South Kern Sol, Question & Answer, Randy Villegas
At the age of 23, Jose Gurrola has become the new Mayor of Arvin, the youngest mayor in the city’s history. Gurrola spoke with South Kern Sol about his vision for Arvin, including addressing “bad air, bad water, and not enough focus on education and higher education.”
How does it feel to be the youngest elected mayor of Arvin?
Regardless of age, I’m excited for the opportunity to serve and have the ability to bring people together. Together we can fight for the people of Arvin and fight for a brighter future.
Do you think people may have underestimated you because of your age in this race?
I think that age certainly played a factor in terms of the prospects that some members of the community and people outside of Arvin gave me in terms of chances of winning the election. The more I spoke with voters of Arvin going to door to door, they saw that personal connection with me. My education and my ability to be articulate on the issues, and to put forward a vision for Arvin, that really calmed their concerns that my age may have brought up. I certainly believe that my opponent and people outside of Arvin underestimated my ability to win based upon my age.
What inspired you to get involved in politics at such a young age?
I was elected four years ago as a councilmember at 19 years old. I was involved in We The People [A civics based competition where high school students answer questions based around the constitution], and I learned a little bit about how government works, how government should work. I saw these injustices around me, affecting my people and my community. Bad air, bad water, not enough focus on education and higher education. I decided to go door to door and run for office, to put forward a vision for Arvin. If it wasn’t being done by the people currently seated in the City Council, I thought I might as well put my ideas, my energy and my vision forward.
What are your specific plans for improving the bad air, bad water, and focus on education? Why do you think these issues have not been adequately addressed in the past?
Let’s start with education first. The biggest thing that we can do is have that Bakersfield College center in Arvin. We have to get the Kern Community college district to select Arvin to create a satellite center. It will put higher education in the reach for the city of Arvin. Having a satellite campus in Arvin will make it easier for many students to get a college education. For many others who are non-traditional students; it creates opportunities for them. We’ll have adults who work during the day and are able to take classes at night. They can learn new skills and even take english language classes, and general ed classes.
When we address bad air quality we’ve got to use our voice. We need to advocate and support federal and state laws that will improve our air quality, and oppose those that harm it. There’s a plethora of statewide laws that were approved last year in Sacramento that do a lot to address some of these issues.
Locally we need to make a transition from fossil fuels towards renewable energy, and support that transition. We can provide incentives for new residential developments to have solar panels. We will also update the city’s action plan, to includes stricter goals to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. We also need to support Smart growth policies that focus on mixed use. Where people live near where they work. Arvin is uniquely suited to support more residential housing alongside commercial development within a close distance. So if we support smart growth policy, we can reduce the amount of pollution that comes as a result of people having to drive to work.
I also believe we need to support policies that protect our drinking water. That means advocating at the state and federal levels to ensure that legislation passed doesn’t affect our water. We need to ensure that no oil and gas development projects affect our drinking water. This includes any pesticide use that would hurt our drinking water.
How does Trump’s election change the way you are thinking about Arvin, and do you think it might have any impact on the issues he will be working on (bad air, bad water, etc.)
First and foremost I did not even imagine or fathom the possibility of him being elected. Throughout my campaign and my decision to run, I assumed Hillary would be president. I thought we would have somebody that would be more favorable of the policies I’d like to pursue. That being said, we are still going to fight for what I believe is right for the community, to create an Arvin that has a brighter future. We’ll have to work harder, we’ll have to be strategic, and united as a community to make that happen.
What are some of your future plans and goals as mayor of Arvin?
First and foremost, we have to continue fighting for BC [Bakersfield College] in Arvin. I was ecstatic to also see Measure J pass [Measure J was a $502.8 million local education bond measure that will go towards the renovation and repair of several facilities in the Kern Community College District, including a Bakersfield College Satellite campus in Arvin].
Now with the funding available, what Arvin needs to do is to continue advocating and bringing the community together to ensure that the Kern Community College District selects Arvin as a site for a facility out here in South Kern. Once we get that commitment from them, I believe that BC in Arvin will be a reality.
Another thing is, we need to focus on our infrastructure needs: our roads, sidewalks and park maintenance. We’ve got to develop plans and designs for our parks, and plans in terms of our roads to see how far we are in funding. Then we begin to advocate at the federal level and at the state level for more funding. If there’s a gap, we need to have an honest discussion with the voters about how we are going to close that gap, in terms of what we have now and the level of service and the level of infrastructure that the city of Arvin deserves. Short term, we can work on getting Comanche fixed [Comanche Drive is an extensive road in Arin in need of repair]. We share that road with the county and we can get that fixed pretty soon.
What is your advice to young people who want to get involved in local politics to fix some of the issues they may be facing?
If there is an issue that they are passionate about, or an issue that affects them directly, find out who are the decision makers that affect that issue. Then go to meetings, council meetings, board of supervisor meetings, try to meet with assembly members and representatives and state senators. Become informed and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to challenge those who are in power, to speak truth to power. Our elected officials are just like any of us. They’re members of the community, so being able to challenge them and hold them accountable when they don’t represent your issues or beliefs, is the best way to get involved.
If there is somebody who isn’t championing the issues that you care about, then try running for office yourself, and be that champion for those issues that you care about. Running for office certainly isn’t the only way to get involved, but it’s one that many people don’t necessarily take into consideration.