Editorials

What’s the next step to help Sacramento youths?

Grant High School students write during a slam poetry workshop in March 2016 funded by the city of Sacramento. Mayor Darrell Steinberg is pushing for more city investment in youth programs.
Grant High School students write during a slam poetry workshop in March 2016 funded by the city of Sacramento. Mayor Darrell Steinberg is pushing for more city investment in youth programs. Sacramento Bee file

It’s an easy call to use some leftover cash to boost youth programs, as the Sacramento City Council will have the chance to do Tuesday.

The $595,500 plan would expand summer internships in landscaping and lighting by adding 25 youth aides and four program leaders; add 200 participants to a leadership and job training program; increase slots at an annual youth job fair by 750; and expand youth sports activities.

It’s part of Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s initiative that also includes cooperating with state agencies to significantly expand paid internships and job training for 16- and 17-year-olds. Earlier this month, the council allocated $950,000 for that effort. Steinberg also is working with local school districts on program centers that would operate after school, on weekends and holidays and during the summer.

Partly due to that expansion, the city is moving toward creating a separate youth department, as the mayor and Councilman Jay Schenirer want. That’s a murkier decision for the City Council.

It should pick the most cost-effective and strategic option and avoid any bureaucratic infighting. Besides a new department, officials are looking at restoring a youth division within the Department of Parks and Recreation or adding an executive who would oversee youth programs across departments.

Now, most youth programs are run through the parks department, accounting for nearly 1,300 employees (about two-thirds of the total workforce) and nearly $17 million (45 percent of total administrative expenses). Youth services were slashed during the recession and haven’t been fully restored.

Sacramento’s young people, especially at-risk youths from struggling neighborhoods, could use more of a helping hand. In the Sacramento metro area, nearly 15 percent of youths 16-24 – and 27 percent of black youths – were not working or in school, according to a 2015 study.

A city’s vitality doesn’t come just from shiny new buildings and exciting development downtown. A city’s strength also is built on providing opportunities for its young people so they don’t have to leave to pursue their dreams.

Sacramento’s leaders must make an even clearer commitment to that, and the next step is Tuesday.

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