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Local News

Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force On Youth Safety Halfway to a Plan

Consultant calls for appointment of technicial committee, or operational team, to serve as 'boots on the ground for implementing goals

Ernesto Olivares, consultant and director of the California Cities Violence Prevention Network, center, listens during the Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety on Monday. At left are police Chief Phil Hansen and Lt. Dan Cohen along with Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Cordero and Deputy City Manager Jason Stilwell. Click to view larger
Ernesto Olivares, consultant and director of the California Cities Violence Prevention Network, center, listens during the Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety on Monday. At left are police Chief Phil Hansen and Lt. Dan Cohen along with Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Cordero and Deputy City Manager Jason Stilwell.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A special task force is midway through the process of creating the roadmap to quell youth violence in the Santa Maria Valley, a consultant told the group Monday afternoon.

The Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety gathered at the Minami Community Center for the fourth meeting aimed at crafting a strategic plan to guide efforts for the next five years, according to Ernesto Olivares, from California Cities Violence Prevention Network.

“One of the things we don’t want is we don’t want a plan that’s going to be sitting in somebody’s shelf that’s collecting dust,” Olivares said. “It is going to be a road map. It’s going to be actionable.”

The plan will have measurable goals, identifying gaps in services, he said.

“And it’s going to require a lot of work from everybody, One of the things that’s going to be critical to that again is taking ownership. What can we all do? There are different roles for us,” he added.

While the task force is made up of policymakers, a second group, the technical committee or operational team, will serve as “the boots on ground,” Olivares said. 

“It’s those that are actually doing the work out in the community with some of our youth,” he said.

The technical committee members will implement the strategies included in the plan. 

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown listens Monday during the Santa Maria Mayor’s Youth Task Force on Youth Safety. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown listens Monday during the Santa Maria Mayor’s Youth Task Force on Youth Safety. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Everybody in the community has a role to play in implementing those strategies, but this group will be the ones that are working closely together, sharing information, sharing resources, making referrals to each other,” he said. 

For instance, someone with one agency could help a family in need of youth programs or parenting classes connect with organization that offers those.

Task force members should appoint someone to serve on the technical committee, he added, with plans for a 4-hour retreat for both groups next month. 

In preparing to craft the strategic plan, the task force also has assembled assorted data from various agencies to help spell out the problem and identify needs.

One slide displayed Monday with information from the Santa Barbara County Probation Department reflected the number of active probation cases for adults and youths, with the northwest segment of the Santa Maria Valley having as much as two other sections added together, police Lt. Dan Cohen said. 

Data from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office revealed juveniles account for 27 percent of the gang-related cases filed by prosecutors, with most involving those over age 18 and filed in adult court.

“That’s a nugget of information this collective body might decide to use to shape your policy or at least provide information as you move forward,” Cohen said, noting youth is part of the task force name.

While One Community Action Coalition and CAUSE renewed criticism about the city’s approach, Oliveras said Santa Maria’s model is similar to other cities.

One speaker questioned how much the city spends on youths programs, which City Manager Rick Haydon said added to more than $400,000 for summer and after-school programs, Police Activities League and the outreach coordinator.

The next budget includes additional youth sports programs and another police officer to provide gang resistance education training in local elementary schools.

Other criticism called upon the task force to include a youth member.

The task force has held several community forums to identify needs in addition to the mayor and community outreach coordinator soliciting information from youths at parks and schools.

"They’re gathering input from dozens and dozens and dozens of youth, as opposed to listening to one member of the community sitting at the table,” Haydon said.

After hearing from critics, Olivares restated the comment made last month that people who attend the meetings will see “big pile of egos” outside the door “because they don’t belong in this room,”

“It’s about making the future brighter, safer for our community’s youth,” he 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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