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San Gabriel Council OKs Anti-Gang Plan


SAN GABRIEL — The City Council on Tuesday unanimously declared war against the spread of gangs, to the cheers of community activists who packed the council chambers to standing room only.

The council voted 5 to 0 to start an intensive gang-prevention program. The decision comes after six months of emotional discussions and meetings filled with references to the small city's three gang-related killings in the last year.

The program will be developed by Community Youth Gang Services, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, which for the last decade has worked in the city and county of Los Angeles.

The organization will work closely with the Police Department in an on-the-streets attempt to reach gang members and their families. Gang services workers will also try to dissuade potential gang members from joining. In addition, the program will focus on fighting gang graffiti, providing job counseling, intervening in gang-related conflicts and sponsoring recreational opportunities.

"We understand we're not going to eliminate the problem. We just want to get the problem under control," Mayor James Castaneda said. "We need prevention. We're going to start recruiting the little (children) to be a part of our gang, the community of San Gabriel."

The one-year, $176,000 program would finance two vehicles and four staff members. The council directed city and police officials to negotiate with Youth Gang Services to reduce the project's cost.

The council's action came after five speakers voiced wholehearted support for the proposal. One of the speakers, Elaine Stuart, the mother of a San Gabriel High School freshman, said the problem of youth gangs is serious and widespread in the community.

"The kids that are growing up now are serious, hard-core, gang 'wanna-bes'. But I'm glad we're doing something about it," Stuart said after the council's vote.

Only one speaker opposed the measure, arguing that anti-gang funds should go to the Police Department instead of to an outside agency.

Before the meeting, Stuart and about 50 others in the audience marched briefly through the city, carrying placards including one that read: "We will march. We will shout. All gangs must get out."

But Youth Gang Services workers cautioned city officials and the audience not to be overly optimistic. "It's not an overnight success program. There's no magic fix. No magic potion," said John Garcia, a deputy director of Community Youth Gang Services.

However, the program has had some success in such places as Wilmington, the San Fernando Valley and South-Central Los Angeles, he said.

Police Capt. David Lawton emphasized that the community of more than 34,000 residents is not an island. "I see this as a regional problem," he said, "not just a San Gabriel problem."

Earlier this month, a 17-year-old San Gabriel High School student who lived in Rosemead was killed in a drive-by shooting in nearby South San Gabriel. "Unfortunately, that heightened the tensions and brought home the reality of the problem," said the Rev. Gerardo de Jesus, one of the organizers of the San Gabriel Community Interfaith Program, the anti-gang group that marched through the city. The group was started six months ago in response to concerns about gang-related crime.

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