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Bringing Youth Issues to the Table

By Teresa Rochester

April 21 -- Santa Monica's young people are falling through the cracks. At least in terms of an organized group that looks out for their needs in a City where similar groups for early childhood and senior citizens have long been established.

Calls for a youth commission, which have circulated through the City's cyberspace grapevine, are being clearly heard at City Hall, where earlier this month the City Council approved the creation of a Disabilities Commission, bolstering hopes that a youth commission may not be far behind.

"On a programmatic level it makes a lot of sense," said City Councilman Ken Genser. "The youth are very critical for the future of the community. I think we've covered a wide spread of needs, but I don't think anyone is looking at the gaps and where they need to be connected."

Led by Lifelong Learning booster Louise Jaffe, supporters of the concept are urging residents to lobby the City Council during the upcoming budget hearings to create a group that will address the growing number of issues facing young people.

"I don't know what the best method is, but there needs to be one because there's no organized discussion on youth issues," Jaffe said. "There's not an on-going forum of professionals to serve as advocates together…We keep reacting to one tragedy or another."

Jaffe said she wasn't sure whether a formal commission was the right answer and suggested that a working group or task force may be a more appropriate way to begin identifying the issues that should be addressed.

Jaffe points to the recently created Disabilities Commission as a good model to follow. The commission was born out of a process that began with a task force, which emerged into a committee that ultimately and successfully called for a commission based on four months of research and study.

The vision of what a commission would do is also up for debate. Some adults see it as a way to evaluate available services, while at least one City Council member sees it a group that will tackle serious City issues.

Cynthia Cottam, co-president of Samohi's PTSA, said her organization had discussed the idea and supported it.

"I think the idea of basically having someone looking at what's available to youth is a very good idea," said Cottam, adding that there needs to be greater discussion on providing young people with more options for their free time.

So far the idea of forming a youth commission, which has been bandied about for some time, has garnered support from a number of corners, but it also has generated concerns that the timing may be off and the funding not there.

Genser said that any sort of organized group would require input directly from kids and those who work with them, but he was concerned about the budgetary impacts in a fiscally tight time and overburdening that City staff that would administer the program.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown, agreed that cost is a major concern, particularly this year, and added that while he is an enthusiastic supporter of creating a group he worries that it could be unsuccessful if its development process is rushed.

"I don't want an adult commission for kids," McKeown said. "I see this as something that's very much in development in this community. I know that at their age they (youth) are ready to become involved, but I also know they won't buy into a shell or façade."

McKeown said that if such a group is to succeed, it must be in large part formed and led by young people. He added that he doesn't want the group to deal with curfews and skateparks but with "heavy" city issues.

Board of Education president Julia Brownley said such a commission or task force could find and fill gaps that exists between needs and services.

"I think it's a very good idea to get organized and have that as a largr community-centered discussion around youth," Brownley said. "I think there's a real kind of void in not only looking at the supports and the services but how do we find out about them. We clearly need to have more youth-oriented places to go instead of Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf."

Jaffe envisions the group's role as uniting the work being done by a number of groups working independently throughout the City.

"I just feel there are so many opportunities for more things to happen with the resources we have if there was shared information," Jaffe said. "This is a real gap. When we look at lifelong learning, there's a group for seniors and early childhood but not youth."
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