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Church Forum Calls for End to Youth Violence:

Santa Monica was very well represented at what faith community organizers had billed as a “regional response to youth violence” at St. Anne’s Church and Shrine on Sunday afternoon, September 17, and the proceedings demonstrated that the immediate challenge facing those organizers is to bring the rest of the region on board for the campaign. 

Speakers representing elected officials, law enforcement, clergy, community groups, city staff, churchgoers and service providers called for a vigorous, concerted, regional approach to the lethal dangers of youth violence throughout the Westside.

The Town Hall Meeting on Youth Violence was called at the behest of religious congregations in Santa Monica and organized by LA Voice-PICO, an interfaith, community organization that works for safer neighborhoods among other goals.  The churches involved in planning the program were Beth Shir Shalom Synagogue, the Church in Ocean Park, St. Monica’s Catholic Church, First United Methodist of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Bay Interfaith Council, as well as St. Anne’s, which hosted the meeting at its open-air shrine at Colorado Ave. and 20th St.

LA Voice-PICO is the Southern California arm of PICO National Network, a faith-based network founded by a Jesuit priest in 1972 and headquartered in Oakland, California.  “PICO” is “People Improving Communities through Organizing,” and has no relation to the Pico neighborhood of Santa Monica.  In fact, a theme of the afternoon’s speakers was that youth violence is not limited to that neighborhood but is citywide, and not limited to Santa Monica but really regional, in both its causes and its effects.

Ana Jara, a 38-year Santa Monica resident and 25-year St. Anne’s parishioner, said that youth violence is regional in nature, and grows from gang tensions among Inglewood, Culver City, LA, Venice and Santa Monica.  Later in the program, she called upon the elected representatives present “to commit to return in 90 days with a regional solution” to the problem.  Mayor Bob Holbrook pointed out that it would take the participation of other cities to craft a regional solution, and he expressed disappointment that the Culver City and Inglewood mayors were not in attendance, though moderator Zelia Mollica (an LA Voice leader at St. Anne’s) had earlier noted that they had been invited but couldn’t make it.

In addition to Holbrook, Santa Monica City Councilmembers Richard Bloom and Kevin McKeown sat on the dais, addressed the assembly and responded to Jara’s call for a commitment.  Councilmember Pam O’Connor was in the audience.  (A fourth Councilmember speaking at the meeting would represent a quorum of the City Council and could be considered a deliberation by a government body, which would trigger a variety of public notice and other requirements under California’s Brown Act.)

Also on the dais was SMPD Deputy Chief, and Interim Chief of Police, Phillip Sanchez, himself a father, who said the Department would work with the faith community to address youth violence, stressed that community policing is a reciprocal endeavor and asked for help to answer the question of how to get our children interested in the programs that are offered.

Councilmember McKeown referred to a resolution he introduced earlier at the City Council calling for action on youth violence similar to the City’s approach to homelessness, lamented that “no other councilmember would second my motion,” and answered Jara’s 90-day challenge, “You bet I will.”  Bloom, who is not running for reelection this year, responded that preparing a regional solution to youth violence “can’t be done in 90 days” and urged everyone, “Don’t make this a political issue.”

Fr. Mike Gutierrez, pastor at St. Anne’s, delivered the invocation, in which he reflected on six young people, by name, who had died since March 2005, “some from LA, some Santa Monica, but all of them went to church in Santa Monica.”  Rev. Janet McKeithen of the Church in Ocean Park led the concluding prayer.  Rev. Brad Beeman of First United Methodist of Santa Monica and Rev. Janet Bregar of Village Church in Westwood were also at St. Anne’s for the town hall meeting.

The crowd, which was attentive, committed and large, although not quite the “over 250” announced by moderator Mollica, not to mention the “over 500” reported in LA Voice’s after-the-event press release, included City Manager P. Lamont Ewell, new Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Dianne Talarico and LA Voice Executive Director Jared Rivera, among many others.

“This is just the beginning,” Ms. Jara said that afternoon.  “We are mounting a larger campaign for peace.  We will be asking the faith community in Culver City, Inglewood and Venice to join us.  They will be talking to their public officials.  We will not rest until all of our children are safe.”

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