People across California shared their frustrations, ideas, and hopes for the state at various dialogues and conversations last week, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley.
Commonwealth Club San Francisco
Nearly 75 people came out to The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to discuss and debate California Forward’s ideas for restructuring state government and share their own ideas.
Attendee Thomas Lee said he is concerned that the incentives to innovate do not exist.
“There’s no incentive to be innovative, but tons of downsides,” said Lee. “Can we enable our public servants to take risks and fail a few times without being fired?”
Another attendee asked panelist and political blogger Melissa Griffin why the media was not paying more attention to the breakdown of government structure.
Griffin answered: “If there was reader interest, more people would write about it. But, more people care about the Kardashians than the legislature.”
“We need a reality TVshow in Sacramento: The Real Legislators of Sacramento,” quipped CA Fwd leadership council member Lenny Mendonca.
When an audience member asked, “Will reform through the initiative process be too slow, and what can we do?” panelist Jaime Rossi, president of Barbary Coast consulting, reminded the group that change tends to come slowly.
“Most positive things happen with people who start a movement, and there’s a spark. But, things happen in small steps,” he said. “There’s always a need and value for people expressing their political opinions and sometimes their political rage. But, the nature of government at the state and local levels is incremental.”
League of Women Voters Fremont
On April 18, California Forward met with the League of Women Voters of Fremont to hear their voices on the issues impacting their communities. Thoughtful, reflective, and solutions-oriented people considered all options to resolving budget, education, and legislative reform issues. There were varying opinions on approaches, but everyone could agree on the issues ailing California’s broken system.
Several conversations revolved around how to give local governments more decision-making authority and the impact Proposition 13 has had. “Local government is much more efficient. They should keep 80% of what they collect. That’s what I would like to see,” said one attendee. She saw Fremont increase property taxes for local schools, only to see the state decrease its amount of school funding. “What about the other counties that don’t have the ability to raise property taxes to improve their schools?” countered another attendee.
In considering what constituted local government, “The first thing you have to do is define community,” said Melvin Johnson of Fremont. “Is it three cities? One city? A county?”
Ultimately, the conversations all led to reform. “Term limits, three strikes – if we knew then what we know now – we might have considered differently back then… do we reform or do we work around it in an incremental way?” said Dave Fishbaugh, Fremont.
CA Fwd Dialogue Summit – Los Angeles
CA Fwd partnered with the Southern California Leadership Network on Tuesday to talk with people about restructuring – and accountability and transparency were the focus.
“When you give authority to the locals you need to make sure someone is watching them,” said one attendee.
Another attendee lamented, “Voter turnout is awful; you need to figure out how to engage people.”
CA Fwd leadership council member Antonia Hernandez said engagement at the local level can be a good start to reaching solutions and improving governance.
“Is it easier to deal with someone in your neighborhood, or someone way out there? I know that it is hard, and it scares a lot of you, it scares me too, but can we change and impact easier someone in our neighborhood? It is not perfection but, would it be better? Or should we continue the way we are doing things. The change is incremental but we have to start somewhere.”
One attendee told the group the solution is not that far away. “Although the budget cuts are hitting all of us, I think there is still a lot of money out there and the problem is the siloed affect that creates enormous amounts of inefficiency.”
Hernandez said it is up to the people to change things in Sacramento. “We have been working with the Legislature and have asked them to take the lead,” she said. “We are deeply polarized and unless the community engages and kicks them in the butt, they will stay in their comfort zone.”
Association of Black City Attorneys – Los Angeles
A thoughtful, intelligent, deeply engaged group of attorneys gathered for another meeting in Los Angeles to share their thoughts and concerns about restructuring state and local governments.
They focused on the details of implementation and offered several ideas, which will be incorporated into the draft framework.
Though the group remained skeptical that such large-scale change was possible given the current climate, they were happy that California Forward was advancing the plan and working to find real solutions.
Education was the focus of a community-based dialogue in Lafayette on April 21.
Dozens of attendees from the surrounding Lamorinda area came together at the Veterans Memorial Building to discuss the pros and pitfalls of restructuring, with many seeing positives when it came to public schools.
The conversations got intense at points, as the highly informed group delved into the issues facing our state and discussed potential solutions. Many people expressed frustration about the current state of California’s finance and governance system and its impact on students.
When asked about the state-local relationship, Dr. Fred Brill, superintendent of the Lafayette School District, said, “I want a divorce! It’s just not working.”
4th Annual Peninsula Silicon Valley Nonprofit Forum – Redwood City
Around 100 people gathered Friday at the Thrive Alliance of Nonprofits for San Mateo County to have their voice heard. After listening to a presentation by California Forward’s Jessica Williams, groups put their heads together to brainstorm solutions to the problems facing the nonprofit sector in the state.
Many people said that a fully functioning California government would create a more hospitable environment for nonprofits.
“If California worked better, nonprofits would have more stability in funding, consistency, and security, and would therefore better serve the communities we’re working for,” said Alicia Santamaria, principal consultant at Adelante.
California Forward also spoke with business leaders at the ALF Business Journal Roundtable on April 21, South Bay City managers in Rancho Palos Verdes, and the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association.