In what was largely a self-congratulatory session with U.S. Sen. John Seymour, Orange County's top law enforcement and government officials Wednesday lauded Santa Ana's selection as a test city for Operation Weed and Seed, a federally funded anti-crime and anti-poverty program.
But local leaders, including Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Roger R. Stanton, also took the opportunity to ask Seymour for continued federal money for the program to improve the chances of success.
Santa Ana was one of 16 cities chosen in April by the U.S. Justice Department for the experimental program that will pump $1 million into the city to help eradicate crime in a 10-block targeted area. The program could begin as early as next week.
After the riots in Los Angeles, President Bush recommended that the program be extended to that city.
As part of the local effort, federal, county and Santa Ana law enforcement agencies will "weed out" crime by stepping up enforcement, officials said. The "seed" portion includes follow-up from social service agencies to provide neighborhood support, such as job training and housing.
"I am here to really commend the community," Seymour told the group of government and neighborhood leaders. "I believe that this Weed and Seed effort would be a total failure without broad community support. It has to start from the bottom up, not from the banks of the Potomac."
Making his first trip to the targeted neighborhood in four years, Seymour described a brief round-table discussion with local officials as a policy session and not a campaign stop in the final stretch before Tuesday's California Primary.
Seymour blasted the federal government for attempting to solve problems by "throwing money down a deep, dark hole." But he said in a later interview that he would support continued funding of Operation Weed and Seed if it proves successful, including more money for job training and housing programs.
Sheriff Brad Gates underscored the need for federal money to match local investment in housing and other neighborhood improvement needs.
"You have people whose hearts and souls are in this project and will make it successful," Gates said.
Other officials attending the session were Santa Ana City Manager David N. Ream, council members Patricia A. McGuigan and Robert L. Richardson, Police Chief Paul M. Walters and neighborhood leaders. Also at the meeting were Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, Santa Ana Unified School District Supt. Rudy M. Castruita, FBI Agent-in-Charge Jim Donckels, and the heads of other federal law enforcement agencies.
Seymour said afterward that the targeted neighborhood had deteriorated in recent years because gang members preyed on the poorest and weakest segments of society.
"These gang members think they are macho," he said. "They are really a bunch of cowards is what they are. They do not have the guts to come out and confront the strongest part of society."