A coalition of young adults running for City Council seats countywide is hoping to address homelessness and sustainability while invigorating the youth vote in upcoming local elections.
Orange County Students for City Council formed a coalition earlier this year in an effort to usher in a progressive platform in the historically conservative but arguably becoming more liberal county.
There are six candidates ages 18 to 27.
Jackson Hinkle started the coalition in April with friends Jake Rybczyk and Perry Meade.
Hinkle and Rybczyk, both 18 and both of San Clemente, decided to run for council seats, feeling they could inspire young adults elsewhere.
“There is a lack of representation of youth in politics,” Hinkle said. “We want to be a voice for younger generations and to unite young progressives who are looking to get into politics.”
Leaders formulated a list of issues that each candidate needs to represent, which includes working toward ending homelessness, expanding affordable housing and transitioning cities to more-sustainable energy alternatives.
“Homelessness is increasing throughout the county, and the county Board of Supervisors and cities seem to be doing nothing to address it for long-term solutions,” Hinkle said. “A lot of cities have also done next to nothing for sustainability.”
Other members running for their respective City Councils include Mahmoud El-Farra, 18, of Mission Viejo; Manuel Chavez, 22, of Costa Mesa; Ian Macdonald, 20, of Buena Park and Jose Trinidad Castañeda, 27, of Fullerton.
The Orange County Students for City Council held its first campaign event in San Clemente a few weeks ago.
Members acknowledge they may appear inexperienced to older voters and advancing a progressive agenda in conservative communities is difficult. However, they believe these hurdles can be overcome, and that their youth can be beneficial.
“I can see it as being negative that we are younger in that some may see us as being less experienced,” Rybczyk said. “But, in a sense, I haven’t had a chance to be corrupted. I am not in this for anything other than advancing my causes.”
Rybczyk said local elections tend to be issue-specific, so they aren’t bogged down by partisanship.
“At first I might have told you that it’d be tough for older voters to see us as viable options, but we have seen an outpouring of support from each of our communities,” Hinkle said. “If you look at each of these candidates and their history of organizing and volunteer work, each brings something to the table that speaks for itself.”
Despite their ages, Hinkle said many of the candidates have valuable experience in volunteering and politics. In high school, Hinkle started an environmental group, Team Zissou Environmental Organization, and has been working to decommission nuclear power plants. Rybczyk interned on political campaigns.
Macdonald serves as vice chair of the Buena Park School District’s bond oversight committee. Chavez served as a 74th Assembly District delegate in 2016 for the California Democratic Party. El-Farra is a member of the student government at Saddleback College. Castañeda is a parks and recreation commissioner in Fullerton.
Aside from the group’s central platform, which each member has adopted, the candidates have particular citywide issues they care about.
El-Farra said one of the more pressing concerns in Mission Viejo is the council’s rejection of district elections in February. The vote was in response to a demand letter from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, who has issued a number of similar letters to Orange County cities.
El-Farra said he supports district elections because they can assure better Latino representation in elected office. At-large elections, opponents to them say, favor white candidates.
Rybczyk said part of his agenda will be to combat a proposed toll road that would run through San Clemente.
Despite the group’s moniker, not all members are students. Rybczyk, Hinkle and El-Farra plan to attend Saddleback College, and Macdonald goes to Cal State Long Beach. Chavez and Castañeda graduated from UC Irvine and Cal State Los Angeles, respectively.
Rybczyk said the group permits non-student members with a cut-off age of 27.