The community came together last Saturday at John Adams Middle School at a forum sponsored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl’s office to hear a progress report on efforts by action partners to stem the tide of gang violence currently plaguing Santa Monica.Last year, Kuehl sponsored two workshops which resulted in an action plan that could be achieved in two years. This plan included strategies to “promote a sense of belonging, respect and identity, reflect cultural/ethnic sensitivity and competence and involve individuals and institutions community wide….”Kuehl’s field deputy Laurie Neuman opened the forum (Kuehl was unable to attend because of illness) by noting, “Gang violence in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Oxnard tears families apart, destroys young lives, preys on innocent bystanders and turns neighborhoods like our Pico neighborhood into a war zone.”Santa Monica Mayor Robert Holbrook told the crowd of over 150 people “this is a harsh reality.” Santa Monica cannot deal with it alone. “We need a solid partnership with our neighboring cities. My fellow Council members and I are in this for the long haul.”City Manager Lamont Ewell then led off the action partners reports by stating the City has “expedited taking down graffiti throughout the Pico Neighborhood and the rest of the City.” Other City staff members discussed how the reopening of Virginia Avenue Park last December has made more programs conveniently available for youth living in the Pico Neighborhood.Michael Mathews, the Interim Superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District emphasized the recent death of Santa Monica High School (SAMOHI) honor student and athlete Eddie Lopez has only increased the resolve of all in the District to make a difference. Thus far, the District has opened a Community Day School and has hired 6 outreach specialists at SAMOHI in order to work with at-risk youth. They are also working with the Human Relations Council and have added discussions of racism to classroom curriculum.Chamber of Commerce President Kathy Dodson reported that her organization hosted a job fair last year at SAMOHI and this year it will host another one on April 26. Also in April the chamber will be partnering with other organizations including the City to recruit Spanish speaking mentors and ask businesses for funding to help support this mentoring program. The Executive Director of the Pico Youth and Family Center, Oscar de la Torre pointed out, “the problem of gang violence is the product of oppression … and young men feel they have to be violent to be someone because there’s no other avenue for them to obtain power.” He then noted that when “some bearded men were seen filming on the Santa Monica Pier that almost $2 Million is immediately spent” (by the City on video surveillance cameras because of concerns about terrorism) but funding to his organization, which was founded to address gang violence, was cut.Ana Marie Jara, a member of the City’s Commission on the Status of Women noted, “We have a lot of single women that are raising men. We need to make sure that we provide services for them. The majority of these women are in the Pico Neighborhood.”Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) member Irma Carranza explained what it was like to be a single parent raising a son in the Pico Neighborhood by stating, “I have to worry about the police and I have to worry about youth violence. I don’t want him to become a victim nor the aggressor.” She then discussed community-based policing by noting “I want officers when my son is walking down the street to get out or roll down their windows and say ‘how are you doing’ not ‘what are you doing’.” In an interview with the Mirror, Kuehl mentioned that future steps will include maintaining close contact with the action partners to make sure the plan is completed and organizing another forum in the future. She also hopes more agencies and groups can be included as action partners, particularly so more community groups “can become part of the solution.” Finally, Kuehl would like to personally follow-up with the City to make sure “all the things the City is doing fit together,” particularly in the areas of law enforcement and community-based policing. The other action partners that reported were the Friends of Sunset Park, the Santa Monica Human Relations Council, Los Angeles County Probation Department, the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica College and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.
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