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Salinas Ceasefire Program

The Salinas Valley Enterprise Zone has been at the forefront of trying to use the Enterprise Zone as a tool to help its community’s gang problem. As reported in The Californian, this approach is being formalized in a new local program:

Paul Edmond of Salinas wants a job, but says he wants a safer Salinas even more.

So Edmond says he has no problem with the new Ceasefire program, which aims at reducing violence by giving gang members better employment opportunities and job training. Even if it means giving up a chance at a job for himself.

“You got to think about the kids,” Edmond said Tuesday outside the Monterey County Department of Social and Employment Services’ One Stop Center on South Main Street. “[Giving Ceasefire participants jobs] would be a good thing, because it stops gang members from committing violence.”

The new initiative gives gang members an ultimatum: Give up their criminal ways — and accept help finding jobs — or face prosecution and hard time.

Today, at least 10 large businesses in the Salinas Valley will hear a presentation by Salinas police and other officials about the potential benefits that Ceasefire can bring to prospective employers.

Those attending the meeting are expected to obtain more information on the potential benefits of participating, including tax credits and subsidies that cover part of a participant’s salary. The presentation will be held at Sysco Food Service, 1622 Moffett St., but is not open to the public.

Andrew Myrick, manager of the Salinas Valley Enterprise Zone, said eligible businesses taking part in Ceasefire could benefit from state-funded tax credits that pay up to 50 percent of employees’ wages. To qualify, however, the businesses must lie in the enterprise zones of Salinas, Gonzales, Greenfield or King City.

Ceasefire participants must also fulfill one of 18 criteria before their employers can receive the tax credit.

Salinas has been designated as one of 42 California Enterprise Zones and a targeted employment area, allowing its businesses to become eligible for “hiring tax credits.”

Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue has said the city reached out to about 10 of the city’s largest employers, including Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, HSBC credit services and major agricultural companies.

HSBC is declining to comment about any involvement in Ceasefire, spokesman Neil Brazil said Tuesday.

While some businesses support the program, representatives said they need more information before they can decide whether to participate.

Adrienne Laurent, spokeswoman for SVMH, said the hospital is sending a few representatives today to the Ceasefire presentation. According to hospital policy, however, SVMH cannot directly employ any Ceasefire participants who have a criminal background.

“We certainly support the mayor’s efforts to build a safer community,” she said. “That’s definite.”

Lorri Koster, co-chairwoman of Salinas-based agricultural company Mann Packing, said the company supports the city’s goals. At least one Mann representative will attend to hear officials’ message, Koster said.

She said it’s important that businesses help efforts to reduce gang violence in the city.

“There is a stigma that this is not a safe community,” Koster said. “[We have to be] willing to do our part, to step up and try to fix it. You can’t just sit back and do nothing — you can’t.”

That doesn’t mean any jobs will necessarily be forthcoming during the winter season, when the agricultural labor market is as dormant as the Salinas Valley fields.

“We want to help,” she said. “Unfortunately, we are laying off employees right now.”

Some residents, according to comments left on The Salinas Californian’s Web site, oppose giving gang members a helping hand in this manner — frustrated that scarce jobs will go to criminals instead of law-abiding citizens.

Others said that while Ceasefire is a good program, they are skeptical it can succeed during an economic climate with high unemployment. Salinas’ jobless rate reached 17 percent in November.

“I think it is OK for them to get jobs to keep them busy, but it is hard because we would have to trust them,” said resident Jasmin Reyes, interviewed in east Salinas on Wednesday.

Still, after the city’s record-breaking 29 homicides last year, some are ready to support any efforts at progress.

“I think it’s worth trying,” said resident Jenny Lopes at an Oldtown Salinas coffee shop, but added that unemployed people who aren’t involved with gangs should have a fair chance at finding work.

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