Eight Chapters, Thousands of Members, One Voice

Inclusive Decision Making

A vibrant and engaged community is more likely to be safer, healthier, resilient, more economically sustainable and economically robust. Civic input has a profound impact on the policies that drive the decision making process in all neighborhoods and communities in California.

Civic input is highly valued by elected officials, in part, because the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946 codified the process for public participation in terms of regulatory rule making. This means elected officials are required to solicit public input. But that is not the full story of why elected officials seek civic input and appreciate high levels of public participation.

MLK Park OaklandThe key reason decision makers love for residents to be engaged at the very beginning and through every step of the decision making process is that it provides ownership to the community. MLK Park in Oakland is a great example of this notion. The soccer/football fields are 3 years old and are still in pristine condition. Since the community designed it, they take care of it.

The current model in many communities throughout California relies on a ‘traditional’ set of tools to engage residents, among these more traditional tools, public surveys, visioning workshops, town hall meetings and public hearings are most frequently used. In theory, these numerous tools all sound like fine engagement strategies, but anyone who has sat through one of these traditional meetings knows…well…that they are not always fun. Moreover, they are often scheduled inconveniently, making it difficult for the community members to show up. Hence, this model of public participation processes can be exceptionally disengaging, even for those who care deeply about the issues involved.

Cities throughout California have identified this problem and begun to move to a more digital form of engaging readily available, they are often challenging to locate and understand. More usable interfaces are needed, as well as broader web-based on the record communication between governments and citizens. Simply put, the power of networks and the web have not reached their full potential, yet. social media icon images

The time has come to transition from yet to now. In doing so, the public participation processes ought to be reformed to accommodate more extensive and effective participation pertaining to all community stakeholders. Making the engagement process fun and more effective through the use of creative civic engagement tools is the next watershed breakthrough in community decision-making.

By introducing more public participation opportunities, decision makers and organizations alike can offer communities the opportunity to find the most appropriate method of involvement and participation for each individual stakeholder. This can be done by using innovative visual-art techniques, social-networking, smartphone apps, computer simulation games, exhibits, music, performances, festivals and community gatherings to engage residents and spur them to share their thoughts on civic issues.

Creating simple, engaging, and easily available updates fosters a greater possibility and likelihood of ongoing participation. This is extremely important when implementing statewide policies, such as SB 375 the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008.  As the implementation of state policy rolls out, tools such as ISEEED’s Streetwize platform presents a significant opportunity to digitally engage residents, especially youth!


Streetwize, as well as a myriad of other software programs, such as Community PlanItNeighborhland, and Texizen, offer residents the ability to connect to their local governments. An added benefit of utilizing digital tools, such as these or others, is that they ought to allow residents and decision makers the ability to benchmark building and neighborhood performance data. This fosters an implementation process that ensures outcome-based approaches

While the digitizing of civic engagement creates opportunities for expanded public participation in the decision-making process, this does not mean that a complete tradeoff ought to be made. Yes, communities should carefully examine what technological tools are available to spur civic engagement. Notwithstanding, they should also continue in-person meetings for those residents who prefer talking in person. The prime goal ought to be to increase stakeholder participation, not trade one input segment of our communities for another.

mayor chip johnson

Great Ideas, Cool Plans & IFDs

By Scott Watkins

mayor chip johnson“A healthy community is not just a feel-good thing – it impacts economic development and fiscal health,” says Hernando, Mississippi mayor Chip Johnson.[i] Current projections put Mississippi’s obesity liabilities hitting $3 billion within the next 4 years on a total annual state budget of $5 billion. Yet Mayor Johnson has found a way to reduce Hernando’s resident’s taxes 15% percent a year and give city employees a 2% pay increase at the same time.

All of this was made possible by employee participation in Blue Cross & Blue Shield’s Healthy Workplace program. Imagine working at a place that requires you go for a walk on your lunch break – and gives you a raise for making it a habit! While you’re out on a mid-day walk, you pick up fresh fruits and vegetables at the local farmers market for lunch and dinner. Not only will you receive a pay increase but you’ll also feel better and help strengthen your local economy[ii] by putting cash directly in the hands of local farmers.

Understanding the connection between health and the economy can be a missing link in creating thriving communities. Of course, capital-financing strategies to implement successful programs that help residents live healthy with new playgrounds, walking trails, bike paths, as well as a farmers’ market and a community garden can be a major stumbling block to succeeding at Hernando’s level.

map_of_hernando_msBut making it easier for residents to be active within the context of their everyday routines doesn’t take an overwhelming amount of cash. Existing deficiencies within communities built environment can be funded through a wide number of funding methods.

A simple way to fund healthy neighborhood improvements is by coupling design standard enhancements with developer impact fees. By strengthening and streamlining community design standards through general plan, specific plan or neighborhood plans, communities can spur development. Along with updated design standards, communities ought to reexamine the nexus between their fee schedules and development costs associated with tying new developments with existing.

Often the combination of a “timing gap” and a developer preference for developing where communities have already invested in infrastructure make impact fees alone impractical to fund comprehensive infrastructure projects.

In California, Senator Lois Wok’s promising SB 33 sought to remove some of the barriers to Infrastructure Funding Districts (IFDs) and create a more viable funding and financing mechanism for comprehensive infrastructure by “capturing” incremental increases of property tax revenues from future development.[iii]

But unfortunately, IFDs face an upward climb in a hostile climate. They have a very similar approach to funding projects as the now defunct California Redevelopment Association’s Tax Increment Financing Fund. Due to the perceived similarity between the two, the historic misuse of redevelopment funds, and Governor Brown’s 2012 veto of Senator Wolk’s substantially similar SB 214, this may be an idea ahead of its time. SB 33 was recently placed in the Assembly inactive file.

A combination of emerging funding techniques such as Social Finances’ “Social Impact Bonds” may be the financing vehicles to foster social innovation and improve existing infrastructure.

A Social Impact Bond is an innovative financing mechanism designed to raise private-sector capital to expand effective social service programs. SIBs are a way to finance pay-for-success contracts, which allow government to pay only for results. If a program funded by SIBs achieves successful outcomes,[iv] which are defined and agreed upon in advance by all parties to the contract, government repays investors their principal plus a rate of return based on the program’s success. If outcomes are not achieved, on the other hand, government is not obligated to repay investors.[v]

Social Impact Bonds are already being leveraged to mediate the impact of complex social issues, such as Recidivism and Asthma, in 11 states across the country.[vi] [vii] The California Endowment and the Rockefeller Foundations are playing a key role in helping to accelerate the rigorous data collection and evaluation procedures associated with demonstrating the social and financial benefits of using Social Impacts Bonds.  According to the Rockefeller Foundation’s Kippy Joseph, Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are the “tip of the spear of innovative financing instruments that can be put to use for the benefit of society.”[viii]

Eventually the conversation ought to change to “cool plan… who’s going to save from it?” and the answer ought to be the taxpayers.

[i] Bailey, H. (2011, February 23) Hernando: A Small Mississippi Town Bucks a Statewide Trend. Memphis Daily News, pp. A1, A4

[ii] Mitchell, S. (2000). The Home Town Advantage: How to Defend Your Main Street Against Chain Stores… and Why It Matters. Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

[iii] City of Salinas Site Opportunities and Constraints; Salinas Economic Development Strategy (2014). Economic & Planning Systems

[iv] Historically, government payment to service providers has been based on outputs rather than outcomes. The metrics associated with outputs usually focus on head count, for example the number of people enrolled in a program or the number of families served. Outcomes measurement, by contrast, focuses on the impact of the service with regard to achieving desired benefits, such as the reduction in prison recidivism or the number of people who gain long-term employment as a result of the program.

[v] Hughes, J. Scherer, J. (2014) Foundations for Social Impact Bonds; How and Why Philanthropy Is Catalyzing the Development of a New Market. Social Finance

[vi] Harvard Kennedy School, Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab. Accessed April 17, 2014 http://hks-siblab.org

[vii] Asthma management demonstration project in Fresno, CA paves way for Social Impact Bond. (2013) Social Finance. Accessed April 17, 2014 http://www.socialfinanceus.org/sites/socialfinanceus.org/files/Fresno%20Asthma%20Demonstration%20Project%20Press%20Release.pdf

[viii] Reflections from the Aspen Institute Event on “Foundations for Social Impact Bonds.” (2013) Social Finance. Accessed on April 17, 2014 http://socialfinanceusblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/reflections-from-the-aspen-institute-event-on-foundations-for-social-impact-bonds/

USGBC PolicyPalooza Logo 2014

PolicyPalooza 2014

USGBC PolicyPalooza Logo 2014 That special time is coming near: PolicyPalooza! Our annual Advocacy Day will be concurrent with the Green California Summit and promises to be a great big three-ring circus of fun, featuring our Day at the Capital, the Advocates Luncheon and the Green Hard Hat Awards Reception as well as special Green California Summit keynotes from Building Health Initiative leader Anne Simpson of CalPERS and Wade Crowfoot of the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research. In addition to the USGBC California booth (#608) on the exhibit floor, there will be USGBC “Greenbuild-style” presentations on Prop 39 programs, school water management, “Grey, Purple, Green” water policy, “Last Mile” code discussions and reports from USGBC Northern California Chapter’s Building Health Initiative.

USGBC Advocates from around the state will gather at the Capital for over 70 meetings and discuss “mainstreaming” topics like driving sustainable market transformation, specifying healthier building materials,  fostering innovative building permit delivery and enforcement metrics, codifying foundational greywater and recycled water plumbing and leveraging building energy data beyond the benchmark.

The Class of 2014 Green Hard Hat Awardees features water policy leader Assemblymember Mike Gatto (legislative sponsor of the dual-use plumbing “Purple Pipe” bill, AB 2282), energy efficiency policy leader Assemblymember Das Williams (sponsor of  the “Last Mile” energy code enforcement legislation, AB 1918) and Dan Burgoyne of the Department of General Services, point person for implementing the Governor’s Executive Order B-18-12 on State BuildingsResiliency_Doug and Ann_sm and statewide water management and other worthy initiatives. These notables follow in the footsteps of past champions like Governor Brown Senators Kevin de Leon,  Fran Pavley and Darrell Steinberg, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

A great, exhausting time will be sure to be had by all. We’ll be posting scenes of Green Hard Hat wearing in the near future.