Santa Rosa's gang prevention program has a new manager and a new home.
The city hired naturalist Bethany Facendini to be its gang prevention and intervention services manager.
Facendini is a graduate of Montgomery High School who since 2004 has worked for the East Bay Regional Park District, most recently as a supervising naturalist. She begins work Sept. 10 in Santa Rosa.
City Manager Kathy Millison also announced last week she was reorganizing the city's gang prevention program, moving leadership out of the city's Recreation and Parks Department and into the city manager's office.
Millison said several factors made this the appropriate time to "refocus policy oversight" of the program.
These included the retirement of former gang prevention manager Ellen Bailey and the completion of a new, five-year strategic plan emphasizing regional gang prevention efforts and programs aimed at helping gang members re-enter the community after incarceration.
Facendini will report directly to Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips, who said moving oversight of the program makes sense because the city manager's office already has strong relationships with officials in other communities, contacts that will help support the program's new goals.
The city's after-school and recreation programs for at-risk youth -- the heart of the city's gang prevention efforts -- will continue to be run out of the Recreation and Parks Department. The enforcement components of the program will remain the responsibility of the Police Department.
Phillips denied oversight of the program was being shifted in part because of the political infighting.
The program has become a flashpoint for the City Council in recent years. Mayor Ernesto Olivares, a former police lieutenant, ran the program for two years before he retired in 2008.
Councilman Gary Wysocky, a political rival of Olivares, has criticized the accountability of the program and opposed efforts to boost the salary of the position. Earlier this year, the council set the salary of the position at $91,440 to $118,920, a range that could have resulted in a 20-percent salary boost over what Bailey had been earning.
But Facendini will start at the bottom of the salary range, less than Bailey was paid. Facendini was taking some time off between jobs and could not be reached for comment.
She has an undergraduate degree in english and women's studies from UC Berkeley and a master's degree in environmental and social justice from Sonoma State University.
Her master's project involved running an outdoor environmental education program for at-risk youth in Richmond. The program, called Teen Eco Action, sought to teach teens about the value of community activism and environmental stewardship through outdoor activities and restoration projects in East Bay parks.
Phillips said she doesn't believe Facendini's lack of gang-prevention experience will be a problem. She noted Facendini is bilingual and has a passion for social justice and youth.
"I think it's an exceptional fit for her," Phillips said.
Facendini was selected as a finalist by two panels of community members. Gail Ahlas, superintendent of the Roseland School District, served on one panel.
"Ms. Facendini's experience working with under-served and at-risk youth, strong cultural competency, and contagious enthusiasm made her a stand-out in the interview process," Ahlas said. "She brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to our community and gang prevention efforts."
Wysocky said he was pleased to see the salary was at the bottom of the range and took the reorganization as an acknowledgment by the city manager there was room for improvement in the program.