After huddling with visiting U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales on efforts to keep kids out of gangs, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Friday that the city would increase dramatically the number of jobs offered to young people this year, to 10,000 -- four times the number provided two years ago.
The mayor announced the increase after he and Gonzales toured a silk-screening plant run by Homeboy Industries in South Los Angeles.
The nonprofit group, which received a $650,000 federal grant, hires former gang members who are trying to lead law-abiding lives.
"Young people, when they feel there are no options, when there are no job opportunities, when they don't have the skills to make it, they lose hope," Villaraigosa said. "We are both committed to the idea that in a great and beautiful country like America we can invest in young people, that we have to address the issues of prevention and intervention."
However, Gonzales' agency faced criticism from one city official Friday for delays in delivering on past promises.
The attorney general had been in Los Angeles nearly a year ago to announce a separate $2.5-million federal grant for gang intervention, suppression and prevention programs in South Los Angeles, but officials conceded recently that the money has not yet gone out to local programs.
"We have waited too long for federal dollars that were promised almost a year ago," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents the area.
"We know that money is voted for, appropriated and spent much quicker on the war on Iraq. This war on gangs is no less urgent," she said.
George Cardona of the U.S. attorney's office said federal officials had been meeting with community leaders to discuss the best way to spend the money. He added that the first installment of the funds probably will arrive before May.
Gonzales had been in Los Angeles last March to announce that the city was one of six awarded Justice Department grants, each consisting of $1 million earmarked for gang prevention, $1 million devoted to law enforcement and $500,000 to provide transitional housing and job placement help for released convicts.
Gonzales had said at the time that the money would be focused on a section of South Los Angeles that includes the Imperial Courts, Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs housing projects.
"I don't know the specifics," Gonzales said Friday when asked about the money. "The way these things work is that we expect the state and local communities to develop a plan, hopefully an innovative plan that is focused on the needs of the community."
The jobs discussed Friday by Villaraigosa generally are available to young people age 14 to 24, and most of them are provided during the summer, when many students are out of school, said Robert Sainz, an assistant general manager of the city Community Development Department.
Jobs are paid for with funds from the city, county and federal government, Sainz said, adding that the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce has members who also provide some jobs.
The city provided 2,500 jobs to young people in fiscal 2005-06. After Villaraigosa took office in the summer of 2005, he won council approval to increase the number to 7,500 for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The budget he will propose next month for the coming fiscal year will call for 10,000 such jobs.
Better opportunity for jobs is a key component of Villaraigosa's campaign to reduce gang violence in the city, which increased 15.7% last year.
Gonzales said he was impressed by the work of the nonprofit Homeboy Industries, which has worked with former members of 600 gangs in Los Angeles County, providing help in removing tattoos, counseling and offering jobs in the five businesses it operates.
The attorney general said part of his job is to prosecute criminals, "but I'm equally concerned with making sure we are taking steps as the government ... to provide educational campaigns, to provide job opportunities, to prevent these kids from joining gangs in the first place."
The mayor said he was working on a strategy for expanding gang prevention and intervention programs, adding that he discussed the need for more federal assistance with Gonzales.
"We did have a specific conversation about funding, a continued partnership with the federal government," Villaraigosa said, declining to reveal details of his request. "Let me just say I'm walking away with a good feeling about continuing that relationship."
Reminded by the mayor that the city is the "epicenter" for gang activity in the nation, Gonzales said he could not commit to any specific increase in federal funding.
"Los Angeles is in a unique situation, and we are going to look very, very hard at what additional resources we can make available," Gonzales said.