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A parcel tax that would have generated $30 million a year for gang prevention and intervention programs in Los Angeles fell just short of the two-thirds majority it needed for passage. With 100 percent of precincts counted from last Tuesday's election, Proposition A had the approval of 66.12 percent of voters, barely missing the required two-thirds majority. Supporters, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and the city's director of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, said the funds were essential if police and city leaders want to keep youths from joining gangs and engaging in violent crime.
Proposition A would cost property owners $36 a year. The funds would be overseen by a Citizens Advisory Oversight Committee composed of nine members--four appointed by the mayor, three appointed by the City Council president, one by the police chief and one by the chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development.
"If we can pass Measure A, it is going to put us into a position that we can really begin to lay a foundation for addressing prevention and intervention programs," Villaraigosa said while watching election returns at the Century Plaza hotel in Century City.
The $30 million raised by Proposition A would have been in addition to $24 million already budgeted by the city for anti-gang programs. The Rev. Jeff Carr, who oversees city Gang Reduction and Youth Development, likened the current funding to "trying to put a wildfire out with a squirt gun. It's just not enough resources."
Crime in Los Angeles is on the decline. Gang-related crimes have also dropped. As of Sept. 17, gang-related homicides were down 36.5 percent from the same period last year, aggravated assaults 16 percent, attacks on police officers 22.7 percent and rapes 21.9 percent.
"In some ways, the fact that we are at historic lows makes it even more apropos and timely for us to be investing in the root causes of crime," Carr said.
"When you have a raging forest fire and things are out of control, you're basically doing crisis management instead of being strategic."
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, called Proposition A "a thumb in the eye for the taxpayer."
"The fact is we already spend tens of millions of dollars on gang intervention programs and again, the city controller was very critical of how that money was spent," said Vosburgh, in reference to an audit released in February by City Controller Laura Chick.
The proposed parcel tax came as voters were also being asked to increase funding for transportation, local schools and community colleges.
"I think people are frustrated that they feel that the politicians behind these tax increases are being very insensitive to the economic plight of the average citizens," Vosburgh said. Councilwoman Janice Hahn, however, countered that taxpayers already pay the tab to prosecute and jail gang members.
"They're paying it in a way that's not getting results. They're paying to incarcerate. They're paying $250,000 for a young person to be incarcerated and when that person comes out, they usually come out and continue to commit crimes at a greater rate, a more violent rate," Hahn said.
Hahn said the $30 million will be spent by organizations that have a history of providing prevention services to children.
"It's not going to be divided by 15. It's not going to be thrown at neighborhoods that don't need it. It won't be thrown at organizations that are unproven, that don't have a track record of actually doing the work," Hahn said.
The city's anti-gang programs were moved under the authority of the mayor's office earlier this year. Since July 1, 12 Gang Reduction and Youth Development Zones -- communities that are disproportionately affected by gangs- have been identified for prevention and intervention services. The city also began the "Summer Night Lights" program, a $1 million initiative that kept parks open until midnight four nights a week in communities that had four times the number of gang-related crimes compared to the rest of the city. Murders and aggravated assaults decreased between July 4th and Labor Day in those communities, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.