By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Imagine how confused L.A.s gang members must be right now. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa cant stop talking about them, making them the centerpiece of his yearly State of the City Address, his $6 billion budget and even an angry face-to-face confrontation with the Los Angeles Timeseditorial board.
Yet look carefully at his budget proposal and its hard to tell if Villaraigosa has a new plan for gangs at all. Should gangs feel flattered, or slighted?
Villaraigosa noisily promised that this years city budget would devote $168 million to gang-reduction and youth-development programs a shopping list that ranges from overtime pay for police officers to new job initiatives at Los Angeles International Airport. Simply dropping that number created some media magic for the mayor, making him the subject of such headlines as Villaraigosa urges $168 million to steer L.A. youth away from gangs.
As it turns out, nearly $150 million is money the city already spends on existing programs. And many of those initiatives are only tangentially related to the difficult work of eliminating street gangs, including such things as boat trips for fifth-graders in the Los Angeles Harbor to the ramped-up deployment of park rangers at the citys biggest parks (are street thugs roaming Griffith Park and no one warned us?).
And that gets us to the most intriguing weapon in the mayors $168 millon anti-gang arsenal: water-saving urinals. As in, the self-cleaning kind that rely on yipes! suction instead of water. The mayors 41-page gang proposal promises to spend $1.2 million on the Water Demand Management Installation Program. Or to put it another way: the Department of Water and Power will teach the citys youth to install water-efficient urinals and sprinklers in public parks.
The idea is, in a way, sheer genius. Gang members can finally profit from the high demand for low-flow urinals in struggling, low-income neighborhoods, then take that skill set citywide.
With 40,000 gang members and nearly 400 parks, the city could assign 100 gang members to each park. And if every park gets 10 new urinals, thats one toilet for every 10 gang members to install in painstaking fashion. Dont everyone line up at once!
Yet some council members voiced a few doubts that such a program is making a dent in the citys battle against gangs or, for that matter, that the program exists in any meaningful way. I mean, install a couple of those and the kids might want to join a gang, deadpanned Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district takes in the gang-plagued neighborhoods of Watts and Harbor Gateway.
The mayors people had no answers to Hahns questions about the urinal program during two recent meetings of the councils Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development. Asked about it a third time on Friday, Deputy Mayor Arif Alikhan still had no idea how many jobs had been created under the program, or even how many toilets had been installed. Were in the process of getting that, Alikhan told the L.A. Weekly.
While the mayors gang proposal describes the low-flow toilets as an existing city program, the DWP said it has not been set up yet. And a third agency, the Department of Recreation and Parks, said waterless urinals are being contemplated in exactly one place: the area near the Los Angeles River known as Taylor Yard. But that would only be as an experiment, and we havent done that yet, said Jane Kolb, the departments spokeswoman. Well, then. Good thing its on the list!
Other programs in the mayors gang-reduction plan are baffling in their own way. The mayor tossed onto his anti-gang list $57,000 worth of boat tours field trips for schoolchildren that are funded each year by the Port of Los Angeles. But will one trip to the harbor in the middle of the day prevent kids from joining gangs? Another $315,000 is basically free rent that has been provided by the harbor department for years to provide space for nearby youth groups including room to store anti-graffiti paint.
Then theres the citys $9 million junior golf program, which transports kids to Griffith Park, where they get to play the links for $5. Part of the city for two decades, the junior golf program serves 350 children annually, according to the Department of Recreation and Parks. No doubt its a fine program, as it should be at a cost of nearly $26,000 per child.
Hahn, who has made no secret of her desire for a new tax to pay for gang programs, described the mayors $168 million as fuzzy math, taking in programs that do little to address gangs themselves. Thats a problem for me, and thats what gives us a bad rap, she declared. People are saying, If youre spending all that money, why do we have twice as many gangs?
But Alikhan portrayed the youth-development budget as a good start, calling it a coherent list that can be scrutinized in coming years by a new deputy mayor assigned exclusively to gang reduction. I dont think its fuzzy math. I think theyre accurate numbers that reflect the programs that provide opportunities for youth development in the city, as well as gang reduction, he said.