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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

City Facing Budget Crisis, Cutback on Youth Programs and Award Honoring Slain Teen

In a letter from Mayor Ruth Asmundson pasted on the city's page for the Golden Heart Awards this year, it reads:
"As a result of the death of Andrew Mockus in April 1992, the City of Davis Recreation and Park Commission expanded its commitment to the youth of our community. Forums were held throughout the community to discuss the problems of youth and to brainstorm on how the community could do more to meet the needs of youth.

After careful consideration, the Commission suggested the City Council adopt several recommendations. One of the Commission recommendations was to develop the Golden Heart Award. The purpose of the Award is to recognize outstanding youth in the community. There are two different categories within the Award: the service award and the personal challenge award. The service award recognizes individuals who have given significant service to the community, their peers, and/or their school. The personal challenge award recognizes individuals who have overcome a significant challenge in their life."
However, due to budgetary problems this year, City Staff is recommending that the Golden Heart Award and our "commitment to the youth of our community" be canceled.

In February of last year, the Davis City Council honored nine students with Golden Heart Awards.
"The Golden Heart Awards, which began in 1994, represent the best of the community in honor of Andrew Mockus , a 14-year-old Davis student who was killed by a group of youths in 1992 — an act that represented the worst of the community.

Following his death, forums were held to discuss issues facing the community's youths and ways the city could do more to meet their needs. The city adopted seven recommendations, including the Golden Heart Awards to honor courageous and kind students in grades 7-12."
Recipients last year included:
"Brandon Kitchen, a 15-year-old student at Holmes Junior High School, received a Golden Heart Award for his ability to overcome serious challenges after a biking accident that resulted in eight major surgeries, many months in bed and almost a year in a wheelchair."
The award was created in 1994 following the brutal beating death of 14 year-old Andrew Mockus in 1992.

From a Davis Enterprise retrospective published April 24, 2002:
"Ten years ago today, Davis residents discovered that an unthinkable act of violence -- one they thought occurred only in other towns -- had, in fact, taken place in their own back yard.

On the night of April 24, 1992, 14-year-old Andrew Mockus was brutally beaten and robbed of $2 by three other teens, then pushed into the side of a moving freight train and killed. The incident occurred in a gully near UC Davis, a popular gathering place for youths at the time.

Two days after Andrew's death, Solano County authorities arrested Michael Johnson, 17, and Andrew Childs, 16, both Davis residents and students at King High School. A third boy, 14-year-old Joshua Bettencourt, also took part in the beating but was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony."
At the time of the article, not much was known of the fate of the culprits upon their release.
"Today, little is known about the whereabouts of Andrew's assailants. Childs would have been released from the CYA at age 20, and his public defender, Harvey Bender, said he has not heard from his former client. CYA officials declined to release either Johnson's or Child's release dates."
However one of the youths, would kill again.
"What is known is that Bettencourt's involvement in violence and death did not end on that night in 1992. In December 1995, Bettencourt was involved in a road-rage incident at a Carmichael intersection in which he shot another man four times and killed him. Claiming he shot in self-defense, Bettencourt pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and served five years in state prison before being paroled last October."
The story also quotes UC Davis Professor Larry Berman:
"That is to me the greatest injustice and the greatest miscarriage of our system, that they're walking on the streets and Andrew is dead," said Larry Berman, who was Andrew's baseball coach. He organized the planting of a memorial grove of redwood trees near the baseball field at Holmes Junior High, where Andrew was a student...

He remembers Andrew as a boy with great potential and a "wicked curve ball..."
"I walk by Holmes Junior High and look at the memorial grove," Berman said. "I remember the generosity of the community as they contributed funds to the grove and the bench that's there. The senselessness has been replaced by the great memories of Andrew."
Now however the community led by the city staff is on the verge of forgetting about not only Andrew Mockus but their commitment to youths.

In addition to staff proposals to eliminated the Golden Heart awards tomorrow evening, they are also talking about initiating "a $2.00 per drop-in rate for the High School Open Gym program."

In other words, they are going to charge youths $2 to play basketball. This is how the city is dealing with their budget problems.

The Recreation and Park Commission reviewed and discussed the various proposed fees for Recreation Activities in November 2008.

According to the staff report they agree with all of the proposed fee recommendations with one exception:
"the exception of the $2.00 High School Open Gym fee. The Commission also expressed their overall concern for the rate of fee increases associated with programs that are primarily targeted to the teen population. The Commission expressed their desire to have a more comprehensive discussion with the Council related to appropriate subsidy of these types of activities."
One councilmember is very concerned about these fee hikes and the loss of the Golden Heart Awards. Councilmember Lamar Heystek told the Vanguard, we should be looking elsewhere for balancing our budget.
"I find it disturbing that we are considering balancing our budget in all the wrong places. I cannot in good conscience vote to charge kids to play "open-gym" basketball. I cannot in good conscience cut the recreational scholarship fund for low-income families by $5,000. And I cannot in good conscience vote to eliminate the Golden Heart Awards, a program that was created in response to the brutal death of 14-year-old Andrew Mockus."
Of all of these, the Golden Heart Awards which honors the life of a fallen youth seem the most outrageous to cut.

It is not even clear there is a cost to the city associated with the awards. Regardless, this seems to be the wrong area to cutback funding. If the city is concerned about youth activities and youth getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol, cutbacks in these areas are the wrong way to go. As are cutbacks in the area of encouraging youth to give back their community. Given the enormous budget deficit, these programs amount to literally pennies. We need to start with the bigger cuts and hold off on these kind of cuts until we have a better sense for what is needed.

I would hope the city of Davis finds a way to continue to honor the memory of Andrew Mockus with the annual awards that encourage youth to give back to their community.

---David M. Greenwald reporting