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Temecula launches youth, family task force
Seeks to attract regional players in addressing challenges
Friday, January 18th, 2013
Issue 03, Volume 17.
The push launched last month by a pair of southwest Riverside County mayors could gain traction and possibly attract a range of municipalities, citizens groups, social service agencies and school districts. It could also help address several key goals and strategies that were identified by a pair of previous Temecula studies that together cost about $165,000.
"This is probably one of the most important things we need to accomplish," Temecula City Councilman Ron Roberts said prior to a unanimous vote to create a Youth, Family and Health Regional Task Force.
The first step in the process was taken in mid-December when representatives of Temecula, Murrieta and a regional nonprofit group gathered to discuss ways to address substance abuse, mental health difficulties and the societal problems that can spring from virtual gaming and social networking activities.
About that time, Mike Naggar, who is serving as Temecula’s mayor this year, proposed the creation of a task force that would be patterned after a pair of others his city has launched in recent years.
As he traded e-mails with Murrieta Mayor Rick Gibbs, 20 students and six staff members were fatally shot at a Connecticut school. A disturbed youth, Adam Lanza, killed his mother before he went on a Dec. 14, 2012, rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That tragedy helped fuel the local call for action, Naggar said.
"I see a real need to assemble community leaders, identify problems, discuss solutions and implement them area wide," Naggar said in a Dec. 20, 2012, news release. "A task force of leaders and experts can reach out to the community in a public forum and discuss issues that are prevalent today with young people and families."
Gibbs echoed those concerns in the release and noted that "…we live in a new world where there are a number of threats in our environment."
He said "it is incumbent" that local leaders and school officials equip youth and families with the skills needed to make good decisions.
The press release was followed by a Jan. 8 decision by the Temecula council to launch the task force and invite the participation of the county, eight other cities and about a dozen school districts and nonprofit groups.
A pair of audience members urged the council to form the task force. One speaker cited the addictive aspects of videogames and the other, a Chaparral High School special education teacher, asked to be appointed to the new panel.
Temecula has relied heavily on task force panels and master plans to examine community needs and build city and public interaction. Naggar previously spearheaded a regional Autism Task Force, which has created a resource guide and organized outreach services and special events and programs.
Naggar, whose son has been diagnosed with autism, told the council that group has netted "a lot of good results."
About five years ago, Temecula wrapped up its work on a youth masterplan, a 23-page document that cost about $35,000 to prepare and gathered input from more than 1,200 youths, parents, public officials and social services providers.
That report said some key community problems had surfaced as Temecula’s population soared by 350 percent since it became a city in December 1989.
"The community has seen an increase in youth and teen drug abuse, gang activity and other problems concerning young people," the report stated.
The master plan lists short-, medium- and long-term goals and identifies strategies to achieve them. It recommended a feasibility study, which would cost an estimated $100,000, to examine a possible youth facility.
One of the master plan’s goals, which was given a three- to five-year implementation timeline, calls for the development of a one-stop "youth village" that would include a café, kitchen, lounge and performance areas.
The master plan also recommended that Temecula hire two new full-time employees and six-additional part-time workers, which would together cost nearly $213,700 a year, to focus on youth-related programs and projects.
The need for a teen center was also identified in Temecula’s Quality of Life Master Plan, a $130,000 planning document that was approved by the council more than a year ago. That plan lists an ambitious slate of public works projects, youth and senior programs and heightened maintenance of existing facilities through the year 2030.
Aaron Adams, Temecula’s interim city manager, said one of the full-time positions identified in the youth master plan has been filled and some of its other goals have been met.
The opening of a teen center had previously been linked to a private developer’s proposal to build a water park on city-owned land, Adams said. But that possibility waned when the developer failed to obtain financing for the water park and could not close escrow on the city parcel, Adams noted.
He said the council might discuss a youth village feasibility study as part of its capital improvement planning this spring. He said the recent recession squeezed funding for the remaining city positions identified in the youth master plan.
He said the youth master plan helped identify the "very big and daunting" problems that area youth and families can face today.
Councilwoman Maryann Edwards said she is encouraged by the steps taken by the city in response to the youth master plan. She said extensive research and planning is needed to achieve such goals as a teen center.
"I think the city has made a lot of progress," she said in a telephone interview. "It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight."
Edwards, who also leads a large Temecula-based nonprofit that provides youth services, said a regional task force could help the area achieve about many of the goals identified in the youth master plan.
"I think the task force will be the vehicle on how to get down the road," she said. "I think it’s definitely a regional issue."
Adams said the next step for Temecula is to contact area cities and agencies to cement the task’s force membership and to schedule meetings and expert presentations.
"We’ll be working on this for a while," he said.
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