Villaraigosa recommends six groups for new Los Angeles anti-gang contracts

The mayor bypasses some well-known organizations and vows to veto any attempt by the City Council to award pacts to organizations he did not support.
By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 29, 2008
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa rolled out the first stage of his anti-gang initiative Monday, passing over some well-established anti-gang organizations that were competing for contracts in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods.

Villaraigosa recommended awarding half-million-dollar contracts to six gang-prevention programs, including one run by Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, targeting children from 10 to 15 years old who are most likely to be lured into gang life.

A second batch of anti-gang contracts will be awarded later this year, officials said.

“This is arguably the most pressing social problem in the city of Los Angeles,” said Jeff Carr, the city’s deputy mayor for gang reduction and youth development. “What we’ve been doing for the last 20, 25 years hasn’t been working. So we’re trying to do something different.”

The programs will replace L.A. Bridges, a city initiative that has been under fire for almost a decade and is being scrapped by the mayor’s office for not delivering clear results.

Under L.A. Bridges, gang-prevention money was divided up so that each of the 15 City Council members had a hand in decisions, and politics often outweighed merit when contracts were awarded.

“It’s fair to say there were significant problems with the prior system,” Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo said.

At least two anti-gang organizations that were part of L.A. Bridges and did not land the mayor’s recommendation for contracts said Villaraigosa had paid too little attention to experience in addressing gang activity.

“It’s a blow to the community, that’s how I look at it, because of the experience that we have and the work that we’ve done,” said Robert Aguayo, deputy director of El Centro del Pueblo in Los Angeles, which had applied for the city contract in the Cypress Park area.

“They can bring someone else in, but I don’t think they’ll have the success and impact that we have,” Aguayo said.

Forty-four organizations applied for the six grants, and Carr said the selection process was transparent and based solely on merit.

That process is expected to be scrutinized by the council, which must consider and vote on the mayor’s recommendations.

Carr said Villaraigosa was prepared to veto any attempt by the council to award the contracts to organizations he did not recommend.

Councilman Richard Alarcon said he may offer an amendment to the mayor’s plan, however, to ensure that Communities in Schools, a well-established anti-gang program in the San Fernando Valley, continues to receive city funding.

Alarcon said he would even use money from his own discretionary budget.

“I cannot envision a prevention program without Communities in Schools. So I’m going to work really hard to see if we can supplement the contract,” he said.

William “Blinky” Rodriguez, executive director of Communities in Schools, said he hoped that his program’s affiliation with L.A. Bridges did not hurt its chances to win the contract.

“We were discouraged. We’ve laid a lot of tracks here,” he said, adding that the organization still planned to apply for the city contracts to be awarded this fall.

Under the mayor’s plan, gang prevention programs will be placed primarily in 12 so-called gang reduction zones, neighborhoods where there is at least four times as much gang violence as the citywide average.

In the past, the prevention programs were spread out at 27 middle schools across the city.

The mayor’s office plans to recommend six more contracts in the fall as well as 12 contracts for intervention programs to reach youths already involved in gang activities.

The mayor’s office recommended Childrens Hospital Los Angeles for the gang-prevention program in the Cypress Park area; Community Build for the Baldwin Village area; Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches for the Florence-Graham area; People Coordinated Services for the Newton area; El Nido Family Centers for the Pacoima and Foothill area; and Violence Intervention Program for the Ramona Gardens and Hollenbeck area.

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