OCEANSIDE — The city prioritized the need for additional youth services March 27, following the shooting at Libby Lake Park on March 13 that killed two youths and injured two others.
The victims were described as “good kids” who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The city is installing additional park lights and moving trees and vegetation, and city staff has been directed to come back with recommendations on how to fill in gaps in youth services.
Steep city cuts have been made in youth programs over the last five years. The John Landes Recreation Center was closed in the summer of 2009. Funds were reduced for other community centers.
Since 2010, funding dropped for the Chavez Resource Center from $100,216 to $44,095. The Joe Balderrama Recreation Center budget was trimmed from $368,699 to $115,610. Crown Heights Community Resource Center funding went from $94,593 to $82,753. The Libby Lake Community Resource Center budget was reduced from $157,539 to $144,786, and bookmobile funding was cut from $138,513 to $28,375 during the last three years.
“The youth are our future, it’s a small investment,” Angel Jarguin, an Oceanside resident, said. “The programs are resources let’s use them to our advantage — and have somewhere for them to go, somewhere for them to grow hope.”
Brendan Mangan, Neighborhood Services management analyst, said to fill in the gaps in services, early evening and weekend programs are needed. Currently most youth programs run Monday through Friday from 2 to 6 p.m.
Oceanside teenager Jackie Andrade, 17, thanked City Council for its safety efforts following the shooting and asked the city to keep its promise of park improvements.
“I look forward to seeing new lights shinning in our parks,” Andrade said. “I don’t want to lose any more of my friends.”
Andrade is a REACH youth leader at the Libby Lake Community Resource Center. The REACH program provides mentoring and a safe haven for kids after school. The program has a structured routine of homework tutoring, group lessons on avoiding gangs and drugs and recreational activities.
Many of the teens in the REACH program live adjacent to the park and heard the shots that were fired March 13.
The day after the shooting kids came “running” to the program after school. Many came with questions on what had happened and wanted to clarify rumors they heard on the condition of the victims. Two of the victims were REACH students. All of the victims were well known by the students.
It was also the third full day on the job for REACH project coordinator Jimmy Figueroa.
Figueroa said it was not the first shooting he had gone through. He grew up in Oceanside, dropped out of El Camino High School and earned a GED. Then he attended MiraCosta College, earned a Fulbright Scholarship to UC Berkley, and returned to Oceanside with a university degree and a calling to serve.
“My heart’s here,” Figueroa said.
The day following the shooting the REACH program had counselors and instructors on site to clarify information, talk things out with kids, and help them through their grief.
Oceanside police officers were also on site to provide safety and help kids with their homework.
Figueroa said discussions that day led to a list of things the students wanted from the city. Andrade presented that list to City Council.
“My kids have taken ownership of their community,” Figueroa said. “They will make the difference in this community.”
There were also students from Joe Balderrama Recreation Center at the council meeting who shared their concerns and needs for more services.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez praised the students for being “leaders.”
“You are our bright stars,” she said. “That’s why we need to continue our commitment to our youth.”
Councilmen Jerry Kern and Gary Felien noted that additional services need to be balanced with the reality of limited city funds.
“Deficits are going forward as far as the eye can see,” Felien said. “Anything we’re committing here has to be cut somewhere else.”
Mangan said the department is not asking for a set dollar amount from the city. The immediate goal is “just keeping the basic stuff we have going.”
Current youth programs run by Vista Community Clinic, North County Lifeline and Interfaith Community Services are funded through a combination of shrinking city, state and federal funding.