Gang battle is mayor’s top priority

first_imgNORTH HOLLYWOOD – Declaring it the most pressing challenge facing Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Wednesday that he plans to pour $168 million into youth and anti-gang efforts next year as part of a broad plan to stamp out gang violence. In his second State of the City address, Villaraigosa outlined an aggressive agenda of gang-prevention and intervention plans, including naming a gang director in the Mayor’s Office and creating eight “gang-reduction zones” throughout the city. The mayor also used his address to begin answering growing criticism of his first 15 months in office, although he was greeted with a standing ovation from the invitation-only crowd as the strains of “I’ll Be There” blared over loudspeakers. “I believe the moment is now in the City of Angels,” Villaraigosa said. “Never before has this infinitely diverse city been more united behind a clear set of common priorities.” Villaraigosa said those priorities also include economic development, expanding services with more police, filling more potholes, and offering more summer jobs for youths and more affordable housing for the poor. He boasted of reducing the city’s structural budget deficit – the gap between revenues and expenditures – from $295 million to $200 million and said he hopes to cut an additional $138 million this coming year. But in marked contrast to last year, Villaraigosa’s address came as some around the city are beginning to question whether his visionary ambitions can be turned into practical gains. “I think he is still riding a high wave of popularity and he still seems to be everywhere in the city,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Politics at California State University, Los Angeles. “But at some point – at some point soon – people are going to want to see concrete results to all that he has been talking about.” How will mayor pay? More challenging, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., is how the mayor will be able to pay for all he has promised at a time when city revenues are dropping because of a slowing real estate market. “The city, and all governments, are going to face problems this coming year,” Kyser said. “It’s easy to govern when you have all the money in the world. It’s more difficult in times like we will be facing.” While Villaraigosa talked about his efforts to reduce the business tax, run a more efficient city government and boost development across the city, he acknowledged the challenges. “Increasingly, like America from coast to coast, we are becoming a city of marble and cardboard, a city of prodigious wealth and withering poverty,” Villaraigosa said. “As a result, we waste more time stuck in traffic. We get less time with our kids. And we spend more days of the year choked by smog.” He called on city, business and community leaders to become involved, and touted the city’s environmental initiatives, including plans to clean up the Los Angeles River and get state funding for traffic and infrastructure improvements. The mayor said he also will soon be proposing a more in-depth program to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Still, he declared his first priority remains combating gang violence. “In Los Angeles, we have more gang members than any city in the nation,” Villaraigosa told the audience of nearly 400 people gathered at East Valley High School in North Hollywood. “More than 39,000 youth and adults affiliated with over 400 different gangs. “Last year alone, gang violence claimed the lives of 272 Angelenos; 1,500 of our people were hit by a bullet discharged by a gang member’s gun.” “We cannot arrest our way out of this situation, as (police) Chief (William) Bratton has said,” Villaraigosa said. “We have to stop them.” Efforts to stop gangs The mayor said his proposed budget will include $168 million for anti-gang efforts, with a comprehensive program developed by his office with other city officials. The program spells out a broad approach that includes early identification, counseling, jobs and transitional programs for those already in gangs. It also includes parental counseling, tattoo removal and job creation. “Fighting gangs is fundamentally a question of putting people on a path to a productive life,” Villaraigosa said. The mayor said he also has begun a complete review of city spending on gang programs and is prepared to eliminate those that cannot prove their worth. He also called on state and federal leaders to help the city, renewing his call for the state to kick in $30 million to help develop city programs and for President George W. Bush to redirect money from the Iraq war. “Mr. President, it’s time to focus our challenges at home,” Villaraigosa said, drawing a standing ovation from the audience. “You see, we are losing too many children on the streets of America’s cities.” The mayor also said he will not be swayed from his efforts to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District. He said he is confident a reform slate he is backing will be elected to the school board May 15. And he said he senses that residents want more from the district. “Have no doubt: We are in the school-reform business to stay,” Villaraigosa said. “Angelenos, we have no alternative but to try.” [email protected] (213) 978-0390 State of the city Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa outlined several new initiatives in his second State of the City address, including: Intention to name a director for gang reduction and youth development in the Mayor’s Office. One hundred sixty-eight million dollars in next fiscal year’s budget for youth and anti-gang efforts. Comprehensive review with city Controller’s Office of city spending on gang-prevention and intervention programs. Creation of eight gang-reduction zones where intensive services will complement stepped-up community policing. Plans to expand youth mediation and conflict-resolution programs in city schools. Pending announcement of a Comprehensive Climate Change Plan for Los Angeles, designed to reduce dependence on fossil fuel. Plans to fill 300,000 potholes and repair 575 miles of city streets next fiscal year. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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