Over the past month, members of Santa Rosa Together have had the opportunity of meeting with every member of the Santa Rosa City Council and the City Manager. Responding to our requests to help us assess the progress being made by the City to open government, encourage civic engagement, and conduct the city’s business in partnership with the community, the reports we received were that those efforts have just begun, and we’ll know more in 2016. A year after the Council accepted the Open Government Task Force Report, many of its recommended actions are being implemented.
The Report asked the Council to improve and expand the opportunities for citizens to be heard on important public policy issues. In 2015, the Council and City Manager responded by including civic engagement components into all significant development projects, re-instituted and re-charged the Community Advisory Board (CAB), and hired a Community Engagement Director reporting to the City Manager. Currently engaged in conducting the City’s first, CAB-hosted participatory budgeting process for the development of the Capital Improvement Budget, and a broader Sunshine Ordinance, the Community Engagement Director is making the rounds of community groups to develop new partnerships.
In 2015, Santa Rosa and the County conducted more and better meetings to engage resident participation than in any year in recent history. Area zoning code development, annexation planning, park master planning, transit imagining, commercial and housing redevelopment, street upgrading and traffic circulation, website expansion, and downtown square reunification all included greatly-enlarged civic engagement components.
But any assessment of the City’s progress has to go beyond meeting and participant numbers, communication capabilities, and intensity of collaboration. 2016 will provide us with opportunities to witness the outcomes of these efforts when many key recommendations for change are brought before the Council. We'll be interested in how residents feel about whether their participation has resulted in the inclusion or consideration of their ideas and concerns. We’ll use those moments to again evaluate the results of civic engagement and open government, and hope that we’re pleased with the answers.