Cardenas seeks city task force for anti-gang services

By Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 15, 2008

Further escalating a City Hall turf fight over anti-gang programs, Los Angeles Councilman Tony Cardenas sought Friday to block a plan that would put the mayor’s office in charge of the city’s scattered gang-prevention services.

Cardenas and three other council members called instead for an “executive task force” to coordinate the gang programs over the next two years.

Cardenas’ task force would include the mayor, a council representative, the police chief and several department heads.

That infuriated City Controller Laura Chick, who in a report last month had proposed concentrating anti-gang services in Villaraigosa’s office to improve effectiveness and accountability.

“We have studied and reported and task-forced the issue of gang violence into the ground,” Chick said. “It has gone nowhere.”

Cardenas and Chick have been sniping at each other since a joint appearance on a public radio program two weeks ago to talk about her recommendation to house anti-gang services in the mayor’s office.

The tensions boiled over again during a four-hour hearing Friday before a gang committee chaired by Cardenas, who invited Chick to explain her report.

At one point, Cardenas argued with Chick and city attorneys over whether the controller has the authority to conduct “performance” audits of the mayor’s office — a step Chick and Cardenas agree would be necessary to ensure adequate oversight of gang programs.

On Friday, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo issued a legal opinion on the matter, saying Chick lacks the authority under the city charter to force Villaraigosa or other elected officials to submit to performance audits. But Delgadillo noted that Villaraigosa had agreed to let Chick conduct such a review of gang programs if they are housed in his office.

The explanation did not satisfy Cardenas.

“It is not clear that the silver bullet . . . [is] there yet,” he told Chick during the hearing. “I want that solution.”

Chick replied: “I think the mothers and fathers of the children who are being killed day to day want that, as well, councilman.

“We need to be talking about how we can move forward, not bringing up all the reasons why not. . . . I think we need to deliver a glass hall full to the communities . . . that are most impacted by this.”

Cardenas shot back: “With all due respect, glass half empty, glass half full, I’m looking at blood on the streets. Once again, you have misinterpreted what I’m saying. Please understand . . . this is not a committee of ‘can’t.’ This is a committee of ‘can.’ ”

The back-and-forth between the two left many current and former city leaders exasperated and wondering whether politics would derail the city’s effort to address gang violence.

“If the matter before us is one of urgency, you’d never know it from the way it is being presented,” state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), a former councilman, said at the hearing.

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