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By now you’ve most likely heard that two separate shootings over the weekend brought the total number of homicides in Salinas this year to 31, surpassing the record high of 29 homicides from 2009, the majority of those have been gang related shootings. Neighborhood crimes such as burglaries, auto thefts, auto burglaries, and other thefts are now a daily occurrence in Salinas. There is consensus that crime and gang violence has spread to every corner of Salinas. No neighborhood is immune. Our families no longer feel safe in our community or in our homes.

I hear daily from Salinas residents who are outraged and ready to be part of the solution. I hear calls for more services for our youth and stepped up police enforcement. Others call for peace marches and for our community to unite.  Our city leaders have for the most part remained silent. When they do speak it is of youth violence prevention strategies and of the need for citizens to come forward and report crimes and cooperate with the police. Unfortunately, all of these suggestions are nothing new to the residents of Salinas. We’ve been hearing these same words for years and the violence and crime in Salinas is worse than ever. Salinas’ residents are coming to realize that if we are going to reduce violence and crime, and create a safe community for our families we are going to have to do it ourselves, but no one is leading the way.

Programs and services for our youth are critical to crime and violence prevention. We have dozens of youth programs in Salinas both public and private. Many of the families who need them most, are unaware that they exist. They operate in the shadows and are not effectively reaching out and engaging the community. Volunteers who are eager to help are not being connected to these organizations.

Youth prevention alone will not be successful if we do not simultaneously reduce the crime that is happening now. Expanding neighborhood watches, establishing neighborhood citizen patrols, and installing personal security cameras outside our homes and businesses are strategies that have proven effective in other communities facing overwhelming crime. They would serve the dual purposes of crime prevention and community building in Salinas.

The greatest obstacle I see to our successfully reducing crime and violence in Salinas is our lack of effective communication and organization. We don’t talk to each other in Salinas and as a result our efforts are fractured and discombobulated. Go to a city council meeting or any other meeting for that matter and you see the same group of folks week after week. Our city government and our community groups are insular. There are 155,000 people in Salinas and most of them are eager to help solve our cities problems. No one is leading the way.

It’s not enough to tell our neighbors about all the programs available in Salinas. It’s not enough to suggest they start a neighborhood watch or install cameras. For years we have been making these and similar suggestions as a community. The outcry is loud, but then we become complacent and nothing changes. We must have the infrastructure and organization in place to bring people in, put the action in their hands, and walk them through it step by step. Someone has got to lead the way.

I have suggested that we start with a community summit, a meeting, or series of meetings inviting representatives from Salinas PD, the District Attorney’s Office, Monterey County Probation, State Parole, the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP), and other groups to speak about what they are doing to address the out of control crime and violence in Salinas and what we can do as a community and in our own families to help.

“Salinas Neighbors United” a new resident organization recently founded with the backing of the Salinas City Council and partnered with the Facebook group “Neighborhood Watch Help in Salinas” is ideally positioned to spearhead the type of community organizing.

The leadership team for “Salinas Neighbors United” includes Mike Jones, President – Leo De La Rosa, Vice President – Joel Hernandez – Jeanette Pantoja – Mary Beth Bowman, Treasurer – Sandy Whittle – Albert Fong – Al Espindola – Bob Andrews

Non-Voting members include Cynthia Bojorquez, Library and Community Services Director for the City of Salinas – Gary Peterson, Public Works Director for the City of Salinas – Julia Nix of the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace – Dave Clark, web and Facebook.

“Salinas Neighbors United” has a meeting schedule for Tuesday October 20th 6:00pm-8:00pm at the John Steinbeck Library, 350 Lincoln Avenue in Salinas. The meeting is open to the public and everyone is invited to attend. For more information please visit salinasneighborsunited.org

Salinas has many community groups and has started many more. They come in with big plans and high hopes only to wither on the vine or settle into relative obscurity. I’m hopeful that “Salinas Neighbors United” will be different, but hoping is not enough. We must do the work, and someone must lead the way.

Devin Podeszwa lives in Salinas.

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happy young girl with a clown noseWhat do you do when your newspaper is going under? Jeff Mitchell and the Salinas Californian want to rewrite the Salinas city charter.

I’m sure it’s not the first time in history that a dying publication has decided to create the news instead of reporting it in some last ditch effort to remain relevant and drive readership. I am referring to Californian columnist Jeff Mitchell’s scheme to convene a “citizen’s task force,” known as the “Californian Charter Task Force,” to  research and draft structural amendments to the city charter that would be submitted to the City Council and the voters for approval.

In his latest column, Mitchell calls for the task force to draft amendments that would make all seven city council members including the mayor full- time politicians with full salary and benefits,  each with his or her own staff. He calls for amendments to change the mayoral term from the current two years to four years and to grant the mayor veto power over council legislation and other unmentioned “executive” powers.

Mitchell says everyone is welcome to apply but the task force will be picked by invitation only, I assume selected by him and the Californian’s editorial board. There’s no mention of qualifications, size, or makeup of the task force. I’m curious who will apply and be accepted. The tinfoil hat crowd? Special interests? Out of work politicos?

Whose idea is this anyway?  I wonder if the task force will meet in secret at the Californian’s offices on Alisal Street? The reporters won’t even need to leave the newsroom.

Are we expected to trust the future of Salinas to the same people who are running a once great newspaper into the ground? The same people who many would argue have failed in their most basic responsibility to provide us with accurate news? The Californian should first get its own house in order, shine light into the dark corners of city hall, bring us investigative journalism, maybe start with some news that we didn’t already know. Advocacy journalism requires the community’s trust and confidence. How much trust and confidence do you have in the Californian?

Mitchell brings up some serious issues regarding the effectiveness and responsiveness of our city government. We all know that something isn’t working at city hall, but what is the exact nature of the problem? (More on that to come.) Here’s where Mitchell takes the train off the tracks. He implies that the reason Salinas government is dysfunctional is that the council members and mayor are not paid a “full-time living salary at sustainable wages.” He claims that changing that will attract Salinas’ best and brightest 20- to 40-somethings into government service. I see the money attracting a different crowd entirely.

As if paying to create professional career politicians isn’t bad enough, he proposes they each have their own staff! I see a perfect storm of cronyism and patronage. A political machine presided over by the mayor as chief executive with veto power over council legislation. Why not crown the mayor king while we’re at it?

Apparently Mitchell is under the impression that the city is flush with cash! We’ve only recently ended Friday furloughs and begun hiring critically needed police officers, firefighters, and other essential staff. We have roads and sidewalks that need to be repaired, buildings in disrepair, and services that must be rebuilt after years of cuts. Mitchell and the Californian would have us take tens of thousands of dollars from our city treasury and give it to the City Council, which in his own words “doesn’t really lead our city.”

A wise man once told me that you don’t get paid until you do the work. The Californian and the council should remember that.

Devin Podeszwa lives in Salinas, works in the flooring industry and advocates for increased community dialogue through social media. He can be reached at devinpodeszwa@gmail.com.

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