On Tuesday, I attended an event to bring people together to think about how to reform California. The event — “Speak Up, CA!” — was part of a series of 250 conversations that California Forward plans to have throughout the state this year. The discussions are being co-sponsored by groups across the ideological and issue-area spectrum. The event I attended in San Francisco was co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society (ACS) Bay Area lawyer chapter. The audience cared about governance and policy, but especially about fairness and equity.
The facilitator encouraged the audience to share thoughts and concerns about the basic outlines of California Forward’s proposal: to restructure the relationship between state and local governments, giving local government more flexibility to design and implement programs but also calling for more accountability from the government. We discussed the pros and cons of the proposal. One of the most common concerns raised was how such a plan could ensure equity at the local level, since different localities may have different levels of commitment to providing services for their communities. Another frequently made point was that the idea of demanding accountability from our government is good, but our communities need to be engaged and believe that their views matter.
The discussion about equity and community engagement is directly related to the work we at Alliance for Justice do with nonprofits throughout the country. Many of the groups we work with in California represent vulnerable communities. Fighting budget battles year after year has led many of these groups to conclude that governance reform is necessary to protect the interests of their communities. Coalitions, such as the California Alliance, California Partnership, and the Health and Human Services Network of California, are committed to changing the way people think about how the state raises and spends public dollars. We encourage nonprofits throughout California to make sure they have a voice in whatever government reform policies are offered. How do you think we need to reform government so that it is more efficient and responsive? What are your concerns about giving local government more control over programs? We know California Forward is interested in hearing your thoughts, so don’t hold back!
Nayantara Mehta is senior counsel for the West Coast Office of Alliance for Justice.