It was a cold, foggy afternoon in April when three young men met at the Hidden House Coffee shop in San Juan Capistrano.
The historic yellow house with a crooked green picket fence once belonged to Delfina Manriquez de Olivares, the matriarch of the city in the late 1800s. It sits in the middle of Los Rios, California’s oldest residential neighborhood.
But the men were not there to talk about history. Quite the contrary, they were trying to figure out how to craft a better future.
They were tired of seeing tragic headlines, unfair government policies and ineffective local representation.
Jake Rybczyk, Jackson Hinkle and Perry Meade, all students under 20, shivered in the outdoor courtyard under a canopy of thick trees with their laptops open.
They were onto something and didn’t want to move inside and interrupt their thoughts.
They were talking about how to make affordable housing an important issue at Saddleback College. But it was difficult to talk about housing without addressing homelessness. And homelessness is not just an isolated city issue. It’s a county issue.
Hinkle had the idea to look up the city council races in Orange County. There were more than 90 open seats this year.
The number astonished them.
“I still remember it because it is kind of a significant moment in my life,” Rybczyk said.
It was an opportunity, an epiphany, that would change their lives.
The trio went on to form Orange County Students for City Council.
Hinkle and Rybczyk are running for seats in San Clemente. Meade oversees the campaigns for the coalition. There are four other young people running in various cities affiliated with the group: Ian Macdonald, 20, Buena Park City Council, District 2; Jose Trinidad Castañeda, 27, Fullerton City Council, District 5; Mahmoud El-Farra, 18, Mission Viejo City Council; Manuel Chavez, 22, is Costa Mesa City Council, District 4.
There are requirements for the group. You have to be 27 or younger, and you have to believe in progressive issues, which includes supporting affordable housing, reducing homelessness and promoting sustainable environmental policies.
So why 27?
“We have 27 because we believe if you’re of that age, you’ve grown up in the generation that has been affected by so many policies that are the result of so many politicians not listening to the people,” Rybczyk said. “We believe that if we’re going to be representing young people, you should have at least lived throughout some of the struggles young people have had.”
That means gun control, the opioid crises, climate change and others.
“We’re not really Democrat or Republican,” he said. “Really it is those policies that we have to be vocal about.”
The group makes no apologies for being left of center in a red county. They believe Orange County is turning blue for the right reasons.
“We’re inspired by the model that Bernie Sanders had during his 2016 election,” Rybczyk said. “And he showed that if you’re authentic, if you can deliver, and if you do your research and you know what you’re talking about, you don’t need to be on the phone all the time fundraising.”
Rybczyk said each candidate supported by the group has individual issues specific to their city. All of them are prepared for the realities of city council work, which can be mired in lengthy committees and mundane procedures.
In other words, for a younger generation, it’s not Instagram-friendly.
“I do think we’re ready to work,” he said. “I am willing to compromise. I’m not going to be doing a lot of political plays.”
After the Parkland school shooting, Rybczyk organized a walkout at his high school, and more than 1,000 students participated.
He went to the offices of his congressman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), with a letter of concern signed by more than 100 students. But Rybczyk said the staff wouldn’t even take it.
Every generation has their slights, the causes that light the political fire.
But with this generation the fires are spreading more like wildfires, raging against anyone older than 27.