Friday, June 16, 2017

[Santa Barbara County] Grand jury: Santa Maria task force on youth safety perpetuates divides

City questions conclusions of complaint-driven report 

While commendable, efforts by Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County leaders to address youth safety perpetuate “cultural and socio-economic divides” in Santa Maria, according to a report issued Thursday by the county Civil Grand Jury.
The report began by praising “5th District Supervisor (Steve Lavagnino), the city of Santa Maria and its mayor, (Alice Patino), for accepting the challenge of addressing the need to suppress, prevent and intervene in the current gang culture with the formation of the Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety.”
The praise mostly ended there, however.
The grand jury doesn’t like the way the task force is structured using a large advisory council and a smaller “boots-on-the-ground committee,” and offers six recommendations for change.
“Santa Maria is often characterized as a city divided by occupations, social classes and ethnicities. The current organizational structure of the Mayor’s Task Force perpetuates that divide,” states the grand jury’s report.
Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon said Thursday that he doesn't agree with everything the report says.
"I am perplexed as to how they come up with some of their conclusions since the task force has only met two times and the grand jury only attended the first meeting, which was the introductory meeting,” Haydon said.
The grand jury started its look at how Santa Maria is dealing with issues relating to youth safety after a complaint last year, according to grand jury foreman Andy Brown.
“It was about eight months ago. It takes a while to get a report through,” Brown said.
Brown declined to go into detail about the complaint.
The grand jury investigation started around the time the Santa Maria City Council decided to take the lead on the issue of youth violence after discussions with county officials did not end in a workable plan. That decision led to the formation of the mayor's task force. 
“The city and the county did not get off on the same foot with this. We had different ideas about how this was going to work,” Lavagnino said.
“At the end of the day, this falls more under the city’s jurisdiction than the county’s. It is a city issue,” Lavagnino added.
The grand jury’s concerns include its belief that the task force coverage area is limited, the city of Santa Maria has direct control, and there is not a plan yet to create new taxes or fees to support future endeavors to increase youth safety.
The jury also believes that at-risk youth and their families aren’t represented on the task force; specifically that the One Community Action Coalition does not have a seat at the task force table.
“They are surmising and making conclusions without all of the facts," Haydon said. "They have made some preconceived conclusions on actions we haven’t taken yet. Our intent is to leverage existing resources and develop continuing partnerships within the Santa Maria Valley. I am perplexed as to how they arrived at that one.”
The task force was created after months of discussions about what the city should do in response to an increase in violence and murder in the city that started about three years ago and seemingly ended with the Operation Matador, an investigation with subsequent arrests of more than a dozen members of the international criminal gang MS-13. 
The task force’s large advisory committee consists of elected officials, local community-based organizations, schools, the faith community, and city and county law enforcement leaders.
The advisory committee held its first meeting in April with about 35 representatives from public agencies, private organizations and subject matter experts. The policy board has now grown to more than 50 members.
The policy group is tasked with creating a strategic plan and building partnerships so the plan will work.
The “boots-on-the-ground” will involve representatives from city departments like Recreation and Parks, Police Department and City Manager’s Office as well as representatives from local school districts.
The civil grand jury is an independent organization created to shine a light on corrupt, unjust or unfair government practices in the county.
The 19-member panel has the power to investigate, evaluate and make recommendations to any city, county or special district agency that receives public funds. The jury also inspects jails and detention facilities in the county and investigates when someone dies in custody.
The Santa Maria City Council and Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors have 90 days to respond to the report.
“We feel validated,” Pete Flores, co-founder of the Once Community Action Coalition, said of the report.
Flores and other members of the One Community Action Coalition have been vocal about their unhappiness with and mistrust of the city’s decision to take the lead by creating the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety.
“There has to be a reset. This requires an inclusiveness and a willingness to take responsibility for the way it has been handled and try to repair this. We have many ideas that will help our community. We are willing to share that but we don’t want it to be window dressing. We want it to be sincere and authentic,” Flores said.
The Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety will meet for the third time at 1:30 p.m. Monday at Shepard Hall at the Santa Maria Public Library. Haydon said the grand jury’s report will be a part of the meeting’s agenda.
June 15, 2017
Lompoc Record
By Logan B. Anderson

No comments: