In the days following this month’s mass shooting in downtown Sacramento that left six people dead and 12 injured, there was a shift among politicians and policymakers: from talk about extra police and tougher gun laws to conversation about more money for youth programs and violence prevention.
Now, city officials are developing a possible ballot measure that could create permanent funding sources to help young people and stop gun violence.
The details are scarce, but several elected officials and city staff — including Mayor Darrell Steinberg — are working on the possible November ballot measure. They could be similar to 2020’s Measure G, which failed but would have required the city to spend roughly $12 million on youth services.
While city officials and community leaders agree there’s no guarantee gang intervention and youth programs would have prevented the worst mass shooting in Sacramento’s recent history on April 3, some argue more funding would build off of pre-pandemic successes.
Just a few years ago, community based programs that work to prevent and interrupt violence among teens and young adults helped record a 28 month streak without a youth homicide in the city. But funding for those organizations has lagged and the call for more money has only increased.
Community organizations like Black Child Legacy Campaign and Movement 4 Life — an offshoot of Advanced Peace — have been working on youth violence prevention for years.
Kim Williams, director of Black Child Legacy’s Healing the Hood campaign, said more funding could open more opportunities for prevention.
“In order to try to prevent crises, we have to get young people and we have to get them as young as we can,” Williams said. “We've got to actually go to where the wound is and we've got to close it there. And that becomes a challenge when you don't have the resources.”
Organizers say money is always a hurdle, as many programs are grant-funded on a yearly basis. They also say that the pandemic has heightened the needs of these communities, and these programs are more important than ever.
The pandemic’s impact on youth violence
Julius Thibodeaux, co-director of the nonprofit Movement 4 Life, says he saw tensions rising in the communities even before the K Street shooting.
“Carjackings are up, armed robberies are up, home invasions are reintroducing themselves to the community,” Thibodeaux said. “These things promote violence.”
Movement 4 Life, formerly Advance Peace, is an organization that works to end youth violence before it happens. They offer one-on-one counseling to young people they identify as being at-risk for gang violence, as well as crisis intervention and mediation between rival gang members.
Advance Peace, which is based in the Bay Area, previously had contracted to work with the city, but its partnership ended in 2021. It’s unclear why it wasn’t renewed.
The group says its efforts helped reduce gun violence in neighborhoods like Del Paso Heights, Oak Park and South Sacramento. Gun homicides in those areas by 22% in 2019 compared to the previous five years, according to a 2020 UC Berkeley evaluation of Advance Peace’s work.
The organization has continued in its local form, called Movement 4 Life. The new group has not received grant funding from the city, according to public records.
“We need to stop treating public safety and community based organizations as ‘in case of an emergency, break glass’ sort of thing,” Thibodeaux said. “The same way you have a fire department just in case there’s a fire, community based organizations, they need to be mainstays, they need to be pillars and they need to be invested in long-term.”
To continue their original efforts, Thibodeaux said that funding is necessary, especially because the pandemic put a stop to a lot of the work they were doing as public gathering spaces were shut down and lockdowns made it harder to get in touch.
“We weren't able to get young people out of the environment where they are experiencing the most trauma,” Thibodeaux said.
Williams with the Healing the Hood campaign agrees the pandemic has led to a spike in youth violence and crime — and not just in Sacramento.
“Our crisis response folks, which we call community intervention workers, they’re getting calls and to go out daily now,” Williams said. “The pandemic has magnified issues that have been in our communities for a long time.”
Shani Buggs, an assistant professor with the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis, said many cities grapple with finding a steady source of funding for programs like Movement 4 Life and Black Child Legacy Campaign. She said part of the issue is a lack of understanding of what “violence prevention” means in terms of actual dollars.
“These programs provide wraparound services,” she said. “They recognize that individuals who have been violently injured need both physical support for their healing and also mental health support.”
In 2020, Sacramento City Council approved an expanded definition of “public safety,” which would classify programs like Movement 4 Life and Healing the Hood as eligible for new funding streams.
But financial backing to support this change hasn’t followed, according to community organizers.
Two proposals, one goal
Sacramento is spending north of $38 million on youth funding from July 2021 to June 2022.
Roughly $32 million goes to youth programs like events and jobs. Millions also went to funding community centers, city pools — including the new North Natomas Community Center and Aquatics Complex — and the Sacramento Zoo.
The other $6 million went to community based organizations that work with teens and young adults in underserved neighborhoods like Oak Park, Del Paso Heights and Meadowview to prevent youth and gang violence.
It’s the most the city has ever spent on youth funding. But the money comes mostly from state and federal grants, which means the funding isn’t reliable. This year, about $6 million came from one-time federal coronavirus funding.
Two new proposals from city officials could change how youth programs are funded.
The ballot measure that Sacramentans may be voting on come November — led by Steinberg, Council members Jay Schenirer and Mai Vang and the nonprofit SacKidsFirst — would create a permanent source of funding for youth programs, but it’s unclear how much.
Its predecessor, Measure G, which was defeated handily in 2020, would have required the city to set aside 2.5% from the general fund to create a designated children's fund until at least 2034.
Steinberg opposed the original proposal, arguing that there needs to be a compromise that creates a permanent funding source that doesn’t rely on times when there is a budget surplus.
“Budgets go up and budgets go down,” Steinberg said. “We want to make sure that, in good times and in bad, we have a dedicated source of funding to invest in young people and in the best programs, the best interventions.”
The other proposal is a city resolution from Schenirer, which would tie youth funding increases to police, fire and emergency response spending.
Schenirer said when the city increases funding for traditional public safety departments, it would also need to increase youth spending by the same percentage.
“I don't think there's anything that could be more stark than what's been going on in the last couple of weeks here, as far as the shootings that we've had, the murders that we've had,” Schenirer said. “We need to do prevention and we need to start it really early on.”
So far, at least Steinberg and City Councilmember Jeff Harris are opposed to Schenirer’s idea.
“I don’t like tying one thing to another — I never have and I never will,” Harris said at a recent Law and Legislation Committee meeting discussing the proposal. “I think the council should have the flexibility of considering and deliberating on our expenditures based on the merits of the projects.”
Schenirer’s proposal is with the city’s Budget and Audit Committee, where they’ll help determine cost impact. It would need city council approval to be implemented.
City officials and local organizers agree: A sustained funding source is necessary if youth and gang prevention programs are going to work.
The next step will be getting voters to see it the same way.