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Student Panelists Query Santa Barbara Council Candidates on Youth Issues

Questions asked at the forum tackle topics such as the city's gang injunction, homeless teens, and educational and vocational opportunities

                              |  2011 Election Coverage |  Complete Series Index  |

The listeners at Monday night’s Santa Barbara City Council candidate forum were significantly younger than at other such events, as local teenagers filled the Louise Lowry Davis Center to capacity to hear them talk about youth issues.

The Police Activities League, Santa Barbara Youth Council and Future Leaders of America hosted the forum, and high school student body presidents asked the questions submitted by local students. The candidates were split into two groups of five, with each group asked a round of questions.

The candidates expressed varying levels of support for the city’s proposed gang injunction, submitted to Santa Barbara County Superior Court by the city attorney and awaiting a judge’s approval to be implemented. Of the five candidates asked about it, only Cathy Murillo said she opposes it, saying it criminalizes young people.

Sharon Byrne, Jerry Matteo, Councilman Randy Rowse and Councilwoman Michael Self supported it, but noted it isn’t the only way to approach the gang problem.

Students also asked about police officers who “harass” them while skateboarding to school, since it’s technically illegal in the city, or passing known gang hangouts. The relationship between law enforcement and teenagers, especially Hispanic students, needs to be strengthened, according to the candidates.

Byrne said more beat officers means neighborhoods are better understood and there isn’t blanket profiling of young people.

Rowse, Matteo and Murillo said there needs to be more contact initiated by both sides to make a better relationship between police and the community. Self noted PAL as an example of what can go right when the community and law enforcement collaborate.

The second round of questions focused on educational and vocational opportunities for teens, especially since social programs are often the first targets of budget cuts.

Cutting city administrative cuts could yield money for more programs, and the gaps could be made up with volunteers, according to Sebastian Aldana Jr. Cruzito Cruz advocated reorganizing the budget and giving money back to the struggling Parks & Recreation Department. He said he also wants to host a youth summit to better understand their needs.

Iya Falcone said the city needs to promote relationships with the business community to foster summer jobs, internships, apprenticeships and vocational training for teens.

Councilman Dale Francisco focused more on how the city can fund social programs, saying the local economy needs to improve so there is money left over after the first priorities of safety and basic infrastructure.

The issue of homelessness is always a hot-button issue, but Monday night’s forum focused on a specific population that’s often overlooked — foster children who become homeless after turning 18 and getting kicked out of the program.

Deborah Schwartz said homeless teens are usually students, foster youth or had to leave an abusive environment, and that many foster children become homeless within six months of turning 18, while the efforts of the city, SBCC and Casa Esperanza have helped many homeless students find housing.

Cruz suggested that Redevelopment Agency money be spent on affordable housing projects and programs to help this population.

There were also questions about the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented Californians to apply for state-funded financial aid, and discrimination against Latino students in local schools. Candidates were split on supporting the DREAM Act, with Byrne and Murillo behind it, and Matteo and Self against it.

In the last question, a student revealed that less was expected of him by his counselor because he is Latino, and asked how the candidates would deal with discrimination in schools.

Schwartz and Falcone said administrators and teachers should be held accountable, and Francisco said students sometimes have to take the initiative to find the opportunities themselves.

Every child deserves a great education, Cruz said. He sympathized with the question, saying that he never knew local colleges existed while growing up since no one expected him to attend one. He has since graduated from SBCC and UCSB and is working on a law degree and Ph.D.

In opening and closing statements, the candidates reminded the teens listening that they do have a voice, even if most of them don’t yet have a vote.

“You can’t vote, but you can change things,” Byrne said.

                              |  2011 Election Coverage |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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