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Latin Panel Says Santa Monica Has Failed to Act on Report

April 14, 1985|KENNETH J. FANUCCHI | Times Staff Writer

Leaders of a citizen task force organized by the City of Santa Monica to find ways to increase Latinos' use of city services say city officials have failed to act on its recommendations.

Jesus Arguelles, co-chairman of the Task Force on Latino Affairs with Yolanda Becerra-Jones, said, "There is no overall strategy or action program to implement our recommendations."

Arguelles and Becerra Jones said the only concrete action recommended by the staff and approved by the City Council was the provision of $2,000 for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, for translating city flyers into Spanish.

City Manager John Jalili said the criticism of the city's efforts is premature. He said the city has begun to respond to many of the task force recommendations and will consider additional action in budget sessions for the next fiscal year.

The council has directed its staff to evaluate seven proposals for the next fiscal year, including hiring an affirmative action officer and studying ways to speed the city's hiring of Latinos in high-level management.

Arguelles said the proposals fall far short of the 50 recommendations made by the group in 1984.

The 15-member task force was established after a study commissioned by the city found that Latinos, about 13% of the city's 88,314 population according to the 1980 U.S. Census, were "totally alienated" from city services.

The report concluded that Latinos were underemployed, ill-housed, under-educated and poorly served by the city because of a basic distrust of government, lack of information about available services, lack of effort by the city to make them aware of services, and many other factors.

Arguelles was particularly upset that the staff had not recommended that the city establish a City Hall clearing house staffed by a Latino to deal with a broad range of Latino problems and work to increase the effectiveness of city programs in the Latino community.

"You have to question if the city is serious about solving basic problems in the Latino community," said Arguelles, a management consultant specializing in city and county management.

" . . . What concerns me is that the sense of total hopelessness, which is widespread in the Latino community, will be reinforced. People looking at what the city has done thus far will see it as a mild form of tokenism."

Becerra-Jones said she was frustrated by the staff response to the task force recommendations. Like Arguelles, she favored establishment of a "minority presence" in City Hall.

"But there is no indication that it is going to happen," she said. "We were not looking to have someone in City Hall to attack and confront the powers that be, only to work for an equitable share of the money that is already available in the city."

Vivian Rothstein, an aide in the city manager's office who worked with the task force, said that the proposal to set up a clearing house for minority affairs was rejected because city management operates on a departmental basis, with department heads exercising great power.

"It would not be easy having one person (in the clearing house) work with people in other departments," Rothstein said. "The basic problem is not knowing what needs to be done but getting the department heads to do it. Some departments heads are more receptive than others to change their policies."

She said the city manager's office has asked department heads to include in their goals for next year plans to improve their services for Latinos. "We, then, will monitor their progress," Rothstein said.

Jalili noted that many department heads have responded without any direction from higher-level officials.

The Police Department, Jalili said, has a Spanish-speaking officer on all shifts for the 911 emergency number and plans, in response to a task force recommendation, to publicize that service in Latino neighborhoods.

The department has also expanded its domestic violence unit to include a bilingual counselor.

The Library Department, which was not studied by the task force, has moved to expand its collection of materials in Spanish, now numbering 2,500 books, 150 records and eight magazine and two newspaper subscriptions.

Jalili said the Personnel Department plans to set up a City Hall telephone line staffed by bilingual operators.

He acknowledged that the city needs to hire more Latinos but pointed out that the city work force is 17% Latino, compared to the 13% Latino population in the city.

"You have to start somewhere and we are making a good-faith effort to improve the situation," Jalili said.

While refusing to name city departments that are resistant to change, Jalili said his office will lean on those departments to respond to legitimate complaints from the Latino community.

Arguelles said he will withdraw his criticism if the city responds adequately to Latino needs "but I am willing to bet all my lunches in the next month that it will not happen."

He said 65% of the Latino community does not know what services the city has.

"It is not uncommon for them to call the Sheriff's Department when they have a police problem and the city when they have a school question," he said. "It is going to take a massive effort to change that."

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