San Carlos Youth Involvement in General Plan Updates
When the city of San Carlos began the process of updating the city’s general plan through 2030 in 2006, community development director Al Savay felt that young people should have a voice in planning the city they would inherit someday. The city has had an active youth advisory council (YAC) for nearly twenty years, thanks in great part to founder and director Jeri Fujimoto. Savay asked the city council to formally include youth in city decision making for the first time by asking a rotating high school student from the youth advisory council to serve as a full voting member of the general plan advisory committee (GPAC).
“I took it really seriously because I want to come back here and have my own kids someday,” said YAC president Anthony Vassallo. “San Carlos is a great city- it’s great for families and the crime rate is very low, but it isn’t much of a hotspot for young people.” With the help of GPAC chair Andy Klein and Fujimoto, Anthony is chairing a committee that is working to bring a skate park to San Carlos.
GPAC also solicited youth input by organizing a forum for residents under 18 to take part in facilitated discussions with city staff about their vision for the city’s future. According to Klein, about 60 high school and middle school students participated. “They mostly talked about wanting more youth friendly things to do downtown- things like a community pool, a community theater, more park space, a skate park.” In response to this input, Klein says the city has zoned more areas for commercial development in hopes it will bring in more youth friendly entertainment options.
Vassallo says that he has learned a lot from observing how Klein runs GPAC meetings, and that Fujimoto’s mentorship has taught him to be better organized, and to set goals and accomplish them. “The opportunities she has provided have helped to motivate me to get involved in the community,” says the high school senior.
“It is important for them to see the process and envision the future of their city,” says Fujimoto. “It gives youth a voice in our community and they are shown that the community values their opinion. It makes kids feel empowered to participate in decision making. If they build that at a young age they will be more likely to be civically engaged as adults. I want them to see and become active positive participants in the change process.” She says that the kids offer an “outside the box” perspective and are always teaching new things to their adult advisors. “Today’s youth have better access to information and are more involved with issues and volunteering then their parent’s generation.”
“I think it’s a big step for our city to include youth in a committee of this size and importance, and I think it’s a good opportunity for the kids to show an interest and that they want to be included and taken seriously,” says Klein. “If the young people step up and do this, then I think there will be more opportunities for youth involvement in decision-making in San Carlos’ future.”