L.A. Bridges program will end

By Gene Maddaus, Staff Writer

The L.A. Bridges program, which has housed the bulk of Los Angeles’ anti-gang programs for a decade, will go out of business for good on Wednesday.

That leaves the Harbor Area’s top Bridges contractor desperately searching for funds to stay afloat.

The Toberman Settlement House in San Pedro has been offering programs to keep poor kids out of gangs for decades. It has also been heavily involved in using former gang members to mediate disputes before they turn violent.

But because the area that it serves – San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway – is not as violent as other parts of Los Angeles, Toberman has so far been left out of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s new strategy for reducing gang violence.

Villaraigosa announced the plan earlier this year. The idea was to phase out Bridges and to consolidate the city’s anti-gang funds in his office. The mayor’s appointed “gang czar” will target programs at 12 “gang reduction” zones, shown by crime statistics to be the city’s worst neighborhoods for gang violence.

That approach is generally seen as an improvement. L.A. Bridges had long been criticized for distributing funds based on political agendas, rather than need, and for failing to make sure that the programs it funded actually worked.

But the mayor’s strategy has left several neighborhoods without any funding for gang prevention and intervention, which experts say are a necessary complement to police work in lowering the crime rate.

Faced with Wednesday’s deadline, the L.A. City Council has granted Toberman a three-month reprieve. The council recently agreed to extend its Bridges contracts with Toberman until March 31 to give the Mayor’s Office time to issue new contracts.

The mayor’s plan sets aside about $750,000 for intervention and prevention programs outside of the 12 zones. Toberman has applied for some of that funding, but does not expect to hear whether it will be awarded the money until February.

“We’re just hoping and praying for the best,” said Gloria Lockhart, Toberman’s president. “We’re just trying to stay afloat.”

Given the state of the economy, Lockhart said Toberman is not in a position to make up the loss of city revenues from private sources.

Officials were hoping that voters would approve Proposition A, which would have levied a parcel tax to provide $30 million in annual funding for prevention and intervention programs.

But that measure, which was spearheaded by Councilwoman Janice Hahn, fell about 0.4 percent short of the two-thirds threshold it needed to pass on the November ballot.

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