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Mock meeting produces real results

Casper Tran was steamed.

He didn't understand how some of his peers could support the filming of a television show in Huntington Beach that he believed would bring too many partiers and litter to the beach.

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"Do we have a plan where we can address higher amounts of waste in our city because of the increased tourism that we'd be expecting from this show?" he asked.

"The city has a plan to handle all the waste," came a response.

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Others feared that the show would cast a negative light on the city, while some countered that it would bring in tourists and their money.

This could have been your average Huntington Beach council meeting Thursday, but it was an unscripted exercise in civic affairs involving about 90 students from the city's high schools.

The mock meeting was part of Youth in Government Day, put on annually by the city's Youth Board, a voluntary board made up of young people that advises the City Council on matters of relevance to that age group.

Casper, a senior at Huntington Beach High School, was acting as a council member as he fought for the rights of low-income families who he said could be displaced as a result of the filming of the hypothetical MTV show.

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As the council members spoke, a real Huntington Beach council member, Jill Hardy, walked around behind them offering advice and feedback.

Other city officials, including City Atty. Michael Gates, offered similar support, standing near their student counterparts off to the side of the council dais.

Students also took on the roles of police chief, fire chief and planning officials. Others acted as residents adding their voices from the podium during the public-comments segment.

Casper said students followed guidelines on how to take on their roles but that their beliefs about the subject at hand were their own.

"We were really debating up there," the 17-year-old said.

The same day, students toured City Hall and spoke with city officials about their jobs and the decision-making process.

Jose Sanchez, a senior at Edison High School, who took on the role of the business development director during the mock council meeting, said the whole day was a great educational experience for him.

"I learned how involved the public can be with the decisions and how they actually influence the council," the 17-year-old said. "At first, I thought the public could say what they wanted but the council has their own opinions set. Apparently, council members do care about how the people feel, and their thoughts do help sway their opinions.

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"Most people think of the people in charge as bad guys, but when you see that they do care about the welfare of the city as a whole, and not just for short-term profit, it's comforting to know, especially in local government."

Casper and Jose say they run a club together at Edison called Students for Communal Change, where they regularly discuss politics and current events.

Shane Yoshiyama, who sits on the city's Youth Board and acts as the student public information officer for the group, said the city's public information officer, Julie Toledo, helped prepare him for his role.

"I'm like the mini Julie," said the 18-year-old senior at Edison High School, laughing. "She's been really awesome in helping me through this process and showing me what it's like to be in this position. Communication is one of the biggest things I've learned, as well as some of the logistical things that you need to consider for a government event."

Hardy said she participated in Youth in Government Day during her days at Edison High School, where she graduated in 1989. The Youth Board, she said, started in 1985, with Youth in Government Day as its focal point.

Hardy, a math teacher at Marina High School, said that when she participated in the program in high school, it sparked an interest in politics.

She added that many students who participate in Youth in Government Day have similar debate experiences from being involved in Model United Nations at their schools.

"When I came on the council, between being a teacher and a former Youth Board member, I just became really involved with the Youth Board and making sure Youth in Government Day continued," she said. "I'm surprised every year how I can tell the students during the mock council meeting to try something, and they just take it on."

She said the city also benefits from the program because it helps develop more informed residents.

"I told these kids the City Council is made of seven of 200,000 people," she said. "In order to do our jobs well, we really need the input of as many community members as we can, and that includes students. This is showing something that they can be a part of and should be a part of."

At the end of the meeting, Casper appeared relieved.

The TV show filming was ultimately shot down by the mock council on a 4-3 vote.

"We listened to the people and gathered all the information before we formed our opinions," he said.

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