When the LA Times snatched David Zahniser from the LA Weekly last summer, it was a very, very smart move. Dave Z is extremely intelligent, savvy and skeptical—particularly about City Hall.
So, after Antonio Villaraigosa delivered his State of the City speech last Monday, I figured I could afford to look on the bright side of AV’s gang plan (which I looked at here and here), because I knew I could count David to mad dog it, so to speak.
Yesterday, his first round of analyses came out in an article that focuses on the main thing that could reduce Antonio’s gang strategy to rubble—-or more accurately to business as usual (and not in a good way).
In a word: Evaluations.
I spoke with David on Friday as he was still wrestling with where he wanted to go with his analysis of the gang plan. (That’s one of the excellent things about him. He’s not afraid to wrestle mightily until he finds the right thread to follow.)
You can find the article that resulted here. Below I’ve excerpted a few relevant clips:
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made a splash when he announced plans last week for ending L.A. Bridges, an anti-gang initiative under fire since the Riordan administration for failing to demonstrate clear results.
….in dropping the L.A. Bridges programs and shifting the money to his appointed “gang czar,” Villaraigosa put off yet again answering one key question: Are these programs, which last year received $13.2 million, successful in quelling violence and keeping kids out of gangs?
When Villaraigosa’s proposed budget is made public today, it is expected to offer an additional $7.2 million to gang prevention and intervention programs, allowing the same contractors who ran programs under L.A. Bridges the opportunity to apply for even more money.
Because the anti-gang efforts are being redesigned, a full evaluation of those programs won’t be practical until at least 2010, said Deputy Mayor Jeff Carr, the city’s gang czar.
What??? Didn’t the mayor promise he would hold all of his gang programs to a rigorous outcomes-based standard? And now many of the much criticized gang prevention and intervention programs operating under the umbrellas known as LA Bridges I & II, may have the chance to get funded all over again…..with no evaluations for another two years or more????
Among the problems with Bridges is that many City Council members have long had their pet programs within it, and have resisted seeing them too closely scrutinized.
Dave Z details a disheartening history of people who were told—explicitly or implicitly—that they couldn’t evaluate LA Bridges—ranging from former City Controller Rick Tuttle, to today’s Controller Laura Chick, to Connie Rice, to my pal Jorja Leap.
In 2000, the program came under fire from then-City Controller Rick Tuttle, who said it was so poorly run that it should be shut down. The council responded by denouncing Tuttle — and demanding that L.A. Bridges stay put.
“I knew it was a bad idea 10 years ago, the way Bridges was going,” Tuttle said last week, looking back on the fight.
City officials received an evaluation of L.A. Bridges’ intervention programs two years later, which found that one city contractor had taken two teens out of gangs. Meanwhile, gang-prevention contracts were so lax that workers could meet the city’s requirements by taking certain children to a baseball game and a picnic in a 12-month period, Carr said.
“Los Angeles has historically awarded agencies multiple contracts year after year after year without holding them accountable by tying the dollars to proof that the desired results have been achieved,” [Chick] wrote in her report.
Here’s how Jorja lays it out:
Leap said she offered the Community Development Department a free review of L.A. Bridges four years ago and got nowhere. But she voiced hope that results would be measured this time around, using basic questions such as: Has a targeted child stayed in school? What is their attendance record? Were they placed on the state’s gang database?
If the city fails to evaluate its redesigned programs, support for such initiatives will evaporate, Leap added.
“This is it,” she said. “If they blow this, it’s over.”
Look: We want and need the mayor’s program to succeed. And we don’t expect overnight miracles. But we do expect some kind of reasonable accountability and measurability—and we’ll keep demanding it until we get it.
Photo by Gina Ferazzi, LA Times