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A plan aimed at reducing gang violence, providing more opportunities for young people and helping incarcerated youth and adults return to the community is now available for the public’s review.

Since its formation earlier this year, the Santa Maria Mayor's Task Force on Youth Safety has been working to create a strategic plan to better answer issues around safety and quality of life for the city’s young people.

City officials released the plan earlier this week on its website, and the Mayor’s Task Force will convene at 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Minami Community Center to discuss the document and consider recommending that the Santa Maria City Council adopt the plan.

The 39-page document is titled “Together for Youth and Families Strategic Plan.”

“This is not a framework for a new government program but is, instead, a grass-roots framework for action for all of those who serve and care for the youth in the Santa Maria Valley,” Mayor Alice Patino said in her portion of the strategic plan document.

The two-year plan was created after the task force held a series of public forums this summer and reviewed data submitted by the task force’s partners.

The proposed policy document has four elements -- prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry -- and includes goals and objectives, implementation strategies and more than 100 suggested action items. 

In the prevention arena, the strategic plan suggests creating more programs and focusing specific gang-prevention programs in areas based on information gathered from community needs assessments. Action items include volunteering to restore bicycles, providing more tutoring opportunities and repairing, replacing or installing city street lights.

When it comes to intervention, the strategic plan aims to provide anti-gang education and training programs to young people and residents, including street-level intervention services to youth currently engaged in criminal gang activities. Action items include working to provide youth employment opportunities, fostering youth involvement at public meetings and hearings and increasing support for school counselors.

The enforcement piece includes stepping up patrols and educating the community on how to work with law enforcement leaders to reduce crime and violence in city neighborhoods. 

The plan’s focus on re-entry includes creating programs and services for juvenile and adults incarcerated to help them return to the community. Action items include providing more access to high school diploma classes and connecting youth and their families directly with local services.

Organizers hope the plan ultimately will result in better “sense of place in our communities and neighborhoods” informed and involved parents, educators and caregivers and a reduction in violent crimes, among others.

To finance the task force’s chosen goals, the strategic plan identifies three potential funding sources.

The “backbone investments,” such as direct staffing, planning and community outreach, will come from city and county coffers' public funds. The task force may also recommend seeking tax measures in the future to pay for its work.

The second investment source will be “pooled investment,” coming from local funders and traditional grant sources.

The third source, called “innovative investments,” will involve reaching out to corporate and foundation donors, and well as state and federal support. 

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The Mayor’s Task Force was formed by Patino and the City Council to address issues relating to youth violence and safety following a period of about two years where a spate of murders and attacks plagued the Santa Maria.

City officials report that the first gang-related murder in the city of Santa Maria occurred in the 1970s. During that decade, 12 people were murdered in the city, three of those who were found to be connected to gang activity.

More recently, from 2010 to 2017, there have been 43 murders in Santa Maria, with 33 of those gang-related, according to city leaders.

The task force has met monthly to steer decisions and events like public forums and public workshops, working toward the goal of creating the draft strategic plan. 

The effort has not come without detractors, however. 

Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) officials have raised concerns about the involvement of young people on its policy committee, saying they believe youth should have a stronger voice in creation the plan. Officials from the One Community Action Coalition also have levied criticism about members of the policy committee, alleging that city leaders have not been culturally sensitive enough.

Monday’s meeting is open to the public. The community will have the opportunity to speak about the plan. 

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


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