Vallejo residents fired up about citizen engagement, get ready to head to polls

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

(Photo: Philip Taylor)

How would you spend $3.2 million dollars of a city’s budget? That is the ultimate question. And who better to tackle that monster of a question than the citizens in the city of Vallejo, who have been making news lately with their participatory budgeting model.

A volunteer citizens group has been tasked with coming up with ideas on what to do with the cash through Participatory Budgeting.  

Vallejo, a city just north of San Francisco, has been making history with this first ever citywide process.  In April 2012, the city council passed the resolution for the first city-wide project in the nation.

It’s been a busy year.

“To come full circle, a year late, and see the projects that will be on the ballot, has been a real milestone for the city and the citizens,” said council member Marti Brown.

California Forward caught up with the Steering Committee of Vallejo’s Participatory Budgeting in December. 

Residents spent the last few months of 2012, brainstorming ideas during nine separate assemblies, attended by more than 100 people each.

A group called the delegation, worked, with city staff, to narrow down 830 ideas to 36 projects.

“They combed through the ideas, evaluated them prioritized them, did research on the ideas that seemed to really resonate with the community. Then, they wrote up a list of proposals that they gave to the city leaders in March,” said Ginny Browne, Vallejo Community Engagement coordinator, Participatory Budgeting Project.

“The budget delegates have been a very committed and dedicated group of people,” said the councilwoman.

Those ideas were recently presented to the community through a series of “science fair” like expos to “get feedback from the community. The community learned about the decision making process and really what the work was that was done on these ideas,” said Browne.

Starting May 11th and for an entire week, citizens 16 years old and up will vote their top 6 projects to spend the $3.2 million.

Yup, you read right. Sixteen year olds will head to the polls, so to speak, to cast their votes.

“What I observed, when you give young people the same tools and information that you give adults, and you ask them to step up, they do,” said councilmember Brown.

There will be three voting sites. Also, to ensure, everyone gets a chance to participate, there will be mobile sites. 

“We’re going to churches, we’re going to local high schools, transit centers and some grocery stores, throughout the week,” said Browne.

The votes will be counted and announced May 19th during a big celebration. The projects with the most votes will go forward to the city council for final approval.

“Some projects range from $600,000, while others are $15,000 so it really depends on how much those top projects costs,” said Browne.  

From bankruptcy rubble to model city? Folks here like to think so. 

“We’ve already had representatives from other cities—from Richmond, Merced, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose—including mayors and councilmembers—to see participatory budgeting in action and really learn about how this might be able to work in their home towns,” said Browne.

“Movement, on this project, has been positive– the enthusiasm and citizens championing it—they own it. It’s the people’s process, the people’s budget. They own it. It has nothing to do with the city council or city staff anymore. That is the testimony that democracy is working. Democracy just doesn’t get any better than that,” said Brown.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza