Creating holistic approaches, taxing the Internet, and constructing vibrant cities – those are just some ideas that a group of Santa Clara County leaders say could become reality through cohesive government restructuring.
California Forward has been traveling the state for nine months gathering public opinion on its plan to help state and local governments work together without redundancies or neglect. Friday’s meeting was a little different though. It was the very first gathering focused on the specifics of how these proposed policies might actually work in the real world. Attendees were put into four groups: Public Safety, Health, Education, and Increasing Employment/Decreasing Poverty. Each group used its expertise and the restructuring framework to come up with solutions.
The education group said with increased funds from a streamlined government, they could create a new local agency – the ‘Department of Human Development’ – to group all resources for kids under the same umbrella.
“For example, at the city level they have funds for truancy, and at the county level they have mental health money for students. This department would bring those resources under the same management,” said Leon Beauchman, American Leadership Forum senior fellow and board member for the Santa Clara County Office of Education. “It would also be able to look at policies at a local level and examine how they affect kids. So if a city wanted to close libraries, this department would release a ‘Child Impact Statement,’ on what it would mean for children in the area.”
Malka Kopell of California Forward said the education group’s idea was indicative of a theme: most groups were looking to deal with problems holistically. “You’re focused not just on improving schools, but looking at each kid as a whole,” said Kopell.
The health group suggested that, to achieve a healthy population, they could focus on smart land use and having people live near their jobs and kids’ schools. This would cut down on pollution and increase family bonding time. The group also wanted to spend more resources on prevention, focusing on wellness instead of illness.
Prevention was key for the public safety group as well.
“Prevention is now very hard to fund, but that could be changed if it were incentivized,” said Andrea Fife of the American Leadership Forum, which co-hosted the event.
Fife’s group also suggested fundraising ideas that are currently prohibited, including taxing medical marijuana and the internet or adding a five cent tax to every alcoholic drink served.
However, the groups saw several challenges in making these programs a reality. Specifically, creating uniformity across the state while respecting that individual communities have different problems and standards for success. In addition, public support is necessary to get programs off the ground.
“The real challenge in making this plan work is communication,” said Beauchman. “How do you simplify this, so if I’m in an elevator and have to explain this to someone, I can do it quickly.”
Everyone agreed to keep the dialogue going through future meetings and social networking.