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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 11th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 32

Residents criticize Santa Maria youth safety task force

By KASEY BUBNASH


STILL IN-PROGRESS
Assistant City Manager Jason Stilwell presented the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety plan for reducing youth violence at a meeting on Oct. 9.
PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH

Another in a series of public meetings on the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety went awry on Oct. 9 after a string of community members criticized the city of Santa Maria’s attempts at addressing recent spikes in violence in the city.

The intent of the meeting, held in the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, was to share and workshop the city’s nearly finished plan for reducing youth violence, according to Assistant City Manager Jason Stilwell, who presented the city’s lengthy list of findings and goals. Stilwell said he then hoped community members would help the city cut some of its 107 action items, while prioritizing others.

Stilwell said that since the task force’s beginning in February, the group met with community members and service providers at various meetings, forums, and workshops to discuss potential ways to make Santa Maria a safer place for families to live. Although the task force draft plan listed only four strategy goals—prevention, enforcement, intervention, and re-entry—that would help Santa Maria youths, it included more than 100 actual ways those goals could be reached.

Prevention methods could include improved access to mental health care or sports as an alternative to violence, according to the draft, while easier GED programs, tattoo removal services, and community support are listed as possible re-entry methods.

“We want to get some of your input on what some of the narrow goals might be that we would want to focus on given the mission and vision and the 107 things we heard,” Stilwell said. “We want to hear your thoughts on that.”

Still, many attendees said the city should have included more public and youth input in the planning process, and condemned the task force for failing to be culturally proficient.

Brenda Garcia pointed out that again, the task force failed to provide an English-to-Spanish translation service at the meeting. A bilingual member from the task force then stood and began translating comments, more than 25 minutes into the meeting.

“That’s one problem with the engagement,” Garcia said. “If she’s here as a monolingual Spanish speaking parent, even if it’s just one person among the, I don’t know, maybe 50 of us that are here, I would say that one parent is important to solving youth problems. And if she hears the message in the language she needs, she’s going to go out there and spread it and make a difference.”

Garcia went on to say that Santa Maria includes a large demographic of Spanish speakers. She said that language is only the first step to becoming a culturally proficient task force. 

Peter Flores, director of student services at Santa Maria High School and founder of One Community Action, said cultural competence should be a priority moving forward. Flores suggested in an interview with the Sun that the task force recruit community members and youths to represent the at-risk demographics of Santa Maria. He said every member of the task force represents a service or organization rather than the community as a whole.

“There are things that systematically need to be addressed,” Flores said. “But we want it to be successful. And that’s why we’re showing up.”

Several attendees also addressed the lack of youth involvement. While a few younger locals were at the meeting, only one, Vanessa Cantu, spoke out. Cantu said the two youth representatives assigned to the task force aren’t enough, and that before helpful adults suggested the idea of youth representatives, she had asked task force members if teens could be more involved.

“I came to ask for youth to have a seat at the table and they totally dismissed me,” Cantu said. “They took it more like my opinions weren’t as valid as the adults’ were.”

Cantu said the city should be more welcoming to the underrepresented, at-risk youth it’s trying to serve. Cantu eventually stormed out of the meeting early after another attendee mumbled, “Jesus Christ,” when someone asked if transgender and gay youths would be protected through the city’s plan.

After two hours of public comment that largely echoed the findings of Santa Barbara County’s recent grand jury report on the task force, Assistant City Manager Stilwell announced there was no more allotted time for editing the presented plan.

He said a steering committee will take and focus the public’s input. He said individuals could sign up to help implement the plan, and that the task force is hoping to go over the goals at another public meeting on Oct. 23. If the task force adopts the plan, it will move on to the Santa Maria City Council.

“We want to focus, going forward, on having the work that’s identified in the plan and being inclusive and having you all help us,” Stilwell said.




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