Striving to position himself as the great conciliator in a city riven by ethnic factions, City Councilman and mayoral candidate Michael Woo on Wednesday launched an Urban Peace Corps to put college-age youths to work on community projects in Los Angeles.
"Rather than send our idealistic young people to Africa, Asia or Latin America, why not send them from Encino to South-Central Los Angeles?" Woo asked, expressing hope that a diverse group of young people working side by side would help break down barriers between the city's neighborhoods.
Some of the first members of the corps--introduced at a City Hall news conference--represented a cross-section of the city ethnically and geographically. The participants, between 18 and 23 years old, will earn the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour to perform 10 months of public service, after which they will receive a $1,500 scholarship.
The program, to be run by the nonprofit Los Angeles Conservation Corps, will be funded by a $350,000 federal grant, $55,000 in corporate contributions and $5,000 from Woo's council office budget. Among the group's first tasks will be helping Mayor Tom Bradley's Neighbor to Neighbor program, which is designed to help prevent an outbreak of violence during two potentially explosive upcoming trials. Corps members are trying to set up a "TV Town Hall" to bring together residents from throughout the city for a public discussion of issues.
Only a few hours after Woo claimed credit for helping to establish the Urban Peace Corps, an aide to mayoral rival and fellow Councilman Nate Holden claimed "that was Holden's idea quite a while ago." However, Holden's aide could provide no immediate verification for that assertion.
The idea of putting young people to work on public improvement projects dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. Later, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to help Third World countries improve living conditions. And during the recent presidential campaign, President Clinton talked about a Domestic Peace Corps that would tie national service to a revamped college-loan program.
An aide to Woo said her boss first proposed an Urban Peace Corps in Los Angeles in 1989 after reading about similar programs in Boston, New York and Washington.
"This is a sign of hope for the future," Woo said Wednesday.
Since 1986, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps has employed college-age youths for tree planting, graffiti removal and other neighborhood beautification projects. In addition to helping with the Neighbor to Neighbor program, the Urban Peace Corps will undertake social service projects, such as helping out at Skid Row rescue missions and assisting in AIDS education.