Mar Vista Gardens youngsters looking for a way out of the deadly cycle of gangs, joblessness and crime got a boost last week as the city opened a comprehensive job training and counseling service center at the large, low-income housing complex.
At the Mar Vista Gardens Community Service Center, officials hope to set up a network of services, focusing particularly on aiding families with children at risk of being pulled into gangs and other criminal activities.
Programs will include mentoring, early intervention and diversion programs for youths 8 to 14, as well as tutorial services, job placement assistance and recreational and social activities for all residents of the 601-unit housing project, which is located near Inglewood Boulevard and Braddock Drive, just west of Culver City.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, Mayor Tom Bradley and City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter hailed the center as an integral part of the fight against crime at Mar Vista Gardens.
During his "Area Day" tour of the West Los Angeles area Thursday, Bradley also presided over a groundbreaking ceremony for a fence that will surround Mar Vista Gardens for the security and safety of its residents. He also announced an "innovative" safety program sponsored by GTE, the telephone company, designed to cut down on crime along the nearby Ballona Creek bike path.
But the centerpiece of the effort to keep local youth out of trouble will be the Community Service Center, the last of five such facilities planned for the city. Other centers have been set up at Ramona Gardens housing project in Boyle Heights, Nickerson Gardens in South-Central Los Angeles, San Fernando Gardens in Pacoima and Rancho San Pedro in San Pedro.
"The services and programs so badly needed by the residents of Mar Vista Gardens will all be under one roof," Bradley said. "I am particularly proud of the center's commitment to the youth of this community by providing an alternative to gangs, assistance to those who have dropped out of school, job-training programs and help to teen-age parents."
Mar Vista Gardens has long been considered a magnet for warring factions of gangs, drug dealers and other criminals.
Galanter said the center will give youths and their parents a place to seek help before problems arise, or when they are no longer able to manage on their own.
"There are hundreds of young people on the streets of this community who are struggling to find their way through life on a path lined with drug dealers, gangsters and common criminals," Galanter said. "Parents do their best to guide them safely through, but when trouble reaches out, even parents don't always know where to turn."
The city's Community Development Department and City Housing Authority are coordinating the Community Service Center Program.
The five centers are expected to cost $2.45 million a year during the first two years, with $1.2 million a year coming from federal Job Training Partnership Act funds, $1 million from a federal Health and Human Services grant, and $250,000 from the city's general fund, according to a city report on the project.
Joseph Shuldiner, executive director of the city Housing Authority, said the center will be effective because it will bring the services right to the developments.
"We are pleased because it represents a commitment by the city to spend some resources on our residents," Shuldiner said.
Meanwhile, a recent decision by the city's zoning administrator has cleared the way for an eight-foot security fence around the Mar Vista Gardens.
The special permission was needed because the fence was higher in some places than the city's building code would normally allow. But the additional height was allowed after city officials and a specially formed Mar Vista Gardens Task Force deemed it necessary as a way to control access to the complex and to cut crime.
Construction on the $387,000 wrought-iron fence could begin within the month, with the job expected to take four months.
The fence, Galanter said, "will make Mar Vista Gardens a less friendly place for the gangs and drug pushers to do business."
The fence is expected to augment special anti-gang efforts already under way, including temporary Los Angeles police foot patrols on the complex's grounds, and a permanent barricade set up by the city at one entrance to the apartments to cut down on drive-through drug sales and drive-by shootings.
At the request of Galanter's office and city officials, GTE donated and installed two emergency phones connected to the 911 police emergency number so authorities can respond quickly to attacks. Cyclists riding alone on the bike path have been subject to attacks and robberies in the past, and one cyclist was killed.