|After a series of murders and assaults involving youth in recent months, the issue of youth activities and gang prevention seemed to be on everyone's mind at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
"We've seen the gang issues worsen each year for the last six years," said Monique Kane, executive director of the Community Health Awareness Council. "Kids are telling us they can't get away from it."
Kane said she's starting to see the effect in younger kids -- as young as fourth grade level.
The discussion came as city goals were discussed for the coming year. At least four of the seven council members -- Nick Galiotto, Margaret Abe-Koga, Jac Siegel and Ronit Bryant -- brought up gang prevention and youth activities as one of their priorities for the year, and many said they'd like to see a new community and teen center at Rengstorff Park soon, despite the high price tag.
Much of the city's gang activity is centered in the Rengstorff neighborhood, where there also happens to be a concentration of children and teens, Bryant said.
"We need to focus on the Rengstorff area in a coordinated fashion," she said, and talked about several issues that seemed to intersect with two of her passions, walkability and youth safety. "There's a real need to have more officers on the street."
Former police officer Bruce Barsi, now the board president of CHAC, said the problem would be solved not just by police, but also by the many groups who work with youth and provide activities.
"You are not in this by yourselves," Barsi said to the council. "We have been working on this for four years, ever since the death of Alex Fernandez."
RoseMary Sias Roquero, former Mountain View Whisman school board member, mentioned the efforts of one young man who has organized 68 Mountain View youth into a soccer league, some of whom joined in order to avoid gang recruitment. The problem, however, is that they often have to travel to San Jose to find a field to play on, she said.
Abe-Koga said she wanted to have a survey done of the activities the city provides for youth as well as a survey to find out what kind of activities youth want.
Bryant said she didn't want to wait three or four years for a teen center at Rengstorff, and that more should be done to use schools for after-school activities in the interim.
Council member Matt Pear wanted to know if efforts were being made to find "after-school jobs" for youth at risk of joining gangs.
"How come there is no focus on that?" he said, later adding that "Busy hands are happy hands, folks. ... My dad drilled that into me."
An outside consultant, Pat Brown, was brought in to facilitate the four-hour brainstorming session, which was purportedly the first time the city has had a long discussion about the city's needs before setting its goals.
Other possible goals include efforts to preserve the architectural character of the city's neighborhoods, training more residents for the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), environmental sustainability plans, a final master plan for the Cuesta Annex, a review of the "CS zone" on Old Middlefield Road, streamlining the development permit process, and a plan for business development.
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