Politics & Government

Modesto, Stanislaus County seek federal money for anti-gang book, film

WASHINGTON -- Picture this: Modesto and Stanislaus County law enforcement officers are seeking federal funds to make an anti-gang movie.

For $600,000, the officials say they can a produce a Spanish-language illustrated novel and video that will help deter San Joaquin Valley gangster wannabes. If done right, they say, the "fotonovela" and "telenovela" could even be distributed nationwide.

"We're not going to enforce our way out of the gang problem," Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said Tuesday. "The resistance to gangs starts in families and homes."

City and county officials are including their $600,000 request as part of a larger wish list being presented to Congress this week. It's part of an overall $5.6 million being sought for gang prevention work.

The officials also are asking for $4.9 million to support law enforcement communications, $460,000 for an Orestimba Creek flood control study and $1.8 million for Tuolumne River Regional Park work.

With the exception of the new anti-gang initiatives, the wish list closely tracks what county officials have requested in recent years. The Orestimba Creek flood control review in western Stanislaus County, for one, has meandered along since 1997.

"The good news is, we're ready to cross the finish line," said David Jones, the county's director of legislative affairs.

In theory, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will complete its feasibility report by September 2010. Then, further studies must be finished before construction begins.

The 15 city, county and Chamber of Commerce leaders promoting the local projects this week call themselves the Stanislaus Leadership Collaborative, and they call their Capitol Hill campaign "Connection 2009." Other San Joaquin Valley counties already have undertaken similar lobbying efforts, under names such as "One Voice."

Many of the counties follow similar tactics. Most employ Washington lobbyists for year-round help. For Modesto and Stanislaus County, this is Modesto native Elizabeth Moeller of the firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. The firm reported collecting $200,000 from Stanislaus County and $100,000 from Modesto last year.

Most counties also select a certain number of projects to rally around, theoretically avoiding intramural competition.

"Anytime you can put something together on a regional basis, you've got a better chance of funding," said Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour.

Most of the county lobbying trips combine group meetings, like separate ones this week with Reps. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, with smaller breakout sessions targeting specific federal agencies.

For all the similarities, though, this year's Stanislaus County lobbying trip is taking some fresh turns. The four-item project list, notably, is smaller than the 10-item agenda typically carried by other counties.

"To come back here with a shopping list is something (lawmakers) don't deal with very well," said Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.

The fotonovela and telenovela proposal is also a new twist, as counties often emphasize highway funding.

With a half-smile, Wasden suggested that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could return to the silver screen with a cameo role in what county officials are calling "Sin Colores." That means "without colors," a reference to the identifying colors worn by Hispanic gang members.

The illustrated novel and filmed melodrama would be distributed through churches, schools, social service groups and public safety agencies. Ideally, officials say they would reach every household in Stanislaus County, which is currently home to an estimated 5,000 known gang members.

"We have to do something to break the cycle of violence," Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said.

The proposal is still in its early stages, without script or stars. Although similar multimedia efforts have been used to combat the dangerous methamphetamine trade, Wasden acknowledged Tuesday the absence of strong evidence that books and videos by themselves can deter gang membership.

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