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Burn that bridge

The L.A. Bridges anti-gang program is being phased out, and good riddance. A great idea -- hiring experts to divert Los Angeles kids from gang life and to intervene in gang conflicts before they became violent -- became a bad idea, in large part because of political opportunism. Despite a lack of measurable results, City Council members kept renewing the program in exchange for their cut. Two cuts, actually. First, members made sure city contracts went to their supporters, and second, they landed L.A. Bridges programs for their own districts, whether they needed them or not.

Earlier this year, after considerable foot-dragging, the council agreed to disband L.A. Bridges and to relinquish much of its control over anti-gang programs. The rule of 15 -- under which a slice of each city dollar is doled out to each council district -- came to an overdue end, at least in the gang services arena.

Or did it? The council will decide this week whether to ask voters for a parcel tax to fund the city’s anti-gang effort, now under the direction of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. We’ll leave aside for the moment the crux of the matter -- whether it’s far too early to ask residents to pay for a program when the mayor has not yet demonstrated that he can use his new resources to produce better results than the council did, or whether it’s pointless to expect the mayor to get anything done with the current level of funding.

Councilman Dennis Zine raised a more troubling threshold issue: Shouldn’t the council, before putting the measure on the ballot, make sure that the money it raises is spent equitably around the city?

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No, it should not. Guaranteeing ahead of time that special gang funding carry some kind of geographical spending requirement brings the city right back to the destructive rule of 15, in which politics, rather than need, directs city action. The San Fernando Valley has experienced a tragic upsurge in gang violence in recent months, and the city should be free to direct all its spending there when the circumstances warrant -- and away from the Valley when they don’t.

It took City Hall a decade to acknowledge that its 15-way solution to the gang problem served politicians more than citizens. Now that the council and the mayor have chosen a different path, largely at the instigation of Controller Laura Chick, voters should be wary of any effort to return to the old way under the guise of geographic equity.


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