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California Assemblymember Marc Berman welcomes student voices at first Youth Town Hall

By Ellen Hu

Denali Editor-in-Chief

California Assemblymember Marc Berman held his first Youth Town Hall at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale earlier today.  Attendees were welcomed at the school cafeteria with a cup of boba and a seat in the audience. Throughout the event, Rep. Berman answered their questions about issues ranging from single-use plastics to Silicon Valley’s big tech companies.

Youth attendees brought up a variety of issues through their questions, including driving laws, gun violence, mental health, voting ages and public transportation.

Even so, the majority of the questions asked by youth attendees were about the environment, one of the issues Rep. Berman finds most important. “Environment has been something that we’ve been heavily focused on,” he said.

According to Rep. Berman, California has the fifth largest economy in the world, giving the state a lot of power when it comes to policy.  He said that legislation to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and environmental impact could force other states and companies to follow in their footsteps.

“You are going to live to see the impacts of climate change today,” Rep. Berman said at the event.  Recently he has been seeing how powerful youth voices can be, as exemplified by 17-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Other questions dealt with government interactions with large technology companies, as well as lowering the voting age. “We get to pass legislation on a wide range of issues that affect your everyday life,” Rep. Berman said.

Rep. Berman is a California state assemblymember representing the 24th district.  His district spans from Pescadero to Half Moon Bay and includes many cities that house large technology companies.  

He describes the area he represents as “three districts in one”.  Many of the people he talks to are finding themselves successful in big technology businesses, while others in less populated areas are struggling.  Rep. Berman says that he sees different kinds of people in different areas, and each area has a different set of issues. 

One of these current issues is a power shutoff resulting from forest fires in Northern California. “Today will be the third time in the past few weeks” that power in his district has been shut off, Rep. Berman said.

The Kincade fire in Sonoma County started on Oct. 24 and has forced PG&E to shut down the power grid on many areas not affected by the fires.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

Rep. Berman said that every year since he was sworn into office in 2016 there have been massive forest fires in the state.  “I get why people are mad,” he said.

“Our goal is that everyone can get electricity and gas safely,” Rep. Berman said.  He believes the current fires are due to neglect by companies and by the state which he hopes will improve after looking at the whole situation.

The current housing crisis was among the most topics brought up in questions by participants. Rep. Berman sees the current housing crisis as a prime factor in the state’s environmental struggles.  In his eyes, the housing crisis forces people to live further away from work and results in the burning of more fossil fuels.

“What I promote is just building housing for the people that exist,” Rep. Berman said in response to questions about how the state should address the issue.  According to him, the number of births in California is decreasing, so supplying housing to people who need it now is his main concern.

He also believes that addressing homelessness is an element of the crisis.  Recently he proposed a bill that would require community colleges to allow homeless students to sleep in their cars on campus.  Although the bill was vetoed, it will come back in the next year to be revised and voted on again.

In the meantime, Rep. Berman believes that the state needs to build more housing and provide previously homeless individuals with mental health and other services they may need to be successful.  These support systems will provide individuals with the aid they may need to recover and contribute to society, he said. 

In the future, Rep. Berman hopes to turn the Youth Town Hall into an annual event.  “Honestly – the questions & comments were broader & more informed than at my ‘adult’ events,” he said in a tweet.

FEATURED IMAGE (at top of post): Assemblymember Marc Berman answers an attendee’s question at his first Youth Town Hall on Oct. 29.

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