Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Youth issues named city's top priority


Santa Barbara city officials lauded a resolution aimed at making youth problems the top priority in Santa Barbara at yesterday’s City Council meeting, calling it a crucial step in eliminating gang violence that has plagued city streets.
The resolution supports a platform designed by the National League of Cities (NLC) that highlights key action steps that Santa Barbara can take to meet the needs of youth and families. More than 70 cities in 31 states have already adopted the platform, city staff said.

“This is one of the strongest foundations we could have,” Councilmember Roger Horton said. “I believe that this will be a model plan for the whole United States.”
The centerpiece of the platform is a document that identifies key areas of need, what the city is already doing to meet those needs, and what still needs improvement. Councilmember Brian Barnwell said he is constantly asked about what the city is doing to prevent gang violence.
“We’re already doing many of the things we need to do,” Councilmember Barnwell said, describing the document as “packed” with examples of programs and services already in place.
Councilmember Grant House quickly pointed out that the city’s leaders understand there is still plenty of work ahead.
”There’s still stuff brewing out there,” he said, “and I think everyone on the Council knows that.”
City staff said Santa Barbara offers more than 100 city services aimed at supporting families and youth, and while developing the resolution they came up with 40 additional areas for improvement.
Expanded afterschool and summer programs, more opportunities for community input, and improved childcare are among the suggestions offered by the plan. City officials also emphasized the crucial need for collaboration between city leaders, advisory groups, schools and nonprofit organizations.
Sarah Hanna, recreation programs manager, highlighted several of the city’s recent efforts to give teens an alternative to joining gangs, including the expansion of the summer drop-in program at Franklin, Harding and McKinley schools, and the city’s job apprenticeship program. Hanna said the drop-in program serves 250-300 kids daily, and the apprenticeship program has already placed 37 teens in businesses throughout the city.
Councilmember Iya Falcone emphasized the positive response from parents to the apprenticeship program, saying, “They would like very much to see an opportunity for their kids to have a job.”
Babatunde Folayemi, a youth advocate and former member of the City Council, said he started pushing for a resolution making kids the city’s top priority after a gang stabbing on State Street earlier this year that resulted in the death of 15-year-old Angel Linares.
“There is a lot of work to do,” Folayemi said. “This is the first step. It’s a positive step, and it’s a great step.”
Folayemi said he meets with Santa Barbara youth frequently and that many of the programs currently offered by the city often don’t reach the marginalized and alienated teens who end up joining gangs.
“The outreach to them has to be very specific and designed to reach them,” Folayemi said. “...There’s a lot of work that has to be done undoing the insensitivity that the community has had toward this group of kids.”
He said with the resolution in place, he is optimistic that the city will witness changes in the next six months that will make its residents feel safer and happier. He plans to unveil his own youth programs that are aimed at training teens in a skill, craft or trade.
Laura Inks, owner of Arts Alive!, told the City Council she is trying to get local teens involved in alternative art programs in cartooning, graffiti and street art. A graffiti event held in June attracted 200 people, many of them teenagers, Inks said.
“I’m trying to give them an alternative,” she said. “We’re trying to get them off the streets and on to canvas and plywood.”
Councilmember Das Williams called the resolution a road map that will allow the city to see what needs to be done, adding that all public policy decisions should be made after considering their impact on youth. Christina Gonzalez, who had just been appointed as a youth intern to the Park and Recreation Commission, echoed that concept, calling on members of the Council to make the resolution a “reminder to keep youth in your mind when you are making decisions about the city.”

No comments: