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Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force Identifies Efforts To Quell Youth Violence

Members rank ideas for action plan at four-hour meeting for the Task Force on Youth Safety

Consultant Ernesto Olivares leads discussions during the Santa Maria Mayor Task Force on Youth Safety on Monday afternoon. Click to view larger
Consultant Ernesto Olivares leads discussions during the Santa Maria Mayor Task Force on Youth Safety on Monday afternoon. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

From expanding mentor programs to improving parks to boosting literacy, members of the Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety identified multiple priorities toward efforts to prevent violence in the community.

During a four-hour meeting at Minami Community Center Monday, task force members met in small groups and began revealing assorted priorities.

“It’s not always about how we’re dealing with issues of kids who are already involved in gang violence or impacted by gangs,” said Ernesto Olivares, the consultant hired to help guide the task force’s plan.

“We’re talking about getting kids to learn how to read, learning to read so they read to learn,” Olivares said after the meeting. “It really starts early early early on. It’s never too early to start with an early prevention program.” 

The Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety has met since April to work on a plan to stop violence in the community, identifying programs offered and those needed to be started. 

“A lot of these things have been going on but they’ve never been brought together, and when you bring it together it’s stronger,” Olivares said. “There’s a stronger message of yes we can. I always look at it as a safety net where we’re always looking to tighten that weave more and more to keep our kids safe.”

Monday’s meeting included breakout sessions involving smaller groups to develop ideas for preventing youth violence in Santa Maria.

Participants included elected officials along with leaders from assorted county departments, nonprofit organizations and community activists.

Ideas, written on sticky notes, eventually were ranked at four levels ranging from high impact and easy to implement, to low impact, difficult to implement.

Police Chief Phil Hansen said a public awareness program about the long-term effects of domestic violence and child neglect needs to be launched. 

“I don’t think we really address it in a very realistic way in our city. No city does, it’s not just Santa Maria. It’s just sort of an ugly thing,” he said, calling for a similar campaign like the one launched years ago to make people aware of the dangers of drunken driving.

Bob Nelson, aide to Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam, said his group suggested a way to make participation in sports and youth activities cheaper for families. 

The community also needs to look at dilapidated parks, Nelson added. 

“Sometimes the worst parks attract our worst people,” he said. 

One idea called for starting peer partners for new mothers, to ensure each gets a call offering help or support.

Other priorities suggested a sales tax boost to fund youth activities, providing public transportation for youths to sports and other activities, and ensuring they can get needed mental health services or counseling services.

The argument to boost youth participation in the task force, an idea community activists have argued for since last spring, also appeared to gain momentum at Monday's meeting.  

The next task force meeting is planned for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 18, when members will go through other priorities and assign people to lead them.

Olivares noted the task force had completed a lot of work Monday, the fifth meeting. 

“We’ve got some very very good momentum. It’s a very exciting time indeed,” Olivares said. 

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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