Nearly two years ago, students from Third District middle and high schools took part in the city’s first youth participatory budgeting effort where they were able to decide on a project to build in the district using a fixed amount of funds. Saturday, that project will be officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony at Marina Vista Park.
The project, a new sport court which includes a half basketball court and four-square court, was voted on by 720 students aged 11-18 years old in June 2015.
“I think it really allowed the kids to think about budgeting and think about budget limitations,” said Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price. “When they first started talking they were basically dreaming really big and then we had to educate them on the realities of resources and they had to pear down their goals and expectations to come up with some realistic projects.”
Those projects included lighting at tennis courts, new drinking fountains and a skate park. However, they had to scale back some of those ideas as they would not be covered by the $110,000 budget they had to work with. Price said the fact that it has taken nearly two years to see the fruit of their labor helped provide a separate valuable lesson in how bureaucracy works.
Like an actual municipal election, the votes were cast using an official city ballot that were processed by the Long Beach City Clerk’s office.
Luke Johnson, one of the students who was on the volunteer committee that helped steer the process, died from leukemia before seeing the project cross the finish line. His parents will be in attendance Saturday as will his little brother who will cut the ribbon Saturday morning.
A discussion to potentially name the court after Johnson is expected to begin Saturday morning where Price will ask for the community’s support for that motion. It would then require a vote by the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and then the city council, but Price said the likelihood that it’s eventually named after Johnson is high.
While Price lacks the funds to host a similar youth participatory budgeting event, she said that she may seek out other ways to continue keeping the youth civically engaged in her district.
“Giving youth a voice in their community is a great opportunity for them to make a difference they can see while also encouraging greater civic engagement,” Price said. “We have amazingly smart and thoughtful students in Long Beach and giving them a chance to be part of the budget process, making concrete decisions on how their city can better serve youth puts them on the right track to a lifetime of caring about their community and taking an active role in making important decisions.”
Marina Vista Park is located at 5355 East Eliot Street. The ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for Saturday March 18 at 10:00AM near the intersection of Eliot Street and Boathouse Lane.