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Anti-Gang Idea Runs Into NIMBY : Services: Few residents oppose the idea of a youth center. But some respond with 'Not In My Back Yard' when it comes to the facility's location.

August 30, 1992|KIM FRICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BELL GARDENS — City officials plan to open a youth center in a residential area next month as part of efforts to combat a growing number of gangs, but some residents have raised concerns about the location.

A group of residents told city and police officials last week that they fear that the center, which will be in the former Human Resource Building at 5856 Ludell Ave., will become a hangout for gangs.

"I'm not against it, but this is a residential area," said Rosa Parra, who lives down the street. "Why didn't they put it by the police station?"

Police Chief Ed Taylor defended the site, arguing that the Youth Counseling Center should be close to youngsters' homes.

"These kids are hanging out by your house anyway," he said. "Wouldn't you rather see the kids over there doing a positive thing?"

The chief, who has been on the job 3 1/2 months, said setting up a center has been one of the priorities in his anti-gang program. Taylor estimates there are at least 14 gangs with more than 500 members in the city.

The center will offer sports, counseling and other activities to try to lure youngsters away from gang activity, Taylor said. Its staff will include two counselors who are former gang members and a part-time secretary.

The list of activities offered at the center remains to be completed, but Taylor said he hopes to take the youths on field trips, establish a day-care center and set up food giveaway programs.

"Some of these kids have never seen snow," Taylor said. "Some have never been to the mountains or seen Catalina (Island). If we can just do something . . . who knows what kind of effect it will have. It may not be successful, but if we don't try how do we know?"

The staff will offer counseling to youngsters who are trying to drop out of gangs, but those dressed in gang attire will not be allowed into the center, the chief said.

Taylor said he also hopes to increase police presence in the area by setting aside a room nearby where police officers could write reports.

He assured residents at a community meeting Tuesday that if the center fails to serve the needs of the community it will be closed. "It's going to operate like I told you it would," he said. "If not, you can have my hide."

The center was praised by Candy Troutman, who lives next to the building. "If they can reach five kids, that may be five that aren't shot in drive-by shootings," she said. "This is what the community needs, a place the kids can go and call home." The center first was proposed by two counselors at the Gang Violence Reduction Project in East Los Angeles--a project that attempts to provide youngsters with alternatives to joining gangs.

Henry Salazar and Steve Basulto, Bell Gardens residents and former gang members, said they approached the chief with their idea after noticing the growth in the city's gang population. Within a matter of weeks, the City Council had approved more than $80,000 for the center.

Mayor Josefina Macias said the center could change the lives of a number of young people.

"It's very important that these children get a chance to change," Macias said. "These kids weren't born bad."

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