Newsom Hears Concerns at Visitation Valley's First Town Hall Meeting in 15 Years
Education and alternate activities are key to ending violence, members and leaders agree
April 26, 2004 7:40 PM
Visitation Valley residents got answers to their concerns about their neighborhood's violence straight from the horse's mouth Saturday April 24.
A crowd of concerned citizens lined the gymnasium of the Visitacion Valley Elementary School Saturday to address Mayor Gavin Newsom and a panel of city officials with questions, concerns, and suggestions on how to make Visitacion Valley, one of San Francisco's most violent neighborhoods, a safer, more progressive place.
During the meeting Newsom, Police Chief Heather Fong, District Supervisor Sophie Maxwell and the directors of many city agencies made up the panel of 21 who responded to community issues such as the need for full day preschool and day care, productive activities for youth and health services. But most comments related to the violence that plagues the neighborhood.
This meeting marked the first time in at least 15 years that the mayor and other city officials have addressed the community needs in Visitacion Valley in such a way, The Mayors Communications Director Peter Argone said. This is the fourth time the mayor has visited the valley since he took office a little over 100 days ago, Argone said.
According to the San Francisco Police Department during 2003 the Ingleside Police District, which includes Visitacion Valley ranked third in the number of homicides and second in overall violent crime including homicide, robbery, aggravated assault and rape. Ingleside police reported 682 violent crimes in 2003. The Mission district reported the highest number of violent crimes at 806.
Due to the SFPD's new method of documenting crime statistics, comparisons of districts are not available for 2004.
Community members said services are needed to care for and educate the children of the area, give them safe places to develop their interests and prepare them for higher education and jobs. This, they said, is the first step in stopping the violence.
The Mayor agreed and said, "We're not going to stop violence just by throwing 14,000 police officers in a seven square block area ... Education by definition is one of the most critical components."
Newsom then introduced the plan for a new program to be implemented this summer called Dream Schools. It will provide activities before and after school for pre-kindergarten children through 12th-graders.
Still, further steps are needed to stump the violence and make people feel safe around their homes, the meeting attendees, which Argone estimated at 300, pointed out many times.
People would like for police to be more responsive when they are called about violent crimes taking place. One woman said she once called 911 as gun shots were being fired but that the police did not show up for 15 minutes. She believed the 911 dispatcher heard the shots, so the police took their time as a precautionary measure.
Fong told the audience that if something like that happens again to call her office directly, so she can track the time of the call to the time of officer arrival to make sure a delay like that never happens again.
Fong said she is increasing the number of officers in the area by relocating 10 from other districts to work between the Bayview and Ingleside beginning that day. Fong informed the community that she is increasing the number of homicide officers in the area in attempt to solve those that already have taken place.
Newsom said they believe they know which people committed the homicides still under investigation but in many cases need witnesses to come forward to confirm their assertions.
The witness relocation program needs improvement in order for people to feel safe about going to police as homicide witnesses, said people directly addressing the panel. Their statements were backed up by hums from the crowd.
SF State's Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response Program (CLAER), the San Francisco Urban Institute, and Visitacion Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) sponsored the meeting.
Newsom said, "I don't think our witness protection program is where it needs to be. I appreciate this as another example of a good idea that may be pursued."
"We've got to get people real relocation. We got to get them real protection, and we're working to advance that," Newsom said.
Most of the issues addressed at the town hall meeting require long-term goals and significant planning. However, one woman addressing the panel passionately expressed the need for a four-way rather than two-way stop at a local intersection. She complained of the bureaucratic detour she experienced while trying to get the stop sign.
The Director of the Department of Parking and Transportation briefly inquired about her request before Newsom stepped in and told her she could have her stop sign and to hold him accountable. "Let's make it easy," he said.
Newsom's meeting in Visitacion Valley was the second of his Town Hall Meetings he will be holding monthly in various San Francisco neighborhoods, Argone said.
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