Coordinators of a broad anti-gang program hope to begin steering up to 300 youngsters away from or out of gangs by the end of 2013.
The multiyear program, presented in detail to the Yakima City Council for the first time Tuesday, is the city’s first concerted effort to curb the gang problem.
The Yakima City Council voted unanimously to support the proposal crafted as part of the city’s Gang Free Initiative. The council is expected to vote in December on several contracts with service providers.
“I feel good after reading this and seeing this that we are moving in the right direction,” Mayor Micah Cawley said.
The program results from more than two years of deliberation and planning.
“It’s going to be a while before the results of this project are seen, but there’s no way around it. We have to take this step,” said Councilwoman Kathy Coffey, who has served on the initiative’s steering committee.
The foundation of the initiative is a network of social service agencies and related organizations working together to steer kids away from gangs or persuade them to leave that life behind. That includes everything from counseling to tutoring and job training.
The Gang Free Initiative is the outgrowth of a proposal first put forward in August 2009 by then-Councilwoman Sonia Rodriguez-True. In mid-2010, a 15-member committee appointed by the City Council began to focus on how to deal with gang activity through three committees: prevention, intervention and suppression.
In 2013, the various programs are calculated to reach upwards of 300 youngsters, ranging from those at risk of joining a gang to more active members.
Tuesday’s session was the first time that the council heard a detailed report on how the initiative’s different aspects will materialize. The delay was cause for some consternation from several council members, particularly Sara Bristol and Bill Lover.
During a flareup Tuesday of previous debates, Coffey and Councilman Dave Ettl questioned whether the full council was ready to proceed with the proposal. “With all due respect, it’s getting old, people, it’s getting old,” Ettl said.
Bristol said she believed other council members misinterpreted the intent of questions raised by her and Lover, including details behind the funding and whether the city should continue to rely on Steve Magallan as a contract consultant and coordinator, instead of hiring a permanent city employee to do the same work.
A native of Grandview, Magallan has been described by city officials as a national expert in building community programs. He served as the executive director of the Yakima County Substance Abuse Coalition from 2001 to 2003.
Lover said he was encouraged by the direction of the plan. “And yet when I ask when are we going to stabilize the leadership, I’m getting thrown under the bus,” Lover said.
City Manager Tony O’Rourke said Magallan’s cost — about $116,000 in 2013 for his time, a Yakima-based program manager and an office — are the most cost-effective way to oversee the program right now.
Separately, the city is using about $140,000 from last year’s utility tax increase to leverage other funding from the outside agencies.
The partners and the state are contributing the bulk of the $685,000 in funding for 2013.
Those involved in the process say it may take five or more years to see concrete reductions of gang crime and related behavior.
With a nod to concerns raised about the program, Cawley said he believes the council has set itself in a new direction in hopes of getting results.
“We all have different ways of voicing support and asking questions and doing our jobs as council members,” he said. “We all know that gangs and public safety are our No. 1 priority.”
• Mark Morey can be reached at 509-577-7671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.