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Mayor picks new chief of L.A. anti-gang programs

Guillermo Cespedes is praised by Villaraigosa as the innovative architect of his 2-year-old Summer Night Lights program.

September 09, 2009|Maeve Reston

A social worker who grew up in New York after emigrating from Cuba as a child was picked Tuesday by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to run the city's anti-gang programs.

Villaraigosa praised Guillermo Cespedes as the innovative architect of his 2-year-old Summer Night Lights program, aimed at reducing violence by keeping the lights on until midnight at parks in some of the city's most crime-ridden areas.

In the first year, the mayor said, Cespedes oversaw "every painstaking detail" at eight parks. This summer, "Guillermo played a critical role in doubling the program to 16 parks, bringing more of our communities together and offering more of our kids an alternative to the streets."

The announcement marked the latest in a series of staff changes in the mayor's office as Villaraigosa embarks on his second term. Cespedes, 59, will replace the Rev. Jeff Carr, who is becoming chief of staff.

Cespedes said he would follow the course Carr has set for the gang reduction office over the last year and a half, a period in which the mayor's office assumed control of anti-gang programs previously spread among 15 council offices.

Described by colleagues as calm and focused, Cespedes was among 14,000 children who emigrated to the United States in the early 1960s as part of the Catholic humanitarian effort known as Operation Pedro Pan shortly after Fidel Castro nationalized education in Cuba.

Cespedes spent two decades designing and implementing family therapy programs at hospitals, clinics and community agencies in Connecticut and the Bay Area after getting his master's degree in social work.

Before joining the mayor's office full time in late 2007, he developed curriculum at what was then Vista Community College in Berkeley and Long Beach City College to better tailor the job-training and academic programs of CalWorks, the welfare-to-work program, to help black and Latino families struggling to support their children.

He also taught courses on the history of Africans in Latin America at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

But it was Cespedes' work as deputy director of the Summer of Success program at a park in Baldwin Village in 2002 and 2003 that caught the attention of city officials. Those efforts laid the groundwork for Summer Night Lights five years later.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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