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On Participation

2018-06-14 22:56:39.267665+00 by Dan Lyke 3 comments

There is currently a fairly contentious issue in Petaluma. Developers of commercial projects over $500k have to put 1% of the cost of the project towards public art. Developers can either choose to manage this art themselves, as those behind the recent Deer Creek project did, or to give it to the city, where the Petaluma Public Art Committee (PPAC) can decide how to use it.

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#Comment Re: On Participation made: 2018-06-14 22:56:55.52217+00 by: Dan Lyke


The developers of the East Washington Place (Target/Sprouts/Dick's) chose the latter path.

Last night I went to a meeting in which discussion about the art of the current PPAC decision and resulting uproar was prohibited; the focus was on the process: How can we get all of the energy that's currently roiling around the proposal involved earlier? What's necessary to get buy-in for a committee led process? Those sorts of questions.

The PPAC is made up of volunteers appointed by council. The city often has trouble finding people to serve on these committees, so the primary requirement is being willing to show up (I served on the Technology Advisory Committee for a term and a half a few years ago). The requirement they don't tell you about ahead of time is to take the state Brown Act ethics training, and abide by those conditions during your term, which can be a pain in the ass (for instance: meetings of more than a quorum of the members must be noticed and run according to various rules, including "serial meetings", so it's possible to violate the terms by talking to a quorum of members about a topic at different times; it's easier to just not talk about committee topics with anyone during the term *except* during public meetings).

As I understand it, there was an initially aborted process in which the PPAC solicited proposals from various artists with the intent of giving some grants to explore ideas. That process failed.

PPAC then restarted the artist search, which resulted in narrowing down a list to two artists, David Best (known for his Burning Man temples) and Brian Goggin (known for Defenestration, among other works).

The greater grant is for a stretch of Water Street along the Petaluma river, a fairly narrow area which needs to be kept open for at least pedestrian traffic for several festivals held there, and probably also for parking and delivery traffic. For this reason, Best was given a secondary spot and Goggin was chosen to do the primary spot.

Goggin then had two meetings with people on site, talked with people about their concerns ("no more chickens" came up).

He then went away and came up with drawings, and presented those drawings at two meetings at Aqus Cafe, and all hell broke loose. There's a large contingent against the design; a huge number of speakers at the last City Council meeting, it's going to end up on the Council agenda.

So at least one member of PPAC is wondering what more they could have done to prevent people from being blindsided by this. The discussions all happened in public (at the meetings). The committee made extensive efforts to do community outreach, and got 5-20 people each time that they got anybody to show up. The process has been well documented, and because of the earlier false starts, in the public consciousness for years (I was aware of the earlier false starts).

But the problem goes deeper than PPAC: There's also a controversial new development on the outskirts of town, and I saw someone on Nextdoor write "how could this have been sprung on us?"

I went back in my email inbox and found mention of it from 4 years ago. "Sprung"? It was in casual mention 4 years ago.

So where do y'all get your news? What does it tell you about your town? When you're involved in a committee (be it of a square dancing club or a town or whatever), how do you get buy-in from non-committee members? If you're not on the committee, what does it take for you to not second-guess the committee decision?

Because a number of us are looking for solutions. That may involve proposals to the local paper. It may involve alternatives to that paper. But we gotta do something, we can't keep asking people to serve their town and then piss all over them when the outcome of the projects they're deeply invested in isn't to our liking: Pretty soon we're gonna run out of volunteers.

#Comment Re: On Participation made: 2018-06-14 23:19:54.324379+00 by: DaveP

My neighborhood has a newspaper which is delivered free to the door of every house in the neighborhood, though the delivery company is pretty bad about hiding the paper under rose bushes, on top of the porch roof, or wherever the delivery guy happens to throw it as he drives past in his car, and most public meetings are reported in there.

But we’re also Minnesotans and our neighborhood associations have pretty good participation, eh. The fact that we have neighborhood associations is an interesting topic for another time.

The Brown Act requirements sound like a pretty good brake on citizen participation, though. And my memory of California local governance was that there was a lot of people being surprised by things that had been going on but which they didn’t notice until after the decision had been made. So I guess it doesn’t sound too surprising to me.

#Comment Re: On Participation made: 2018-06-17 20:37:24.198777+00 by: concept14

People resist being informed. The same ones who complained about the new developments being "sprung" on them have probably been looking at Nextdoor every day but skipping over every post that wasn't about lost dogs.

Where do I get my local news? Nextdoor, local Facebook groups, even the local newspaper (which I am more likely to read the email highlights, because delivery of the dead tree version struggles to reach one 9 of reliability).

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