Last Saturday, the City of Long Beach began the process of creating the Long Beach Violence Prevention Plan (LBVPP), which elected officials and community leaders hope will greatly reduce incidences of violence. A conference, conducted in the community center at Caesar Chavez Park, focused on why the plan is necessary, who should participate in it, and what types of questions need to be answered by residents and business people who are concerned about violence in their neighborhoods.
Angela Reynolds, deputy director of the city department of development services, introduced the various speakers, beginning with Long Beach Vice Mayor and 1st District City Councilmember Robert Garcia. He told the 150 people in attendance that about one year ago the city council began discussing what could be done to prevent violence. According to Garcia, a few months later the council adopted an ordinance authorizing the creation of the LBVPP.
Garcia noted that violent crimes have decreased in the city during the past few years but that doesn’t mean every community is safe. “Every person and every community in Long Beach deserves to be safe,” he stressed. “Our goal is to make Long Beach the safest large city in California.”
The vice mayor explained that city government cannot reduce violence without help from local residents, business people, clergy, faith groups and other organizations in the public and private sectors. “The City has tried for many years to prevent violence, but this is the first official plan that will provide a blueprint to the community on how to prevent violence,” he said. “With help from all of you, we are looking forward to accomplishing great things. This is just the beginning.”
The next speaker, Tracy Colunga, program coordinator for the department of development services, has been working with officials and staff for several months to lay the groundwork for formulating the LBVPP. During a 15-minute Powerpoint presentation, she told the attendees that the plan will include all forms of violence, including domestic abuse, child abuse, elder abuse, bullying, gang violence, hate crimes, human trafficking, and any purposeful act that inflicts harm on a person.
Colunga explained that recently she helped to establish the LBVPP steering committee, which is made up of city officials and representatives of organizations throughout the city. “We need to look at what’s happening in Long Beach today and at what’s been happening in the past few years so we can make informed decisions on how to reduce violence,” Colunga said. “We also want to look at what other cities are doing to reduce violence.”
Echoing Garcia, Colunga stressed that getting input from local residents is perhaps the most important factor in coming up with strategies that will make Long Beach a safer place to live, learn, play and do business. “We will be hosting a series of community forums,” she said, explaining that the as-yet-unscheduled gatherings will delve deeper into problems experienced in specific communities and possible solutions for those problems. “From this day forward, I can come out and do presentations (on the LBVPP) to community groups, local PTAs and any organization that wants to know more about what we are trying to accomplish,” she said.
Colunga noted that, to develop the plan, Long Beach is consulting with representatives of the National League of Cities (NLC). She then gave the microphone to one of those representatives, Jack Calhoun, internationally renowned public speaker, founder and past president of the National Crime Prevention Council and director of the NLC’s 13 (California) Cities Gang Prevention Network. Calhoun told the attendees that the LBVPP will not just aim at stopping crime but will also focus on building healthy communities. He explained that violence hurts individuals, shatters dreams, and destroys communities. “People are afraid to go out, be in parks, or coach kids in unhealthy communities,” he said, adding that after meeting city officials and residents who want to be involved in the LBVPP, he is convinced that Long Beach has the human resources, the energy and the determination to significantly build healthy communities and reduce the incidences of violence in the city.
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell also addressed the audience. “The strength of the city is its people,” he said. “Faith communities, nonprofits, and city agencies all need to work together. We need to take the resources that we have and build them together as a web rather than silos.”
McDonnell explained that the goal of the LBVPP is to make Long Beach a place of respect and nonviolence, and a place where young people can reach their potential. “The City needs to get input from the youth,” he added. “We need to have them say, ‘This is how we see things, and this is how we can fix the problems.” The chief also thanked the many young people who have expressed a desire to participate in the formulation of the plan.
Later, two other representatives from the National League of Cities, Georgina Mendoza, community safety director for the City of Salinas, and Mario Maciel, superintendent of the San Jose Mayor’s Gang Task Force told the audience of how a violence-prevention plan has been effective in their respective cities. After making his comments, Maciel helped the audience members organize into four separate groups that each reached a consensus on the general parameters of the upcoming community forums.
Then Colunga received the consensus from each group, and Maciel addressed the audience again. “This plan is made by you and owned by you,” he said, “Future city councils will not be able to terminate the plan as long as citizens stay involved in making it happen.” He also admonished the attendees to be looking for announcements on the times and places of the community forums on the LBVPP that will be taking place in the next 18 months, and he asked them to invite their neighbors and friends to the events.
“This is about the future of Long Beach. It’s in your hands,” Mendoza added. “It’s your responsibility to continue with the process.”
In his closing comments, Calhoun added that there is no guarantee that funding will be available to implement the LBVPP after it is developed, but governmental agencies and nonprofit foundations are more willing to give grant money to plans and programs that are backed by a wide range of organizations.
Reynolds stressed that funding for the 18-month LBVPP planning process has not come from the City of Long Beach General Fund. “We received a grant of about $400,000 from the California Endowment Foundation,” she said.