Nine out of the 12 candidates running for Santa Barbara City Council expressed their steadfast commitment to area youth Monday night at the Louise Lowry Davis Center in a teen-led youth forum. Associated Student Body (ASB) Presidents from Santa Barbara High School, Dos Pueblos High School, and San Marcos High School directed the evening’s questions towards community health issues, specifically poverty and substance abuse among teens.
One question from Lily McIntyre, Santa Barbara High School’s ASB President, addressed to District 1 representatives Jacqueline Inda, Andría Martinez Cohen, Michael Merenda, and Cruzito Herrera Cruz, asked how candidates would serve Santa Barbara’s homeless youth community. Martinez Cohen and Inda gave standout answers — Martinez Cohen said she would direct resources to community programs and involve schools in identifying at-risk youth, and Inda drew from her experiences both growing up in foster care as a “youth trying to make it” and mentoring area youth as an adult.
More than one question asked city council hopefuls what they would do to curb teen tobacco use (vaping, traditional smoking, and chewing tobacco) and drug use, to which Christine Cardoso of District 3 said she’d prioritize fitness and healthy eating and open communication between families as substance abuse prevention.
Michael Merenda, a 1st District candidate who, as of last week, appeared not to running, said he would encourage families to have meals together to reduce both the risk of youth homelessness and drug abuse.
When Nathan Alvarez, ASB President of Dos Pueblos High School, asked 2nd District candidates K. Missy McSweeney-Zeitsoff and Luis Esparza how they would advocate for LGBTQ students, McSweeney-Zeitsoff gave an impassioned answer. Citing her frustration with the injustices faced by a young lesbian family member, McSweeney-Zeitsoff expressed more than once her belief, “We need to pay attention to our gay youth.”
In his answer, Esparza tried to break away from his analytical (sometimes clinical) approach to city governance. After mentioning that he opposes “the villanization phenomenon in our society” and supports “LGBTQ lifestyles,” he said he’d “instill on a policy level” methods to “do away with negativity” in “the human psyche.”
In closing, Cruz half-jokingly asked the Spanish-speaking young people in the room to tell their parents to votes for him and that his name appears first on the 1st District ballot.
In her moving closing statement, candidate Cathy Murillo, also of District 3, spoke of her commitment to reducing gang violence through Latino community outreach because, she said, “My own father was in a gang of East L.A. This is my work.”
Calling for a show of hands of how many teens in the room “hated politics,” Sharon Byrne, who’s running in District 3, said she never would’ve thought she’d be running for election and that she hopes “one of these days, you’ll be up here making a difference. I stand for community.”
Teen leaders from the Santa Barbara City Youth Council, Future Leaders of America, and Coalition of Youth Activists hosted the event, which was moderated by Dos Pueblos High School Activities Director Scott Guttentag.