Teens petition for 2020 ballot initiative to establish fund for Sacramento youths

With more than a dozen youth-centered organizations hosting pop-up events Friday, recent disruptive behavior in Sacramento has motivated community organizations to push even harder for longer-term solutions and programs geared toward children.

About 40 teens and young adults walked in pairs through North Sacramento neighborhoods Friday to gather signatures in support of the Sacramento Kids First Coalition, a community effort led in part by Roberts Family Development Center to establish a dedicated children’s fund.

The Sacramento Children’s Fund Act is a proposed initiative for the March 2020 ballot that would set aside 2.5 percent of the city’s annual unrestricted revenue for child services.

That percentage would mean an annual fund of about $12.5 million, based on Sacramento’s projected revenue of roughly $500 million for 2019 and 2020. Recent years’ budgets have dedicated about 1 percent toward youths.

The initiative would also earmark at least 90 percent of the children’s fund toward direct services, such as mentoring, internships and after-school programs, the written ballot initiative says.

After meeting at the Roberts center, young volunteers walked through three North Sacramento neighborhoods asking for signatures, with a goal of gathering about 375 in two hours.

That’s a small piece of the 55,000 signatures needed to bring the Children’s Fund Act onto the 2020 ballot, but it also served to bring awareness to the ballot initiative, which was proposed to the city in October. The signatures must be gathered by April 23.

“This is not only a signature-gathering effort; it’s also a community-building effort,” said Matthew Bridges, a Roberts Center staffer who helped train and educate the teens on canvassing. “We’re building relationships with our neighborhoods that have historically been disenfranchised and underserved. So their perception of the political system is one that has historically let them down and forgotten them.”

Teens chanted encouragements before heading out of the community center and sang songs on their way into neighborhoods, including the Woodlake area. Some wore Roberts Family Development Center sweatshirts with the slogan “Together we struggle, together we thrive” on the front.

The proposed ballot measure also calls for a 17-member planning and oversight commission for the fund, of which eight of the members must be under age 24. Those members would be chosen by City Council members. The commission would be charged with creating three-year strategic plans to allocate the fund.

“Certainly we’re looking to increase transparency and accountability on how the city spends its dollars for children and youth,” said Jim Keddy, a social change consultant and executive director of Youth Forward.

Keddy said the coalition, which includes Youth Forward and the Roberts center, was modeled after the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth.

Jay Franco, a board member of Youth Forward and a 24-year-old Sacramento native, said youth-centered initiatives in cities like Oakland, San Francisco and Hayward are evidence that Sacramento can succeed in providing better resources for youths.

“We’re the capital, right? We’re supposed to be ahead of this,” Franco said. “There isn’t enough attention. That’s why we’re doing this campaign. ... This kind of stuff shouldn’t be news because it should be the norm. But here we are.”

Franco spoke of a need for increased education resources, noting Sacramento City Unified School District has among the region’s highest suspension rates for black and Latino students.

The Sacramento Children’s Fund Act would start collecting revenue in July 2021. It would expire 12 years later.

On Thursday, Mayor Darrell Steinberg in a joint press conference helped announce this weekend’s pop-up events around the community, which are sponsored by Sierra Health Foundation.

Steinberg, Sierra Health President Chet Hewitt and several other community leaders and activists spoke Thursday at the Greater Sacramento Urban League in Del Paso Heights. Most stressed the importance of finding constructive programs for Sacramento children that go beyond temporary solutions.

Roberts Family Development Center founder Derrell Roberts called for long-term planning for investments in city youths.

“We should not only be talking about tomorrow, but we should begin talking about what happens during our next spring break, what happens this summer, what happens this time next year,” Roberts said Thursday. “We cannot continue to say, ‘We don’t know what’s happening.’ We do: We’re not investing in our young people.”

The weekend’s pop-up events for Sacramento youths were partly spurred by recent incidents at Arden Fair mall. On Dec. 26 and Saturday, police responded to fight-related disturbances involving 100 or more juveniles at the mall. A smaller incident involving about 20 teens was reported at the Delta Shores shopping center on New Year’s Day.

Friday’s pop-ups, held at community centers including the Boys and Girls Club, MLK Tech Academy and the Maple Neighborhood Center, included games, food, sports and other activities aimed at local teens and kids.

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