Students and parents from around the city attended the Santa Barbara Youth Council’s Youth-Led City Council Candidates’ Forum on Monday evening to hear from candidates on issues relating to youth and family before election day on Nov 5.
The forum at the Louise Lowry Davis Center was attended by the eight candidates running for City Council seats in District 1, Santa Barbara’s Eastside, and District 2, which covers the Mesa.
Incumbent Jason Dominguez, six-time candidate Cruzito Herrera-Cruz, and first-time candidate Alejandra Gutierrez are running to represent District 1. With Councilman Randy Rowse reaching his term limit, District 2’s seat is contested by Planning Commissioner Michael Jordan, attorney Luis Esparza, environmentalist Tavis Boise, fitness instructor Teri Jory, and real estate agent Brian Campbell.
For more than an hour, the candidates answered random selections from questions submitted beforehand by 70 local students. Each candidate gave a 30-second introduction and was given one minute to respond to questions from the Youth Council on such issues as mental health, LGBTQ rights, climate change, vaping, and even advice for aspiring politicians.
Q. Santa Barbara California is ranked 18th out of 58 other counties in California for suicide deaths. How will you attempt to reduce this statistic and what plans do you have to raise mental health awareness in our community?
Mr. Dominguez: “We need to put a lot more money into mental health. That’s the first and foremost what we need to do as a state. Decades ago, before most of you and some of your parents were born, the system was guided, and we haven’t had the resources we need in mental health.”
Ms. Gutierrez: “Funding is very important. A lot of the programs supporting this population, they’re the first ones to get cut. Most of the funding comes from federal and state. We also need to inform and educate and make our schools, and the community, friendlier and educate them on how to deal with this epidemic.”
Mr. Herrera-Cruz: “If we look at the CDGB and Human Services aspect within the city component, it’s not funded enough. It is not perpetuated to create investments or create incentives for nonprofits and organizations that deal with mental illness.”
Mr. Campbell: “We really need camaraderie. We really need to feel comfortable,to have someone to go talk to. We need people, either counselors in our schools that kids feel comfortable going to and talking to if they don’t feel comfortable going to their parents. We need friends, people to step up and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Is everything all right’ and kind of push them a little more than we normally do.”
Ms. Jory: “We can do more to coordinate with the county, whose primary responsibility is health, mental health, and social services with the nonprofit community.”
Mr. Boise: “If you’re a kid right now you probably want connection more than anything, because with our technology and with our society and our politics, it’s really divisive. I think being more friendly and reaching out is the best way to address mental health.”
Mr. Esparza: “All that counseling, making resources available for people in need, whether it’s substance abuse, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s our technology like Mr. Boise said, these are all things that need to be more of a priority for the city.”
Mr. Jordan: “Every person is valuable, no matter what they’re going through or what they’re doing, and I think that it’s not only important that you listen to people say this, but you also watch them do the work to make the change, and that burden goes both on us, and on the city, the county, and the state.”
Q. As of October 22, 2019 there have been 1,604 cases of e-cigarette or vaping product use that is associated with lung injury that have been reported by the CDC. The youngest person affected was 13 years old. The coalition of young adult advocates has seen a sharp increase in the number of students of all ages using electronic cigarettes, and teens are nearly seven times more likely to vape nicotine than adults. What steps will you take as elected officials and community leader to make sure our youth are protected from the vaping epidemic?
Mr. Campbell: “Things that we need to do is educate our children as well as talk to them and open up the doors of communication with them.”
Ms. Jory: “What we do know, and what I believe as a health advocate, is that anything inhaled is unhealthy on the body and the adolescent brain.”
Mr. Boise: “Really coming down on them with justice on these companies for targeting kids with addictive products is absolutely necessary and banning the sale of these products in the city is a step that we can take right now.”
Mr. Esparza: “I do think it’s not a healthy activity, and anything the city can do to discourage it, but please not another ban.”
Mr. Jordan: “I’m for a ban, and I also think that hand-in-hand with that we should commit more resources to education and advocacy against it.”
Mr. Dominguez: “We need to support parents in parenting. We need to have our after-school programs. I lead a youth-leadership program through my nonprofit newcivicforum.org that encourages leadership and encourages anti-bullying. We need to encourage positive values.”
Ms. Gutierrez: “Educating is really important and giving the parents the support. The police, they do not want to, you know, attend to these calls. They don’t want to put more kids through the system. It’s really through educating. It’s really through providing support programs for students that are vaping and actually engaging them to create these types of programs.”
Mr. Herrera-Cruz: “We need to consider the ban of retail sales for flavored tobacco products.”
Q. How will you improve LGBTQ rights?
Ms. Jory: “The most important thing is education, and I think education for the community, education for businesses, education for schools. Public service announcements are great.”
Mr. Boise: “As leadership in the city we really need to create a culture that’s conducive to positive reinforcement of self-identity, because if we really want to have true inclusivity of our neighbors, our friends, our community we need to show that in leadership.”
Mr. Esparza: “There’s going to be education. I think we can start with the Human Resource Department.”
Mr. Jordan: “Today’s world is not my grandparents’ world, it’s not my parents’ world, it’s not even my world. It’s your world, and it changes daily and changes at a speed that was not here in the past, and we have to be able to accept that and work with that and not just let ourselves live that way.”
Mr. Dominguez: “To the extent that we can set up support for everyone, and particularly within this community, I think that’s very important.”
Ms. Gutierrez: “We need to start with schools. We need to start empowering the youth that are part of this population.”
Mr. Herrera-Cruz: “I think it’s about education. It’s critical because if we don’t have education then discrimination is going to happen. We have to have a creative policy within the city and the school district where it basically creates advocacy for civil rights.”
Mr. Campbell: “We’re all people, and you know, that’s the thing, is we all forget about this. We’re all placing labels on who you are, whether you’re in high school or in life, whether it’s race, gender, religion, and it’s unacceptable. Completely unacceptable. We need to lead by example and show our youth that acceptance and compassion, the way we form, that we’re united, we’re not divided.”
Q. There have been many gun threats at San Marcos High. Will you provide support to all high schools regarding this situation?
Mr. Dominguez: “Public safety is the No. 1 priority of government. We have to keep people safe. Everything else is second to that, so anything we can do to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals, to keep guns off of our campus, you can count on me to ensure that.”
Ms. Gutierrez: “The school district needs to definitely improve their plans when there is a gun on the school campus.”
Mr. Herrera-Cruz: “It’s important that we form an emergency policy. A city app that creates a response time that is immediate to inform the citizenry and inform the students on campus and in the general community.”
Mr. Campbell: “People have become so removed and so detached from human emotion, with all their electronic devices and these video games where they go to a virtual reality and they shoot people, and it’s basically military training for kids. They’re completely detached about pulling a trigger. They don’t think twice about it. We need to stop that.”
Ms. Jordy: “Public safety in our schools, businesses, stadium-like public places, and public and private meeting spaces all need to be proactive active shooter prepared. The more we’re prepared, the better we’ll survive.”
Mr. Boise: “Guns don’t originate in schools. They originate in other states and other areas, and so having Santa Barbara restrict the sale of certain guns, and also I’m proud of Sheriff Brown for limiting the number of concealed carry weapons to only 82 in our county. It’s really important.”
Mr. Esparza: “There’s a lot of people that use them for self-defense and law purposes and more regulations tend to just burden those. Criminals don’t care about laws or bans.”
Mr. Jordan: “I would support measures that reduce gun ownership to a level where these incidents stop happening.”