Most of the candidates for mayor and three open City Council seats appeared at Tuesday night’s first-ever youth-led Climate Action Forum at the Jackie Robinson Recreational Center in Pasadena.

Among the candidates who showed up — three of four for mayor, including incumbent Mayor Terry Tornek, challenger Councilman Victor Gordo, and local activist Jason Hardin; three of four candidates in District 2; one of four candidates in District 4; and all three candidates in District 6 — all had working knowledge ranging from some to a great deal regarding the city’s environmental policies. And all had a vision for the future management and use of energy, water and transportation in the shadow of a looming environmental catastrophe in these times of climate-change awareness.

But if there were any real winners it was the students who put together the debate and the near-capacity crowd of potential voters in attendance.

“I wish there were more people stepping up, and I think we are starting to see that, especially in Pasadena,” said Ozzie Simpson, an 18-year-old senior at Sequoyah School in Pasadena and lead organizer of the event. 

“We have a Sunrise hub (at Sequoyah), and have a good number of people involved there, and a lot of PUSD kids are starting to get interested, so that’s what I am most excited about,” Simpson said.

Simpson and others have been attending City Council meetings and demanding the city declare a climate emergency. Even though he hasn’t been successful, Simpson persists and has vowed to continue pleading with the council to take the lead among cities across the country and declare an emergency now. 

Simpson gives the city a B- on development and implementation of its own environmental policies.

“It’s strange to me that some candidates, including sitting candidates, have said to me we should declare a climate emergency, and then when we asked them to they said, ‘Oh, no, let’s not do that, let’s just pursue the Climate Action Plan,’” Simpson said. 

The last time Simpson spoke to the council was two weeks ago, joined by fellow Sequoyah senior 17-year-old Selina Yang, who was one of the students asking questions Tuesday night. Other student panelists were Edgar McGregor, a sophomore at Pasadena City College, and Estrella Barcenas, a freshman at Marshall Fundamental School. The forum was moderated by David Azevedo.

“I think what we really want is both a climate emergency, which means they will have to consider the climate crisis in every decision they make, which isn’t hard for a lot of decisions, but it’s just required and this is in their minds, and this is what we want,” Simpson said.

Otherwise, he said, “The Climate Action Plan is very unspecific on actual action items and performance indicators, so there is no real accountability. A lot of things in there are great, but we don’t know if they are happening or if they are planning on making them happen, and how.”

The Pasadena Climate Action Plan, as reported, among other things calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in 2020, 40 percent below that level in 10 years, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by mid-century.

Therese Brummel of Transition Pasadena, a nonprofit group fighting climate change through building community with various projects, joined Simpson and Yang at the council podium the last time they called for the council to declare a climate emergency. She called the forum and the turnout for the debate “Amazing. Totally amazing.”

“I think it’s really important the the City Council adopt some form of a language to say we are in a climate emergency now,” Brummel said. “It’s not climate change. It’s not  climate crisis. It’s an emergency, and these kids are feeling it in their guts, and that is why tonight is so important.”  

Tim Brick, a local activist and head of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, said he would sign the climate emergecy declaration.

“We are in a climate emergency, whether we recognize it or not,” Brick said. “If we don’t recognize it, we are in terrible trouble, because we only have 10 years to turn things around and dramatically reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and move toward a more conserving and sustainable lifestyle, so I support what the kids are doing. I’m really pleased to see this kind  of leadership coming from the young people in our community.”

“I was happy to hear many candidates support actions such as declaring a climate emergency and enacting a local Green New Deal for Pasadena,” Simpson wrote in a subsequent email. “However, as many know, campaign promises are one thing — actually acting on them when candidates are in office is another. I look forward to voting in my first election next month and seeing how Pasadena’s next elected officials carry through on their comments made tonight.” n