The Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety is nearing the end of its work to create a strategic plan to better address issues affecting young people in the Santa Maria Valley.

On Monday, the task force held a public forum about the plan hoping to hear additional feedback before adding the final touches, and to enlist the help of members of the community to enact the plan. The meeting was held at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center.

A draft of the plan will be made available to the public on Oct. 16.

The task force started its work in April by assembling a large group of service providers, agencies and experts that deal directly with, and have resources that help, young people in northern Santa Barbara County.

The task force started with about 30 members and has grown to nearly 40 participants. The group includes the Santa Maria Police Department, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, both school superintendents that serve the greater Santa Maria area, the Literacy Council, Fighting Back Santa Maria, area church leaders, and representatives from Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, among many others.

To help address issues facing local young people, the Santa Maria City Council turned to California Cities Violence Prevention Network Executive Director Ernesto Olivares.

Olivares and his group have helped a number of cities in California create and enact a plan to address similar issues.

Olivares developed the task force system from his time as a police officer, city councilman and mayor of the City of Santa Rosa in Northern California.

During the summer, the task force and city leaders conducted multiple efforts to reach out to the public for help with the plan.

Among the efforts was conducting multiple workshops, and reaching out to young people during school programs and the city’s Safe and Strong All Summer Long recreation initiative.

“We heard some important feedback about the process,” Assistant City Manager Jason Stilwell said.

During the workshops the task force was able to identify 107 potential action items. The list includes acknowledging domestic violence and child abuse and neglect is a problem; improving street parking and parks; taking students to sporting events; developing parenting workshops and supporting tattoo removal programs.

 “We are hoping that you are interested on helping to see some of these items work,” Stilwell told the crowd on Monday.

Four strategic goals -- prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry -- also emerged from the outreach efforts.  

Monday’s meeting, scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., wasn't long enough to complete the goal of paring down the more than 100 possible action items; instead concerned members of the public spoke about the task force’s work in general.

Peter Flores, Santa Maria Joint Union High School District director of Student Services and co-founder of the group One Community Action, expressed his disappointment in the work of the task force.

“One Community Action submitted a 26-page action plan to the city last year. I do not see it mentioned here. First and primary to that action plan was cultural competence,” Flores said.

“If you look at the violence and who is most prone to violence, it is the Spanish speaking youth and parents,” Flores said. “We have to do better.”

Flores said the task force has not done a good enough job of reaching out to the community and must stop looking for people to blame for issues facing the city.

When Flores was asked by Stilwell how he will help the task force strategic plan Flores said, “We are not going to provide barriers. We want you to succeed.”

Laura Arteaga, of the Literacy Council and who worked as the interpreter for Monday’s meeting, urged everyone in the room and in the community to work together despite their differences.

“In order to move forward we cannot focus on the past,” Arteaga said.

Stilwell said the draft plan will be posted one week before the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety meets to discuss the draft at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 23.  

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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