Young people to ask the questions during an election forum in Merced

10/14/2013 5:16 PM

10/14/2013 5:17 PM

Young people will get their chance to grill Merced City Council and mayoral candidates during an election forum this month.

Ways to keep young people from a lifestyle that involves gangs and drugs have been a hot topic in Merced, and especially so in the last year. The city has taken steps toward forming a youth council that would answer directly to City Council.

Those will be likely topics during the two-hour forum scheduled at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 at Tenaya Middle School, 760 W. Eighth St.

Alyssa Castro, a 20-year-old from Merced, said she’s been part of the mostly high school-age youth group organizing the forum and its questions.

“I hope that the forum is a way for the candidates to sort of get to know the people that they’re possibly going to be representing,” Castro said. “And, for the people to get to know them.”

Castro said that while many of the young people aren’t old enough to vote this year, they will be soon. “It’s important for (candidates) to hear from them,” she said.

The youth forum was organized by We’Ced Youth Media and Building Healthy Communities, both Merced-based nonprofits that work with youth.

Andres Reyes, a coordinator for We’Ced, said organizers surveyed almost 500 young people in the area to develop the questions for the forum.

He said the survey posed five questions that asked young people “how they feel the city of Merced views youth, and what are the biggest factors they see that are affecting their life on a day-to-day basis.”

Services for young people has been a popular discussion point for City Council since spring.

At a budget meeting in June, the council set aside $25,000 for a council of young people. Advocates had been pushing for youth funding for a few months before that.

Since then, the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission appointed three of its own — David Burke, Flip Hassett and Napoleon Washington — to be part of a task force to mold that youth council. City Council also decided that each of its seven members will appoint a high school-age representative to the task force.

The appointments of several of the youths, as well as two more adults, are still in the works.

As the youth council continues to take shape, the winners of the Nov. 5 election could play a big role in future programs for young people.

Incumbent Mayor Stan Thurston will face Councilman Noah Lor in the mayor’s race.

At least two new faces will join the council this year because two current members, Bill Blake and Mary-Michal Rawling, are not running for re-election.

Incumbent Josh Pedrozo will face Michael Belluomini, Kevin Blake, Jana Mowrer, Peter Padilla, Chris Ramirez and Monica Kay Villa.

Council candidate Alex Gallardo Jr. dropped out of the race this month. The city’s Nov. 5 election is to fill three City Council seats and a single mayoral seat.

Reyes said he has had informal confirmations from seven of the nine candidates for office. Ramirez will not be attending the forum, and Reyes said he is still working on reaching Monica Kay Villa.

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