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Cuts Threaten Safer Cities' Diversion Programs

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, April 23, 2009, at 11:30PM
_IGP0173 Ed Fuentes

A July 2008 Skid Row Neighborhood Walk passes by an individual sprawled on the sidewalk.

Updated Friday: The Mayor's office this afternoon says that the SCI cut's inclusion in the budget was a mistake and that the funding will remain.

News that four positions key to the services side of the Safer Cities Initiative (SCI) may be lost to budget cuts is generating opposition both from those who have supported the program and those who have been critical of it.

The Mayor this week released his proposed budget for 2009-2010 fiscal year, in which the city must close a $530 million revenue shortfall. Included in his recommendations is a decision to stop funding four positions in the City Attorney's office dedicated to SCI.

Launched in September of 2006, the SCI program is widely credited with improving conditions on the streets of Skid Row. The program was designed to combine increased enforcement of quality of life offenses with efforts to improve services available to those on the streets.

Yet those services are now in jeopardy thanks to the proposed cuts, which would eliminate three attorneys and a paralegal who run the city's efforts to divert minor offenders into treatment instead of jail.

While critical of much of the SCI program, Skid Row activist General Jeff Page is outraged that the city would allow services to be cut. "This is ludicrous," Page said. "It's like we're getting slapped in the face." Page disagrees with the enforcement tactics used in Skid Row by LAPD, but said that the services component of SCI is the most important part of the program. Instead of cuts, "the Mayor should put more money into that," he said.

Central City East Association Executive Director Estela Lopez agreed with Page's assessment of the diversion program's importance. "If we amputate SCI and leave the enforcement component as its primary tool, it will betray the very premise on which SCI-Skid Row was based," she wrote in a letter to be presented to the Mayor and City Council.

Councilwoman Jan Perry has been a key supporter of SCI, and plans to advocate for the restoration of these funds. "To take the City Attorney's resources away really sort of guts the program," she said. "You pull out one of the pillars because we need the participation of the City Attorney to process cases."

Page, Lopez and Perry all said they plan to testify at Monday's Budget and Finance meeting, which marks the beginning of City Council's budget deliberations.

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