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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Prop. A backers say now is the time to fund anti-gang efforts

The city of Los Angeles ended 2006 with the high-profile killings of two children: a 9-year-old girl in Angeleno Heights and a 14-year-old girl in Harbor Gateway who, police say, was targeted in part because of her race.

In the wake of those tragedies, the city's elected officials began work on a tax measure that would raise $30 million for anti-gang initiatives, including after-school programs and city-run recreation activities.

But with crime rates steadily falling and the region's economic picture growing dire, backers of Proposition A are finding it difficult to remind voters of those tragedies -- and of the need to avoid future ones. So they are also arguing that the proposed tax hike, on the Nov. 4 ballot, has come at a perfect time, just as the city's anti-gang programs have been revamped and moved into the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"With the progress we've made in the last year, we're going to use these funds in a better way than we would have even a year ago," said Deputy Mayor Jeff Carr, the man tapped to be Villaraigosa's gang czar.

The debate over anti-gang programs also comes as the Los Angeles Police Department is seeing notable successes. Since the hiring of Police Chief William J. Bratton, the number of killings citywide has decreased 38%, from 641 in 2002 to 394 in 2007. If this year's trends hold, that number could fall as low as 350.

Carr said the city should take advantage of the progress it has made on crime by strategically adding money to programs that attack the gang problem from another direction.

Still, some neighborhood leaders say they are tired of being hit up for more money to fund the city's public safety initiatives. In just two years, Villaraigosa and the City Council have more than tripled the trash fee for homeowners, raising it from $132 per year to $436 per year to pay for LAPD pay raises, new equipment and the hiring of 1,000 officers. [Mark Godsey]
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