Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has unveiled a comprehensive plan to reorganize the city’s gang intervention and prevention programs, centering resources on the most impacted neighborhoods for gang crime.
The plan, outlined in Villaraigosa’s proposed $7 billion city budget, targets gang reduction services in sections of the city that are considered the most violent, areas known as Gang Reduction and Youth Development zones. Under the plan, the leading gang prevention and intervention programs in Los Angeles will be consolidated into Villaraigosa’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office.
While the city is facing an approximately $406-million budget shortfall this year, Villaraigosa has called for an increase in funding for public safety, including a 70-percent funding hike for gang prevention and intervention services.
“We are making a strategic, targeted investment in the neighborhoods most affected by gang violence and in the kids most likely to join gangs,” Villaraigosa said in his State of the City address Monday, April 14th. “This effort represents a sea change in the way we work to reduce gang violence and offers hope and alternatives for a better future to our kids.”
The gang reduction plan expands the number of Gang Reduction and Youth Development zones, created by the mayor last year, from eight to 12. Each of the zones will receive at least $1 million for prevention services and another $500,000 for intervention.
Villaraigosa spokesman Jonathan Powell said the zones are the areas that “are clearly feeling the worst impacts of gang crime.” The 12 zones, areas such as Baldwin Village, Cypress Park and Watts, have experienced four times as much gang crime than the other areas of the city combined, Powell said.
Since the zones were created, gang crime in those areas has reduced by more than double the city average, he said.
However, the zones do not cover areas that have suffered from gang crime but are not considered to be the most violent, and this has organizations like those in the 11th Council District concerned that gang reduction funding could be dropped.
None of the neighborhoods in City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s 11th District are targeted for Gang Reduction zone funding, and communities such as Venice, which has had its share of gang violence over the years, are worried that anti-gang programs could see less funding.
“If people take time out to look at the history of Venice, they’ll see that it was one of the worst areas in the city [for gang crimes],” said Stan Muhammad, Venice Neighborhood Council member and Venice 2000 executive director, referring to a spike in gang violence in the Oakwood neighborhood in the early 1990s. “Now that we have a level of success, we’re being penalized.”
Venice 2000, which works to steer youths away from gangs and encourage them to complete their education, is one organization that has helped improve Venice’s gang problem over the years, but it is not set to receive Gang Reduction zone funding under the budget.
The issue has caused concern for the Venice Neighborhood Council, which said that Venice 2000/HELPER Alliance has affected positive change in the community and is a main reason that Venice is not identified as an area of high violence, or Gang Reduction zone. The Neighborhood Council voted Tuesday, April 15th, to send a letter to Villaraigosa and other city officials, expressing the need to continue funding for such programs that have a “track record of success in Venice.”
“Eliminating funding will eliminate ongoing successful gang intervention programs that have reduced violence and personal loss in Venice,” the Neighborhood Council wrote.
Rosendahl said he was disappointed that areas in his district were not included in the Gang Reduction zone funding, as the district also deals with gang issues not only in Venice, but Mar Vista and Del Rey.
“There are gang issues throughout the city and we in the 11th District are also impacted,” said Rosendahl, who added that he is proud of the efforts of organizations like Venice 2000. “Gang intervention and prevention is key and we need that support in the 11th District.”
Neighborhood Council Community Safety Committee co-chair Stewart Oscars said Venice has been successful combating gang activity thanks to the efforts of intervention programs, but cutting their funding could lead the community toward becoming a Gang Reduction zone.
“We have successful programs here and we should build on them,” Oscars said. “If we lose them, we could head on the path toward becoming a [Gang Reduction zone].”
Powell noted that while budget funding has increased nearly 60 percent for the city’s 12 Gang Reduction zones, the budget sets aside $2.4 million for general prevention and intervention services in communities that are not covered by the zones.
“There will be money available for the areas that still need investment but are not in those zones,” Powell said.
Organizations outside the zones that have a “proven track record” in gang intervention, such as Venice 2000, will have an opportunity to apply for some funding, he said.
“There are so many worthwhile programs and we want to give them all an opportunity to get some of this funding,” Powell said.
In addition, funding allocated for intervention and prevention programs will not be cut at the end of the fiscal year and will continue to the end of the “funding stream,” he added.
Muhammad said he was encouraged by the opportunity to apply for some of the $2.4 million but noted that the process is “still going to be very competitive,” as many other programs are seeking the same funding.
The Neighborhood Council member estimated that Venice 2000 needs $385,000 in funding to maintain its level of services in the community and avoid any layoffs. The organization would need a majority of funding for intervention services, he said.
Muhammad said he is confident community gang intervention programs will endure if the community and Rosendahl can push for the needed funding.
“As we go through the budget process, I’m going to fight for my district,” Rosendahl said, referring to the gang intervention funding.