On Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010, people from all walks of life came together to help find ways to reinvigorate the State of California.
The “Reviving California Community Summit” at DeAnza Community College brought together a group of nearly 100 concerned citizens to assess the problems facing California’s government and discuss what can be done to reform our state’s governance system. The event was co-hosted by California Forward as part of “Speak Up California,” a statewide conversation project about governance reform.
Attendees got into a deep discussion on the state budget process and the likely effects of Propositions 25 and 26. The summit also featured a roundtable about how reforms to the governance system might help California deal with its ongoing fiscal challenges.
After the roundtable discussion, small groups at each table discussed the following questions:
- What is your biggest concern about how state or local government works?
- If local governments were given more control over funding and service delivery, what do you see as the benefits & concerns?
- If local governments were given more control over funding and service delivery, how would you ensure that local governments are accountable? What would accountability look like?
When asked how they would restructure the relationship between the state and local government, 94 percent agreed the state should maintain authority and control “in only a few areas” or “only in essential services.” Several other major themes also emerged from the discussion:
- California’s current governance system is too cumbersome. Many participants agreed that, for the state to compete in the global economy, state government needs to speed up and become more accessible, more responsive, and more efficient. Some participants believed this would also help address a related problem, by encouraging citizens to be more engaged.
- We know what isn’t working. Participants agreed on several major challenges facing government: Public pensions, crumbling infrastructure, and an ongoing disparity in property tax payments (a legacy of Proposition 13).
- Local government is seen as a solution. Participants saw many benefits to more local control, from greater accessibility and improved program outcomes to increased responsiveness to community needs.
- Areas of concern: The group identified several key concerns about local empowerment, including issues of:
o Equity (ensuring rich and poor communities have equal access to resources)
o Accountability (making sure local officials remain accessible)
o Economies of scale (finding ways to ensure communities don’t forego services relied on by minority populations)
o Statewide standards (maintaining state oversight and regulation of the social safety net and environmental issues like pollution)
The event was open to the public, and participants ranged from Silicon Valley college students to tech industry retirees.
Hosted by the American Leadership Forum – Silicon Valley, California Forward, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the summit also included representatives from each of its co-sponsoring organizations: De Anza College, San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and United Way Silicon Valley.
Justin Ewers is a project manager for California Forward.