LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced today the expansion of his 3-year-old Summer Night Lights program, which keeps some public parks open at night during the summer to give teens a place to go and keep crime down.

Villaraigosa was joined by police Chief Charlie Beck and Council President Eric Garcetti in announcing the expansion of the program from 24 locations last summer to 32 this year. The initiative launched in 2008 keeps parks open after dark and provides structured athletic and art activities and meals for kids in high crime neighborhoods.

Expanding into more neighborhoods “widens the program’s reach to keep even more at-risk youth busy during the long, restless summer nights when the cycled of violence traditionally escalates,” Villaraigosa said.

The announcement marks a rare expansion of a city program during a budget year that saw most city departments make due with less as the mayor and city council worked to close a $336 million deficit. Another program to employ youths during the summer was dramatically slashed and will provide jobs to almost 9,000 fewer participants than it did last year.

The Summer Night Lights program has been credited with helping to reduce crime. In areas surrounding SNL sites, gang related homicides have dropped 57 percent. The city estimates 710,000 people visited parks as part of the 2010 program.

The sites are selected based on three criteria:
* high concentrations of young people
* the number of families living below the poverty line and
* gang related violence statistics

Neighborhoods with new park sites this year include El Sereno, Wilmington, Lafayette and Montecito Heights.

“The youth that Summer Night Lights serves are at a critical juncture,” Garcetti said. “The experiences they have and the decisions they make now can shape their entire lives. We owe it to them, and our neighborhoods, to keep them on the right track.”