Sunday, June 14, 2015

Letter to the City Manager

Early Lessons Learned from the Current Engagement Activities in SW Santa Rosa
Successful community engagement requires a supportive government partner and a strong community organizations working together to meet community needs.  The current work in SW Santa Rosa demonstrates a need to improve in both of these areas.
A key measure of the success of city government’s support for community engagement will be staff’s ability to plan outreach efforts that work to build community engagement and capacity.  This will require that both the city and county’s planning and operational activities are conducted in collaboration with the community’s own actions as well as planning initiatives of other governmental and civic agencies. 

Santa Rosa Together’s experience over the past three months, talking with City staff responsible for project activities, convinces us that most are aware that community engagement is becoming an increasingly important component of their work.  However, they lack access to information about current and upcoming opportunities for cross-collaboration and, as a result, numerous overlapping meetings (*see list of current activities below) for community input have been planned without adequate consideration for the community’s ability to participate.

As an example of the need for better collaboration, consider the long-anticipated Stony Point Widening and Reconstruction Project.  A decade in the making, undertaking a two-year major transportation disruption, with a management contractor recently selected whose bid contains a Community Outreach Plan and subcontractor. Public Works Management liaison staff were easily convinced to explore the possibility of collaboration with the current City-initiated Roseland Area Projects Steering Committee and the County-initiated Roseland Village Neighborhood Center Steering Committee for this outreach.  But this planning and collaboration are happening because community members brought the staff together.  No system exists within the City to identify and promote community planning collaboration opportunities at the staff level.

We believe that the responsibility for providing the information on community activities that city departments will need to improve collaboration and support community engagement will be a responsibility of the new Director of Community Engagement.  But, until this new Director is in place, we encourage the City Manager to find a way to ensure that the work in SW Santa Rosa is planned and coordinated to meet community needs.  This will help to deepen community understanding of the city’s activities, maximize volunteer energy and effectiveness, and improve outcomes. It will also go a long way to avoiding citizen burn out and confusion that can result when multiple community input initiatives seek out citizen feedback and advice. 

The second, and equally important, key to success of the city government’s support for community engagement is the recognition of the importance of helping to build strong community organizations that have the ability to partner with their government and lead efforts to address community concerns.  The lack of a strong community organization in SW Rosa that can unite the community and represent community concerns is a key to both the city’s and the community’s success.  The outreach work and focus on SW Santa Rosa that current city projects are undertaking present a great opportunity to help community members form the organization that they will need to strengthen their community.  But, to date, none of the city and county projects have made support for the formation of a community organization a goal for their work.  Adopting this goal would change the way work is done so that it consciously works to bring residents together and builds their capacity to take the lead in their community.  The current work has created separate community advisory groups for each project and has planned conflicting meetings that divide rather than give community members a chance to come together and work towards building an organization that can unite the community.  We strongly encourage the city and county to make the goal of building a community organization a part of all work in SW Santa Rosa.

In summary, currently community engagement activities in SW Santa Rosa are being conducted by four City departments and one County department: community development, public works, transit, and police.  We recommend that until you have a Community Engagement Manager in place that you find a way to ensure that the city and county work in SW Santa Rosa is better coordinated and planned so that it supports community engagement and community organization.

*We list here all the community inputs are being sought in SW SR:
Roseland Village Neighborhood Center
Roseland Creek Community Park
Stony Point Rd Widening and Reconstruction (between Sebastopol Rd and Hearn Ave)
Roseland Area Projects Steering Committee
Reimaging CityBus

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