Representatives from several area nonprofits continue to accuse the Mayor's Task Force on Youth Safety of failing to include youth voices and input in their recently approved strategic plan, despite inclusion of youth representatives and a majority of recommendations derived from a youth-led town hall organized by the nonprofits.
"At the last city council meeting, a lot of the youth spoke up about not being included on the task force at the policy level," Abraham Melendrez, a community organizer with the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), said at a Monday press conference.
A four-page policy brief featuring 12 youth-generated recommendations was unveiled at the press conference. A result of October's youth-led town hall, Melendrez claims the ideas presented in the document were previously disregarded and ignored by members of the Santa Maria City Council — including Mayor Alice Patino — and others who served on the task force.
"The youth are very much interested in participating at all levels, including the one the city has designated for them," he said. "We believe that it is very important to include them at the policy level."
Claims of exclusion by task force members were refuted by the city Monday night, with spokesperson Mark van de Kamp pointing to Mayor Patino's comments during the Nov. 21 city council meeting.
"I have never excluded any of the students from talking or from speaking at any of the forums we’ve had," Patino said during the meeting. "I will make it very clear to them (the school superintendents) that the students want more interaction."
Youth-elected representatives were added to the task force in late August and have participated in meetings leading up to creation of the strategic plan. In addition to the inclusion of youth representatives, nine of CAUSE's recommendations were referenced, reflected or included in the implementation objectives or the five-page list of potential action items developed by the task force.
When asked to elaborate on claims of exclusion, Melendrez said the task force did not list youth representatives in their official membership and that the city council did not include two recommendations (regarding community-based policing and creating a welcoming school environment) in the final strategic plan.
"A lot of the items have been added to the task force plan, which we're happy about, but two I mentioned (community policing and school environment) were not," he said. "[Also,] If you look at the report by the city, none of the names of the elected youth representatives are mentioned at all."