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Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force Starts Hearing About Youth Needs

Meeting Monday include criticism from One Community Action representatives who supported grand jury findings

The Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety met Monday afternoon. Among attendees were Fifth District Supevisor Steve Lavagnino, left, Deputy City Manager Jason Stilwell and Mayor Alice Patino. Click to view larger
The Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety met Monday afternoon. Among attendees were Fifth District Supevisor Steve Lavagnino, left, Deputy City Manager Jason Stilwell and Mayor Alice Patino. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The lack of a tattoo removal program and limited availability to a high school-equivalency certificate program are two apparent gaps in services already identified as Santa Maria takes aim at stopping youth violence.

But the process to quell violence has its own dissension, which was renewed during Monday afternoon’s meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety.

Eddie Galarza, the city’s community outreach coordinator who started in late December, interacts with young people throughout the city and has gathered feedback from them, he told the task force.

“Some of them want tattoo removal,” Galarza said. “That’s a big issue. They want their tattoos removed.”

He said he emphasizes that gang members serious about leaving the lifestyle should get tattoos removed to show they are ready to make the change.

Other youths discussed needing a place to earn their General Educational Development certificate en route to leaving the gang lifestyle.

His role also has put him in contact with parents.

“A lot them want help. A lot of them want help with their kids,” he said.

Galarza said the community has two types of gang members — multiple-generation gang members and those whose parents are immigrants. 

Ernesto Olivares, from California Cities Violence Prevention Network, said lining up tattoo removal services is only part of the solution.

“There’s also services that go with it,” Olivares said of the process to help youths escape the gang lifestyle.

Eddie Galarza, right, Santa Maria’s outreach coordinator, talks Monday afternoon during the Mayor’s Youth Task Force on Youth Safety meeting as Superintendent Mark Richardson, from Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, listens. Click to view larger
Eddie Galarza, right, Santa Maria’s outreach coordinator, talks Monday afternoon during the Mayor’s Youth Task Force on Youth Safety meeting as Superintendent Mark Richardson, from Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, listens. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The task force is collecting a list of services provided in the community en route to identifying gaps and needs. Another effort is focused on data to help define the problem.

Two more community forums are planned for 6:30 p.m. June 26 and 27 at the Veterans Memorial Community Center. 

Olivares said Santa Maria is using a formula employed by other cities in the state to end youth violence and said everybody has a role to play. 

The goal is to develop a strategy focused on prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry for those who had been incarcerated.

"This is difficult, difficult work," Olivares said.

But not everyone supports the city’s approach. Members of One Community Action, the grassroots group that formed amid the string of homicides that terrorized the city between late 2014 and early 2016, spoke out against the task force.

The representatives said they support the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report critical of the city.

Pete Flores, a One Community Action member who also is a Santa Maria Joint Union High School District administrator, noted those who lost their lives were fathers, sons and brothers.

“Those folks that lost their lives aren’t here to advocate for themselves,” he said. “You talk about the framework — well, you’ve got to have somebody at the policy table that represents the community.”

“If the policy team is not ready and willing to let them help, it has failed the community,” Flores added.

The task force has 50-plus members representing various government agencies, nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups providing services to the community.

City leaders have said a technical advisory committee will include a One Community Action representative.

As the task force's third meeting ended, Teresa Rayburn from the Recreation and Parks Department noted disagreements will occur, but urged people to move beyond that to focus on the goal of ending youth violence. 

“At the end of the day, when we walk out that door nobody wants any more children to be hurt, so could we move past that and just be the group of people that we are,” Rayburn said, adding she was a speaking from a mother’s perspective. “That’s just what I feel in my heart. … That’s what’s really important.”

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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