For the past two years, elected officials throughout the South Coast have been talking about appointing an unofficial Gang Czar to better coordinate the myriad services already available via a wide array public and private agencies to address the needs of young people enticed by gang life.
This Tuesday, the funding for such a position was finally approved. By levying an official tax of 75 cents per resident, all south coast government agencies — except Carpinteria — have generated a kitty of $177,000 to pay the $80,000 salary for the yet-to-be hired Gang Czar, an assistant, and the administrative overhead. Recruitment is slated to begin soon, and the position filled by September. The coordinator will work out of Community Action Commission, which also donated $25,000.
While enthusiasm for the project has been high, progress has been slow, in part because the recession knocked many local government agencies for a serious loop. County executive Mike Brown had balked at paying, citing the county’s woeful finances. But county supervisors were persuaded by Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider that the $50,000 requested would be a good investment in public safety. The City of Santa Barbara has committed $67,000. Estimates for the number of actual gang members fluctuates wildly, but the number of young people on probation with gang terms and conditions attached is about 150. The hope is to better focus existing educational and social service resources to these individuals and their families to minimize the attraction of gang membership.