Vallejo embraces Participatory Budgeting, lets citizens vote on how to spend money

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

(Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary)

From bankruptcy to a city of hope—the city of Vallejo has come a long way.

More than a year ago, the city and its citizens started the first ever city wide Participatory Budgeting (PB) process, where the community decides how to spend $3.2 million dollars from Measure B, a 1 percent sales tax hike voters approved in November 2011.

Recently, nearly 4,000 people cast their votes for up to six projects during a week of voting.

“The Steering Committee said it wanted the best, highest PB voter turnout in the U.S. to date, which was in New York where 2,800 people voted in one of the districts in Brooklyn. We beat that number, by a lot. We beat not only the turnout itself but also the percentage of the population, which the other first high was in Chicago where there was about 2.6 percent of the population of the district and we beat both of those. I just think it shows so much about the power of this process. It’s really brought people together and created something that resonated with them,” said Ginny Browne, Vallejo Community Engagement Coordinator, Participatory Budgeting Process.

Twelve of the 33 projects got the most votes.

“I felt like it was the Oscars! Nobody swept the Oscars, everybody got an award. They walked away with something,” said councilmember Marti Brown, who was instrumental in bringing PB to the city.

They top ones are:

·       Potholes and Street Repair. Cost: $550,000, Votes: 2,296

·       Light Up Vallejo. Cost: $170,000, Votes: 1,618

·       Parks and Recreation Improvements. Costs: $609,500, Votes: 1,322

·       School libraries and S.T.E.A.M. Costs: $270,000, Votes: 1,162

·       Street cleaning & City clean up. Costs: $120,000, Votes: 1,153

“It’s an interesting mix of projects. What it says is, when the public is given the discretion to make decisions, they want a variety of quality of life type projects and programs and they want to sprinkle the money around so that lots of groups get a little bit of it. A good percentage of those projects wouldn’t be the projects that the council would ever vote on, so it’s very revealing of what our community would like to see more of in the city and see funded more,” said councilmember Brown.

The Vallejo City Council will have the final say. It will visit the issue during its May 28 issue. If all is approved, implementation begins the next fiscal year, July 1.

“We’ll be moving into implementation and monitoring. For some of the projects, we might see implementation right away, for others, there’s more of a process, especially for things like capital projects,” said Browne. “We hope the delegates who developed these project ideas will actually play a role in implementing agency to trouble shoot, collaborate, and more.”

California Forward has been following the city of Vallejo throughout this Participatory Budgeting process the past year. California Forward is about getting more people engaged and involved because the more they are, the faster we can fix our government.

“I’m inspired by our whole community because every step of the way when people were asked to step up or do more, they did.  The people owned the process and that’s pretty powerful–where people take responsibility and ownership and it’s no longer treated like an initiative of the council, it’s an initiative of the people. I’m really so impressed and proud of our community,” said councilmember Brown.


Cheryl Getuiza

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