Concerns about the needs of our area’s young people get considerable attention. Schooling, recreation, and social activities all seem to leap to the forefront when problems arise, but otherwise the youth in our community are largely seen but not heard. It needn’t be this way. Well over 100 cities in California have formed youth commissions or advisory councils.
It’s long past time for the City of Sonoma to do so as well.
Youth commissions customarily include up to 15 members who range in age from twelve to twenty-four, and offer opinions, guidance, and options on matters of housing, recreation, and activities affecting the young residents of the community. As an advisory body, such a commission makes recommendations to policy makers, provides an opportunity for youth to gain experience in civic matters, and gives a voice to a largely unrepresented group. It provides a chance to model equity in representation by including a diversity of members – social, economic, and ethnic – from both the City and the Sonoma Valley as a whole.
As with any commission, an application process and selection by the City Council will guide its formation. To begin with, it could meet bimonthly, and if the issues and needs call for it, even monthly. A city staff member or member of the public experienced in commission operations should attend all meetings to help guide the commission’s deliberations, take minutes, post agendas, and advise as appropriate on matters of policy.
Meetings can be held during the year in various locations within and outside of the City of Sonoma. The small, additional cost to the city of adding a youth commission is well worth its potential value to both the city and the county.
Recent statistics about school enrollment reveal that the number of youths in our community is dropping sharply. One of the reasons for this troubling trend may well be that the opportunities for young people are limited, compared to other cities in the area.. When looking for a place to raise a family, parents don’t only look at schools, but also at the overall quality of youth-oriented activities available. When a community is unresponsive to any segment of its community, like families with young children, it becomes less attractive to that segment. We believe that’s what’s happened here and contributes to the steady decline in the youth population.
A youth commission might help reverse that trend, but only if the activities and recommendations of such a commission are taken seriously. If it’s formed and then its ideas are ignored, it will make matters worse. When any segment of the community is ignored it ultimately feels voiceless, hopeless, and forgotten, and it gives up participating.
In a time when democracy appears to be faltering, it is particularly important to instill communal values and provide opportunities for experience in civic matters to the younger generation. After all, it will be that generation that either carries the torch of democracy into the future, or lets it drop. Responsibility for that outcome is on our shoulders, the adults in the community.
Let’s work to create a youth commission.