Gang plan missing in action

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Pomona councilman threatens resignation from task force

Wednesday, January 19, 2005 – POMONA – A councilman said he will resign from the task force charged with solving the city’s gang problem if it cannot deliver more than empty promises.

“If we do not step up to the plate and put folks’ feet to the fire, then I am a … (poor) parent and councilman,” Councilman Dan Rodriguez said Wednesday, vowing to resign from the Mayor’s Youth and Family Task Force. “I will not do one more meeting unless there is an action plan after that meeting, and a respective follow-up. … If this thing sits for another week, then I need to resign from the task force.”

Rodriguez attacked the task force, formed after a California Highway Patrol officer was gunned down at the court house, for failing to deliver any solutions 10 months after its creation.

Though the task force was scheduled to deliver a youth master plan by December, so far it has produced only an outline of ideas that has yet to be officially released. The outline is a first step to address the issues of drugs, gangs and youth crime in the city, said Mayor Eddie Cortez, who admitted the group is moving slower than expected.

It takes time to establish a program in any community, Cortez said in defense of the task force. He said efforts will focus on referring youths to existing programs in the city.

“We need to be proactive,” Cortez said. “What we need to do is concentrate on those referrals. This committee is about knowing what resources are out there and referring the children who need help to the appropriate organizations. With collaboration through the school district, community and the police, we will make a difference.”

If the shooting of Officer Thomas Steiner, allegedly by Valentino Arenas Jr., in April spurred the community to action against youth violence, the passage of time has had the opposite effect – making city officials and residents complacent, Rodriguez said.

“For me to go back to my constituents to say we still have a plan but no solution is ridiculous,” he said.

The task force’s recommendations so far consist of a variety of community surveys, a literacy program and a resource map to gauge the involvement of the business community. It also recommends encouraging employers to hire youths, greater involvement with the military conservation corps and a student case management system, according to the document.

But opponents aren’t sure what any of the recommendations mean.

“First of all, let’s look at what happened to the first mayor’s task force,” said Juan Nievez, a community activist, about previous failed attempts to deal with the subject of gangs. “It evaporated like (this task force).

“Let’s have a measurable outcome, a program (where) we can measure success or failure. What proactive programs does the city of Pomona have now that have shown a proven track record to combat gangs?”

Rodriguez blamed the delays on the task force’s inability to agree on what steps must be taken to stem gang violence. The group has been unfocused, and has bickered over what role various organizations and agencies will play in the plan, Rodriguez said.

Since last year, four subcommittees of the task force have met infrequently. Representatives of the Pomona Unified School District, a key agency in finding a solution to youth violence, did not attend the last three general task force meetings.

The school district did, however, attend a November meeting with the education and the community resources subcommittees, said district spokesman Richard Martinez.

By Dec. 10, the education, business, law enforcement and housing subcommittees had submitted recommendations to the central task force composed of Cortez, Rodriguez and Police Chief James Lewis.

But that’s where the process remains.

Nievez said the city should more wisely budget its money, and put more resources toward youth programs. Past programs proposed by him, along with various church leaders, have been turned down, he said.

“We need to find the money for these things right now,” Rodriguez said. “We need to take care of our youth programs and give them the capacity to do what they need and want to do. Our gang problem is as serious as a heart attack.”

Former Councilman Willie White said he would not join the task force until a solution-based resolution is developed.

“All the meetings and all the stuff is just a stack of paperwork collecting dust on the shelves,” White said.

“The school and the city will have to form a coalition. It is going to have to become a community-level (organization). You can’t do things for your own political interest (or) money interest, but from the kindness and the goodness of your heart.”

After-school programs and added funding for existing programs are necessary factors the city needs to consider to effect change, Rodriguez said.

“Talk is cheap,” he said.

On Jan. 29 the task force, along with city law enforcement officials, will take a tour of the city’s most challenging areas, Cortez said.

“There is no way I’m going,” Rodriguez said. “What is this — the Pomona wildlife park? I was insulted. I can’t calm down … Just this past week, two children were (shot) in our city. We should turn over every rock until we find the money to make a difference and save our children’s lives.”

On Saturday, a 15-year-old boy was killed and an 18-year-old was wounded in a shooting on Chanslor Street, on the south side of the city.

No suspects are in custody, and police are still investigating.

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