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Parks in high-crime areas to extend summer hours

Times Staff Writer

Eight Los Angeles parks will stay open until midnight from Fourth of July to Labor Day under Summer Night Lights, an anti-gang program launched Monday by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The $950,000 program, part of the mayor’s plan to bring social services to high-crime neighborhoods, will run from Wednesday to Sunday starting at 4 p.m.

It will bring sports, arts classes and movie screenings to children between 9 and 17 at eight of the city’s 390 parks, mayoral aides said.

Parks in Pacoima, Cypress Park and Glassell Park will be involved. Jim Gilliam and Ross Snyder recreation centers and Mount Carmel Park in South Los Angeles will stay open, as will Ramona Gardens Park and Ramon Garcia Recreation Center in Boyle Heights.

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Each park will be supervised by at-risk youths 17 to 20 years old, who will receive training and a stipend and work closely with adult gang-intervention workers.

“This program will usher in a summer of hope, safety and opportunity for local youth, and it will serve as a model for combating gang violence nationwide,” Villaraigosa said in a statement.

One Boyle Heights resident said she feared the program would lack sufficient adult supervision and lure gang members to neighborhood parks.

“I don’t really think this is going to be a safe thing for the community,” said Victoria Torres, a member of the Ramon Garcia center’s advisory board.

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The Rev. Jeff Carr, Villaraigosa’s director of anti-gang initiatives, said he was not worried.

A similar program was implemented in Baldwin Village five years ago and resulted in a major drop in violent crime and zero homicides over a two-month period, he said.

“If you hire the right kids -- the kids in the neighborhood who are at risk of being victims or perpetrators of violence -- and you train them and they have some street cred, that will help minimize the violence,” he said.

The program’s cost will be covered by nine foundations and nonprofits, as well as one anonymous donor of $100,000. The parks program could serve 200 to 1,000 children over the course of the summer, Carr said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com


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