“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” - Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The core problem behind so many of the issues in our community is that the city has not moved fast enough to respond to the changes in our society.
Our society and the local economy have been changing rapidly around us and the City of Mountain view has not kept up with this pace of change. Right now we have a city trying to respond to 2020 problems with a 1990s set of processes, procedures, and tools.
We deserve to have a city that modernizes its own internal operations and that keeps pace with the vibrancy of our community.
What are some specifics?
Four years ago, the City Council first started to look into recreational vehicles parked on the streets in our community. It took four long years for the city to develop safe parking spaces for 30 vehicles.2 There are an estimated 600 unhoused in our city.3
Three years ago, the City Council approved building housing in the area of Mountain View on the bay side of 101. This vote came after years of study and debate before that. 5 years have gone by since the planning for this project was started and to date construction has not been started on a single housing unit.4
Even small projects take the city of Mountain View an enormously long time. For over two years the city has been looking at constructing a sand volleyball court at Whisman Park. The cost of this project has kept going up. Originally it was expected to cost over $500,000 but now the project will cost an additional $60,000 because of delays.5
How can we fix this problem?
Stop expensive studies and costly delays - more often than not, the city’s existing decision-making pattern looks like this:
- Identify an issue
- Hire a consultant to study the issue for $600,000 - $1,500,0006
- Wait six months to a year for the study results to come back
- Hire a consultant to propose solutions at the cost of millions
- Wait six months to a year for the solutions report to come back
- Vote on instructing staff to come up with a recommended ordinance
- Wait a few months for staff report
- Vote on a solution
- Implementation finally starts years after the issue was identified.
When I was on the City Council in West Lafayette, Indiana we operated with a more productive decision making pattern that looked more like this:
- Identify an issue
- Spend a month holding community meetings, developing city staff research, identifying solutions, and crafting an implementation timeline
- Vote on a first draft of an ordinance less than a month after an issue is identified
There is a lot of suffering that occurs when it takes the city years to respond to issues. We should strive for a quicker, more iterative process with more experimentation.
Increase citizen voice
Increasing the voice of citizens in City Hall is critical to this process. There is no need to spend millions of dollars on consultants to tell you what citizens need when a diverse group of citizens are involved in City Hall, in meetings, and engaged with department advisory committees.
Citizen involvement in government also has the benefit that citizens can alert departments and the City Council to problems in our community much earlier, before they become large issues that require massive responses.
Making it easier for citizens
To increase citizen voice in City Hall, we need to make it easier for people to participate. Right now City Council meetings start at 5pm and often run as late as 2am! Good decisions on policy are not being made at the end of 9 hour meeting marathons. The diversity of voices in City Hall is greatly diminished by this kind of meeting structure. For example, single parents taking care of kids at home are largely excluded from this kind of process.
We must make it easier for citizens to submit comments on city decisions large and small.
We need to make it easy to interact with the city. We shouldn’t require phone calls or faxes but enable citizens to participate in modern, digital ways. Citizens should be able to provide feedback with more inclusive digital tools. We need to develop a fully digital submittal process for all city forms. Mobile websites are a necessity, PDF’s are not ok, and materials must be accessible to all.
We need to transform city workflows so they are transparent and easy to access. When someone makes a request to the city they should be able to see the status of that request the entire time through to resolution. Digital tools can enable everyone to see what the city is working on in their neighborhood.
We need to make meetings less painful and more accessible to everyone in our community.
These are not outlandish ideas requiring massive new investments. These reforms simply require City Hall to conduct its operations in a modern way - the way we all do in our private and work lives every day.