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Paul Wellman

Pay Now or Pay Later

Bean Counters Grapple with Cost of gang Prevention


Two months have elapsed since a 15-year old Westside resident named Luis Angel Linares was stabbed to death on State Street during a sprawling after-school brawl between rival gangs. Much of the soul-searching, chest-thumping, and finger-pointing attending Linares’s death have likewise subsided, but they’ve hardly disappeared.

On Tuesday, for example, the three Santa Barbara councilmembers who make up the city’s Finance Committee grappled with the dollars and cents of keeping at-risk teens out of gangs by providing more job training and more recreational opportunities. Councilmembers Helene Schneider, Das Williams, and Roger Horton mulled over a list of new and expanded initiatives. Combined, they would cost City Hall an additional $500,000 - $200,000 more than the $300,000 surplus city budget analysts are projecting for this year. And gang prevention programs are hardly the only causes competing for that surplus. Negotiations have just begun between City Hall and the firefighters’ union. Even a modest pay increase would consume the surplus in one sip.

The biggest priority under discussion is more jobs. Currently, City Hall hires about 100,000 hours of teen labor every year, making it the single biggest employer of teens in the county. But many of those jobs-provided under the auspices of the Parks and Recreation Department-offer short-term employment at entry-level positions. Parks and Rec director Nancy Rapp has proposed doubling the $25,000 now budgeted for those jobs, but that figure has fallen short of the $150,000 recently recommended by the Franklin Center Advisory Committee. Councilmember Williams, likewise, felt the city’s jobs program fell short, and urged Rapp to pursue providing the technical training necessary for the better-paying trades jobs. Williams also suggested that City Hall take a page from the book of the Barrio Boys-a program run through La Casa de La Raza that Williams said targeted the certified troublemakers. “They’re not ‘at-risk,’” Williams said of the Barrio Boys’ clientele. “They’re risk.”

Beyond that, the committee focused on a host of after-school programs that have suffered from cuts due to school district budget shortfalls. City Hall could pick up the school district’s slack to the tune of $40,000, though City Hall insiders grumble suspiciously that school district administrators are playing fiscal chicken with their city counterparts. For many young people, the city’s summer drop-in program offers the only semblance of summer camp they’ll ever know. These programs are typically provided throughout the city at the larger apartment complexes, and could be expanded. Likewise, the Parks department is examining whether to increase the number of teen dances it now sponsors (14), and whether to hold them in multiple locations simultaneously to reduce the chances of turf warfare. Also on the table are proposals to increase funding for and waive sign-up fees for after-school sports.

The city’s budget process is just now getting underway, with many wrinkles and competing claims yet to come. But Tuesday’s exercise marked the first time in many years that such focused attention was paid to youth programs, and with a clear eye on gang prevention and intervention. And to augment the funding sources, Councilmember Williams advocated raising the penalty charged for parking tickets. (Funds generated from street cleaning violations would not be part of such an effort.) He was disappointed to discover that the police department already planned on increasing the cost of tickets-for drivers who exceed the city’s 75 minute free parking limit-from $35 to $38. That would raise $250,000 to cover general departmental costs. Williams initially suggested increasing the parking tickets all the way to $40 and using the proceeds from the extra $2 to cover the costs of neighborhood bicycle patrols and for prevention programs, if there was anything left over.

Such an increase may still be likely, but Williams and other councilmembers partially retreated in the face of claims that poorer, more densely packed neighborhoods were bearing a disproportionate burden when it came to parking tickets. Instead, he and the finance committee asked the police to investigate increasing penalties for every traffic violation except the 75-minute limit.

This story reported on the Barrio Boys as if it were in operation. It has only been proposed.

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