Residents Weigh In on Neighborhood Gang Violence at Series of Forums

New Town Hall meeting scheduled in Alviso on Wednesday, November 20

The projected on the screen at the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force community meeting on October 28, 2013, told a story of significant progress in reducing gang-related crime in San Jose from 2012 to 2013.

Homicides had dropped from 14 to 8, or 42.9. But weeks later when media later challenged the numbers, Police Chief Larry Esquivel acknowledged and apologized for the misrepresentation of gang homicides. The comparison was faulty because of a redefining of what is a gang-related homicide. Other crimes did show a decrease, which officials say is a result of stepped up enforcement during the summer.

Yerba Buena high school junior Jasmine Mata-Michi was less concerned about how the city was keeping score and more about her feeling unsafe at her school and neighborhood. And she wanted the grownups in the room at Bascom Community Center to know it.

“We need to let the city know about the horrible things that are going on in our city, she said. “ You just want the horrible things to change. The gangs need to be gone. The kids need to be motivated.”

Her input and that of hundreds of others who attended the four Town Hall meetings in October and November will help develop the task force’s 2014-2016 work plan. Besides Bascom Community Center, meetings were held at Overfelt High School, Southside Community Center and Roosevelt Community Center.

A fifth meeting has been added for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, at the Alviso Youth Center, 5040 North First Street, San Jose. All San Jose residents are invited to attend.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done,” Mayor Chuck Reed told attendees at the Bascom meeting. “But it’s only possible with the relationship our police department has with the community.”

Added San Jose City Councilman Pete Constant, “The people who make it work are you. The input we get from residents is the core of our strategic plan.”
Constant attended the meeting along with Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio and Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen.

Established in 1991 by former Mayor Susan Hammer, the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force is a coalition of residents, government leaders, school officials, faith-based groups and law enforcement aimed at curbing gang activity. The work plan is reviewed every three years with public participation. The program, which has been praised by the U.S. Department of Justice, has created a strategy of prevention, intervention, suppression and rehabilitation.

At the Town Hall meetings, participants break out into discussion groups to focus on prevention.

“Today is about preventing this stuff,” said Mario Maciel, manager of the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force. Intervening early. We need our young men and women to be part of our society in a healthy way.”

Task force members asked a series of questions to draw out residents’ concerns and ideas: Do they feel safe in San Jose? What trends should the task force know about? And what types of efforts should be supported?

The responses were familiar to task force leaders. Too many kids with nothing to do are hanging around schools and parks, smoking pot, drinking. Sometimes fights break out. Homeless also hanging out in parks make the residents feel uncomfortable. Sometimes they hear shots fired and see houses broken into. There is more graffiti everywhere, and weapons are being brought to school.

“All of that is affecting surrounding neighborhoods,” said Beth Green from the Cadillac neighborhood not far from the Bascom Center.

Many cited fewer programs caused by city budget cuts that leave middle-schoolers and teens time to get into trouble.

“It’s me alone with 40 kids,” said Stephanie Black, who works in the Starbird Youth Center in West San Jose. “We got approved for BEST program, but don’t have funding this year. We could be open for even more kids. Our program is just one of the answers, but more support would be awesome.”

Bringing Everyone’s Strengths Together (BEST) grant program, supports and dozens of community service providers who reach thousands of high-risk or gang-involved youth.

Patricia Palomares-Mason, a Gardner area resident, lamented that because city staff was no longer operating the Gardner Community Center, the limited services that the center now offers means it reaches fewer residents. As part of the city’s re-use program, the Boys and Girls Club operate the center.
“When we lost the center, we lost all those resources,” she said. “When we had the center we could reach out to parents.”

Other solutions included more sports programs, parenting classes, mentoring programs and keeping community and homework centers open longer.

After the group discussion, participants voted on concerns and solutions they felt most strongly about by placing colored stickers next to items written on poster-sized paper by the task force leaders.

When the groups re-assembled to share the results of their group talks, common ideas emerged, including a challenge to the city to provide more activities and support for children and their families. They also were alarmed that children were getting into violent crime at young ages, even in elementary school.

“The people who make it work are you,” said Councilman Pete Constant, who attended the meeting with Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio. “The input we get from residents is the core of our strategic plan.”

A leaner and more focused San Jose Neighborhoods Commission met for the first time since the City Council made it a permanent advisory group, with a mission to plot the future election of new members and zero in on the “quality of life” issues members are intended to tackle.

The special meeting on October 23, 2013, also allowed a representative from the City Clerk’s office to swear in the 17 commissioners who served for two years on the commission as a pilot project. The next regular meeting will be 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13, in rooms 118-119 of the City Hall wing.

The council action to give the commission permanent status also trimmed the membership from 30 to 20, with two members elected through a caucus process from each of the 10 council districts. The Neighborhoods Commission is the only one of San Jose’s 38 advisory boards and commission to elect members from neighborhoods. City council members appoint all other commissions.

But for now, the vacancies in Districts 1, 4, 5 and 10 will be filled through council appointments. Applications for those seats are working their way through the process, said Ernest Guzman, executive analyst for the City Manager’s Office. The caucuses will be held again when the fiscal year ends in June 2014 and half of the commissioners will be termed out.

However, Districts 3 and 7 have one too many representatives because of the old structure, and one from each district may have to resign, Guzman said.

Neighborhoods Commission Off To A New Start As Permanent Advisory Group

The Neighborhoods Commission was created to provide a citywide group that could advocate for neighborhoods and make sure residents’ voices were heard during City Hall decision-making. But the members were also directed not to step into the territory of other commissions, leaving many members feeling too limited in scope.

“Those limitations have really hamstrung our ability to work with other commissions,” Beth Shafran-Mukai said at a Neighborhoods Commission meeting in February.

At the special meeting on October 23, Guzman said the commission’s charge would be quality of life issues with an emphasis on neighborhood safety (police department), the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force (Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department), transportation (Department of Transportation), code enforcement (Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Department), and the budget.

“The work plan will be developed around those areas,” he said.

The members who are listed on the November 13 agenda are:
District 1 – Charles E. Jones
District 2 – Norma Callendar and Marie Arnold
District 3 – Beth Shafran-Mukai, Jaime Angulo and Mauricio Astacio
District 4 – Linda Locke
District 5 – Bob Dolci
District 6 – David Dearborn and Larry Ames
District 7 – Moses C. Ramirez, Robert Sandoval and Bertha Ward
District 8 – Matt Whalin and Neetu Dhaliwal
District 9 — Jim Cantore and Hugh Graham
District 10 – two vacancies

The city council liaison for the commission is Councilman Don Rocha from District 9.

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