In California Forward’s travels around the state to hear from you about how to best fix our state, we visited five communities on Thursday – Oxnard, San Diego, San Bernardino, Sonoma, and Rolling Hills.
Members of each community came out to the “Speak Up CA” dialogues to hear about California Forward’s work and share their own ideas for how best to move our state in the right direction – forward.
Political and business leaders from Sonoma and Marin Counties met Thursday morning to discuss how local and state agencies can communicate better and work together to improve life for millions of Californians.
Facilitated by California Forward and the North Bay Leadership Council, dozens braved the stormy weather to meet at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma County. On the agenda: government realignment, the challenge of working with state level officials, and how to give local governments increased power, all while holding the public more accountable.
A panel discussion included Novato’s City Manager Michael Frank, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane and Linda Davis, CEO of the Center for Volunteer Nonprofit Leadership.
“There’s a difference between ‘right-sizing’ and downsizing,” said Zane. “We have to ask state government, ‘what is your overhead for state programs, and how much has it grown in the past few years? Until you have an answer to that question, you won’t have proper realignment.”
Several attendees shared her sentiment, saying California would benefit from blending many of its thousands of municipalities so local governments would have more power to dictate funding.
Scott Peters, Climate Initiative chair welcomed dozens of participants from San Diego and Orange County to the “Speak up California” forum at the San Diego Foundation.
Peters greeted the group by comparing his bumpy flight from San Jose to San Diego to government efficiency. “In the same way we need to know how to drive this plane,” said Peters in reference to state government.
Carol Beam, who identified herself as a California taxpayer, shared the concerns of her group about open primaries, saying middle ground could hinder democracy. “Often, when you are split the difference between the extreme conservative and extreme the liberal politicians you are not coming out with innovative solutions, they are more like compromises and you lose innovation.”
Peggy Lauer, Executive Director of the Well Network, said government must stop working in silos. “Our state needs to work toward finding integrated solutions, a continuum – that can create a whole picture of a sustainable California,” said Lauer. “We need to look at the progress in the Netherlands and New Zealand, where progress has been happening with conservative and liberal organizations. There are also some amazing models in this region. It can be fixed.”
CA Fwd and representatives from the Ventura County Coastal Realtors Association revealed some valuable insight during their afternoon dialogue. They generally agreed it is a good idea to shift more authority and accountability to local cities and counties, as long as it comes with flexibility and a mechanism to listen to what is going on in the surrounding region.
Most people in the room understood that the effort to increase local authority in practice will be a balancing act, and that a one-size-fits-all approach would likely fail due to stark differences in the needs of different regions.
The Ventura County Transportation Commission and Ventura Council of Governments drew praise from members of the group as strong examples of regional bodies that have been able to govern with the kind of regional perspective, they believe will be key to the success of local-state realignment. This much needed shift in authority from the state to local governments may be an important future step to stabilize California, but participants said it must come with a more business friendly environment, or the mass exodus of businesses from California will continue drain the state of much needed revenue.
City of Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge opened by comparing the state’s financial troubles to the Great Depression. “When I try to think of a financial era in history that relates to the situations of today, that was it.”
Mayor Loveridge joined a group of about 35 professionals at Cal State San Bernardino, who met to discuss building a stronger California. The meeting was co-hosted by the Southern California Leadership Network. Several participants nodded in agreement as Loveridge spoke. “Yes, it’s time for change – but really, it’s about finding out how to change things and what to change.”
As the night progressed, attendees discussed distrust in government. State Farm Public Affairs Specialist Felicia Van Frank said voters do not realize where their tax dollars go, and they tune out. “Every person is truly a legislator in themselves. Unfortunately too often, they do not take the time to learn about initiatives and have little knowledge of what is happening.”
Norte Vista High School Counselor, Sinar Lomeli attended the meeting to learn more about the state’s current situation, so she could share the information with her students. “Many of them really do not understand the gravity of this. They see tuition increases or sections cut from the Cal State and UC systems, but they do not know why. My goal is to take this information to them to help open their eyes to what’s happening and really tell them what each of us can do to help.”
CA Fwd ended the evening at the South Bay Cities Council of Governments (COG) Board of Directors’ Meeting at the Peninsula Library in Rolling Hills Estates. COG Board Chair and former President of the League of California Cities, Councilmember Judy Mitchell brought together councilmembers representing Torrance, Hermosa Beach, Carson, Lomita, Hawthorne, Palos Verdes Estates, Inglewood, Gardena, Lawndale, Santa Monica, and Manhattan Beach.
CA Fwd’s Teresa Acosta said it was important for people to share their thoughts on CA Fwd’s ideas and to make their voices as local elected officials heard. The group agreed to share information with their colleagues and spread the word about California Forward’s great work.