Web Site Offers New Outlet for Youth

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Showcasing the Berkeley Youth Forum, a high school student introduced "Youth Zone," a new link on the city's Web site, at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

The Web site, along with the Youth Forum - a portion of some council meetings set aside for youth comment - are part of an increased effort by city officials to make Berkeley more inclusive to its under-18 population.

Although the site was initiated by interim City Manager Weldon Rucker in conjunction with the Berkeley Youth Commission, the hope is that eventually it will be designed entirely by Berkeley youths.

"We tried to keep the design similar to the theme of the Berkeley Web site, but with more interesting visuals," said Butch Lavin, a city Internet developer.

Lavin was part of a team of 30 city employees who worked on the site, which can be found by following a link from www.ci.berkeley.ca.us.

Unlike the more mundane general city Web site, the Youth Zone is meant to be lively and entertaining. In the "Cool Things" section, the site features funny epithets and anecdotes about Berkeley.

"New York has Greenwich Village, London has Soho, San Francisco has Haight-Ashbury and Berkeley has Telegraph Avenue," it read.

In addition, the site features more practical information regarding how to get homework help and resources for jobs for youth.

"This started in recognition that there is a vibrant community of youth that uses the city Web sites," said project manager Donna LaSala.

With the help of high school student Alex Eiley, an intern with the Health and Human Services Department, the city is in the process of assembling a group of students from all levels of Berkeley schools who will eventually take over the planning for the site.

"The initial site is bare, but we want the youth of the city to decide what should be on it," LaSala said.

City officials presented the program at the Youth Forum, which is designed to allow local children to voice their opinions and concerns to politicians.

The program was initiated one year ago by Councilmember Margaret Breland. Breland said that before the forum, young people had to enter a lottery, along with everybody else, to make public comments at the meetings, and it was hard to give them a chance to speak.

"There was the issue that we were giving unfair special attention to kids at the meetings," said Calvin Fong, an aide to Breland. "But on the flip side, it encourages youth who normally don't get a chance to speak up."

As a result of several passionate pleas by young people at the forum, important projects have been approved by the council.

"The whole idea of the forum is that it gives youth direct access to the people who are the decision-makers," said Phil Cotton, director of the Young Adult Project, a city organization dedicated to youth projects.

Cotton remembers several important decisions where youth had a significant impact on the outcome. Specifically, an ordinance for funding of the new Berkeley skate park had critical support at the youth forum, and Cotton said he feels this is what swayed council members to pass the ordinance for its funding.

Other programs such as Twilight Basketball and Berkeley Youth Works have been in danger of shutting down due to lack of funding, but have been saved because of young people who came to the forum and asked for city money.

"It's a great outlet for kids," Cotton said. "It's helped organize community activities such as teen dances and youth conferences, and now we've introduced this new Web site at the forum."


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