On Thursday evening, May 20, eleven candidates for Fresno City Council joined over 140 Fresno citizens at the youth-led “We Wanna Know!” Candidate Forum at the Zimmerman Boys and Girls Club.
Half of the attendees were young people demonstrating their civic involvement by bringing concerns and issues to the table with candidates in the West (District 3), Central (District 7), and Southeast (District 5) districts where some of the most competitive local races are positioned and which comprise some of the most impoverished areas of Fresno where many of the youth reside.
Most of the youth were too young to vote, but that did not stop them from realizing the importance of their voice. One youth from District 3, Luis Pacheco, even celebrated his 18th birthday that same evening by registering to vote.
The forum highlighted the need for dialogue and increased advocacy on key topics such as jobs, public safety, transportation and recreation—all in light of the city’s budget crisis over the next five years to address a thirty million dollar deficit.
All candidates stayed for the duration of the forum, and included: Oliver Baines, Rogenia Cox, Ignacio Garibay, Doug Vagim and Tate Hill for District 3; Louise Bauer Davoli, Daren Miller, Patricia Pinedo and Sal Quintero for District 5; and Clint Olivier and Marcelino Valdez for District 7.
While responses to the questions on the topics were invariably mixed, a few candidates drew a blank for the question posed on transportation (What are two things you’ll do to improve the city bus system for students who have to take it everyday but don’t always have money to pay for it?), indicating the important need for enhanced dialogue between youth and adult leaders on the struggles young people face getting around in Fresno. Three candidates (Pinedo, Quintero and Baines) did however suggest creating a stronger partnership between the FAX City Bus system and the school district, while most of the other candidates mentioned reducing fares and improving overall transportation infrastructure.
All candidates supported improving the relationship between the police and the community, but only a few offered concrete ideas as to how to do that. Olivier mentioned hosting neighborhood meetings while Quintero talked about increasing the number of police on bike patrol.
On the topic of recreation, most candidates generally opposed cutting programs and activities that benefit young people. Hill promoted the idea of employing youth at community recreation centers while Davoli mentioned the need for more after school programs and organization partnerships. All candidates generally supported increasing opportunities for youth workforce training and the need to engage more businesses that can provide jobs, mentoring and internships for young people.
Candidates also provided input on Building Healthy Communities (BHC), a ten-year initiative of The California Endowment to reduce childhood obesity, reduce youth violence, promote healthy homes, and increase school attendance in Central and West Fresno. A few candidates acknowledged they knew nothing about the initiative but would seek to get more involved in it, while Miller and Hill spoke specifically to their past leadership roles within BHC.
In the final portion of the forum, audience members were invited to contribute questions, of which those from youth received priority. One question for District 7 asked candidates how they would encourage youth to get out of the house more often and be active. Olivier responded by saying although that is out of his control to do, he would ensure that parks remained open for kids, while his opponent Valdez mentioned the need for more youth fitness programs. In a question for Hill on the issue of homelessness, Hill responded that he had a homeless friend who stayed with him for a month, and that he will work to ensure that services and housing are provided to the homeless.
In a kickoff rally prior to the forum, Councilmember of District 1 Blong Xiong, who is running for re-election but whose district was not included in the forum, encouraged the young people to get involved at City Hall by attending meetings and voicing their opinions. “We need your voices,” Xiong mentioned, “you guys (the youth) provide the fresh perspective we need at City Hall.”
Many young people who participated in this event cited their enjoyment and eagerness to continue to stay involved on civic issues. “It was a lot of fun,” says fifteen-year-old Maria Valdez, “I learned why it’s important to be involved and to know who your leaders are, because they’re the ones who can help make the changes in our community.”
The forum was hosted by The kNOw Youth Media in partnership with The Boys and Girls Club of Fresno County/Keystone Club, Stone Soup Fresno/Brothers of Hmong Empowerment, The Center for Multicultural Cooperation, Californians for Justice, the Youth Leadership Institute, and sponsored by the Building Healthy Communities initiative of The California Endowment.