Council Tackles Pico Violence
By Olin Ericksen
December 14 -- Two months after shots were fired near a local elementary school in the Pico neighborhood, the City Council Tuesday unanimously voted to move forward with an extensive plan to curb youth violence in the area.
The staff-drawn plan calls on the City, School District, non-profit groups, social service agencies, churches, neighborhood groups, police and even the federal and state government to enter into "partnerships" to end the cycle of violence that is often linked to gang activity.
The aim to develop better education, job and housing opportunities for youth in the city's poorest neighborhood is a daunting task, many council members admit.
While all on the council agreed they were committed to making the program work, many worried that involving so many different groups would make coordination difficult.
"Who is going to be the person in charge of this?" asked Council Member Bob Holbrook. "I think people are going to want to come forward with ideas on ways to help and they need to be directed and organized to stay on track and stay focused, and this should be their job. So we know who will move this forward, I think we need to know who is the key, point contact person."
Holbrook has reason to worry.
Coordinating, sustaining community involvement, effectively staffing and financing such programs have all been hurdles encountered by other cities that have attempted to curb youth violence, according to the staff report.
City Manager Susan McCarthy said it remains to be seen if the City will take on the long-term role as the program's main coordinator.
"If indeed it is a role that we recommend that the City take, we will be recommending the designation of someone with responsibility, because I think you're correct that it will be a job that needs a lot of attention moving forward," McCarthy said.
Saying he hoped the council "doesn't just add (the plan) to someone's duty list", Holbrook suggested assigning someone from outside the City to head up the program in the future.
When asked by newly elected council member Bobby Shriver if the city manager would take "personal responsibility" for overseeing the day-to-day coordination of the plan, McCarthy responded, "Absolutely. Absolutely."
Council members said they were confident the City would comprehensively handle youth violence, which, while not confined to the Pico Neighborhood, has dropped across the city over the last ten years.
"We have to look broad scope," Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz said. "I think we have to work together with the neighborhoods because you can't control (violence) in one area. It's got to be throughout the entire city, but starting with the Pico neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods."
Council Member Kevin McKeown agreed.
"We are realizing at last that this is not a Pico neighborhood problem or a Pico neighborhood issue, this is a Santa Monica issue," McKeown said. He added, however, that the answer goes beyond "geographic broadening."
"I think we have to have a generational broadening," McKeown said, "in the sense that by the time a young man is on the street holding a gun, we have already not done our job."
In addition to education and job training, McKeown said the City has an obligation to stymie the exodus of youth from the neighborhood who cannot afford to rent or buy property in the area.
"If you look at the demographics on how we've lost our Latino and black youth eighteen to twenty-four in the last census period, it's clear we are failing to provide the housing they need to live independently," McKeown said.
"If they do want to stay in their community, they need to come up with some way to make money, which sometimes means dealing drugs and carrying guns or they have to give up and move out of their hometown," McKeown said.
The next step in the process is to conduct community workshops, which have not yet been scheduled by the City.
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