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Cal State Fullerton sophomore Jeremy Yamaguchi is sworn in as the newest member of the Placentia city council on Dec. 2. Photo by Donald McLaren

Civic Matters

Sophomore Becomes Youngest Elected Official in County

February 3, 2009

By Pamela McLaren

The newest and youngest Placentia City Council member is on a mission.

Political science major Jeremy Yamaguchi thanks the university's Academic Senate for honoring him following his election to the Placentia City Council. Scott Hewitt, Academic Senate chair, presented the sophomore to the assembled senators and guests two days after Yamaguchi was officially sworn into office. Photo by Kelly Lacefield

Nothing new for 19-year-old Jeremy Yamaguchi, a sophomore political science major at Cal State Fullerton. He said he's been driven since childhood, not only to achieve but also to serve.

Whether it was in scouting, where he became an Eagle Scout and a member of the Order of the Arrow, Neighborhood Watch or as a member of several high school organizations, Yamaguchi has proven that age is no barrier to making a substantial difference in his community.

Nor is being the youngest to achieve a goal necessarily new for the scholar. Following his 2007 graduation from El Dorado High School, Yamaguchi was named the Placentia Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year for the thousands of volunteer hours he accrued aiding area schools, Neighborhood Watch, the city’s Heritage Parade Festival or volunteering at various Placentia Cultural Arts Commission events like the annual summer concerts in the park.

So, when there was an opening on the Placentia City Council in last fall’s election, Yamaguchi decided to try his hand.

“There were many reasons why I decided to run for city council,” said Yamaguchi, noting his community activities, as well as involvement with city council members and staff. He also received support from various friends and community members. “And, I thought that I had what it takes to do well on the city council.”

So, he started going door-to-door through the city’s neighborhoods, handing out lawn signs, attending candidate forums and instituting a website. He focused on issues that he believed were good for the citizens of the city: public safety, fiscal management of city spending, an open and transparent government and strong relationships with business.

The hard work paid off: Yamaguchi garnered 9,507 or 22.7 percent of the vote, earning nearly 400 more votes than the next city council candidate, incumbent Connie Underhill.

Even before he was officially sworn into office, Yamaguchi got an unexpected lesson — in dealing with the media. Reporters from the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and Daily Titan were only a few of the calls he received as the youngest elected official in Orange County. “It was definitely a different life experience from what I had to deal with before,” he said with a smile.

If he thought that things would slow down once the excitement of the election passed, he was wrong. Yamaguchi has found himself going from one end of the city to the other, meeting with a wide range of community groups like the Placitas Santa Fe Merchants Association, where he heard from downtown Placentia business leaders concerned about the city’s planned redevelopment of the area, including the placement of a Metrolink station and additional parking.

That's just one of several issues that Yamaguchi has had to study to be prepared not only to vote on but respond to queries. Other issues have touched on the city’s budget and collaborating with the Orange County Transportation Authority to install grade separations on rail corridors throughout the city.

“I’d really like to see more technology in the city,” said Yamaguchi, adding that the city recently joined Alert OC, a reverse 911 system that cities and the county can use to notify citizens in an emergency. “We also have a brand new online program called ‘At Your Service’ where residents and businesses can put forth a question or request to the city via the computer. I believe that it is more ‘green’ and will provide faster service than the traditional paper requests.”

As for the young politician’s goals, he said: "In my future, I plan to complete my education and make a career out of government-related activities. I don't know specifically which field I will end up in, but I love leading others and serving the citizens of this great city, state and country.”

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