A coalition of local organizations and community leaders is proposing a November ballot initiative that would mandate that a certain percentage of the City of Richmond’s unrestricted general fund be dedicated to youth services.
The group, called “Invest in Youth Coalition,” says the ballot initiative would amend the city charter to gradually increase the amount of city funding dedicated to youth services, topping out at 3-percent of the general fund budget by 2020. That amount could be scaled back, however, in the event of fiscal emergencies.
The ballot initiative is being introduced at a time when City Council is considering drastic budget cuts to remedy a projected $22.7 million deficit by 2021. Mayor Tom Butt aims to shave more than $8 million from the budget this year, after an independent audit recommended the city reduce its expenses and increase its revenues.
The coalition hopes to mandate that funding for youth services be maintained and perhaps even increased. Supported by Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and the RYSE Center, among others, the ballot initiative has already been submitted to the city. Representatives of Invest in Youth Coalition are now working to gather enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot.
“This ballot measure is about our collective commitment to building a youth, children and family-friendly city,” said Kimberly Aceves, Executive Director of the RYSE Center.
The funds that would result from the ballot measure would go toward supporting youth services including mental health and wellness, violence prevention and response, education, job training and also constructive activities such as sports, media, arts, culture, technology and after school/summer programs.
If the measure passes, a 15-member oversight board made up of youth and adults will develop a Strategic Investment Plan to guide funding decisions and make recommendations to council.
Modeled after similar initiatives accomplished in San Francisco and Oakland, extra funds are needed as Richmond youth “bear the burden of multiple health and social inequities,” which ultimately results in violence, school truancy, early pregnancy and poverty, the coalition said.
“Investing in our youth not only greatly improves their chances of leading successful lives, it’s a wise use of public resources and reduces downstream costs,” Gioia said.
Diana Ramirez, 16, said the fund will help Richmond thrive again.
“Teenagers, like myself, need support in this very difficult part of our lives, that will shape our future and the future of our city,” she said.
Acclaimed local artist Donte Clark added: “Our investment in the community is the only way to break down the barriers that have challenged any real change. This initiative is another collective step forward.”
Jordan Simmons, artistic director for the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, paraphrased Frederick Douglass by saying, “it is better to build children than repair men and women.”