy advisory committee made up leaders from various sectors and a technical advisory committee.

The policy advisory committee, made up of more than 30 members, first met in April.

Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said Tuesday’s vote would serve as “a call to action,” with volunteers sought to get involved by becoming mentors, working to expand youth recreation or finding jobs for youths.

“Lastly, I think the impact that we want to see made to the community is we desire to have a city that youth can enjoy. They can benefit from education, recreation and employment opportunities in a safe and nurturing community,” Posada said. “That’s really what we’re trying to strive for.”

From the beginning, youths from two groups, Future Business Leaders and Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, along with the city leaders have been in a tug of war to increase youths’ role. 

On Tuesday night, they called on the council to amend the plan to include partnering with schools and improving police relations with youths.

“We have ideas and we have a voice. And it is time we should be heard,” one student said Tuesday.

Abraham Melendrez, Santa Maria organizer for CAUSE, also called for more youth involvement.

“You can’t do it for them without them,” he added.

But  Recreation Services Manager Teresa Reyburn, one of three staff members for the Mayor’s Task Force, said she initially invited youths to the task force meetings, seemingly frustrated at what she viewed as a positive step Tuesday.

“I love kids and I think you might want to rethink how we can work together, because I’ve got a list of things to do back there and I could sure use some help,” she said of the volunteers sought to carry out the plan's action items

She added that her staff will be pressing to meet the deadline to submit the “strenuous” application for the highly competitive grant. 

“It’s not going to go to senior citizens,” Rayburn said. “It’s going to go to youth. We think you are so important so I don’t quite understand some of the backlash that’s coming. I’d like to work with you.

“I guess I just had to get that off my chest, because today’s a day I felt like celebrating because we came together as a community,” she added. 

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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