Not sure how our initiative would work? Watch the video below, made just for you by the CDP team to explain how our initiative would contribute to lasting change in Oakland!

Community Democracy Project from Tia Katrina Taruc Canlas on Vimeo.

Still got questions? We got answers!

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Neighborhood Assemblies
1) How do people get properly informed about the budget?
2) How is the agenda set for the meetings?
3) How often & where are the assembly meetings?
4) How do people make decisions?
5) How can NGOs & CBOs interface with the NAs?
6) How to encourage participation (especially of folk from marginalized groups)?
7) What does a typical meeting look like?
8) How to make sure people listen to/learn from each other?
9) How are the neighborhoods determined? How big are the NAs?

1) How do people get properly informed about the budget?

  • City officials will present at regular Neighborhood Assembly (NA) meetings about the overall budget and particular city departments/programs.
  • NGOs and interest groups will advocate at meetings for their concerns, through presenting, tabling, or simply participating in discussion.
  • Delegates from various CWCs will make regular reports.
  • People will develop “collective wisdom” through practice and exposure over time.

2) How is the agenda set for the meetings?

Except for the annual city budget vote, the Directors of each Neighborhood Assembly set the meeting agenda based on decisions at prior meetings, interests of community members, and availability of presenters. (See sample NA meeting agenda attached.)

3) How often & where are the assembly meetings?

Meetings are held once a month, at least 10 months of the year, at locations provided or subsidized by the city. NAs may choose to meet more. Each NA may also form working groups or committees to meet at other times.

4) How do people make decisions?

Decisions are made by a majority vote, and all decisions can be amended later by the NA. People can vote to elect directors, put forth a proposal, create a committee or sub-committee, and more. People must get the chance to deliberate before voting. There must be at least 30 neighborhood residents aged 16 years or older present for a vote to happen.

5) How to encourage participation (especially of folk from marginalized groups)?

  • When people see that their voices matter in city budget decisions, they are more likely to participate.
  • There will be a dedicated staff to promote the program both city-wide and within targeted 
  • neighborhoods. There will also be city-wide mailings and promotions.
  • The Directors of the NAs are local leaders elected by their neighborhood. They will have incentives to promote wide-ranging involvement in their NAs. Moreover, each NA will have a budget for outreach.

6) What does a typical meeting look like?

A typical meeting might last 2-3 hours and include: openers from local elders; reports from subcommittees; a presentation with Q&A from city officials; a panel with CBOs and local activists; and group discussions on neighborhood issues. (See sample NA meeting agenda attached.)

7) How to make sure people listen to/learn from each other?

Three to five local directors will organize each meeting, and they will have ongoing training in facilitation. Plus, many individuals and organizations with expertise in group process will be able to share their skills with the NAs. 

8) How are the neighborhoods determined? How big are the NAs?

NAs will correspond to subdivisions of the current Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) districts. Each area will consist of 3,000 to 5,000 people, so there will be about 100 NAs in all. (Each NCPC will be divided in half, with the exact boundaries determined by the local residents.)

9) How can NGOs/CBOs interface with NAs?

NGOs, CBOs, and interest groups will naturally want to distribute informational materials, make presentations, and hold workshops at NAs related to their particular areas of expertise. The exact manner for this will be determined by each NA or citywide committee.

Program Administration
1) Who are the NA Directors?
2) Who are the DBP staff?
3) Who hires/oversees the staff?
4) How does the program evolve over time?
5) What will it all cost?
6) Is this legal? Is this constitutional?

1) Who are the NA Directors?

The NAs Directors are 3-5 locally elected volunteer leaders who organize the meetings and manage the NA operating budgets. Directors are elected for 2-year terms, and are provided with training and leadership development opportunities. They serve on the citywide Congress of Directors that oversees the overall Democratic Budgeting Program. They cannot serve consecutive terms, though they can stand again after a hiatus. There is staggering so that incoming and experienced folk overlap.

2) Who are the DBP staff?

The DBP will have two kinds of staff, Coordinators and Organizers. The Coordinators are 7 full-time staff (1 per council district) that support the DBP by maintaining databases, websites, promoting the DBP to the public, supporting the NA Directors, managing the DBP Organizers, and supporting the city-wide committees. The Organizers are 21 half-time staff—3 per council district—that promote the program at the neighborhood level and assist the Coordinators.

3) Who hires/oversees the staff?

Coordinators hire Organizers as assistants to them. Coordinators are hired at district-wide launching forums. Afterward, their work is overseen by the Congress of Directors.

4) How does the program evolve over time?

Draft proposals to amend the program come from the NAs and are developed by the city-wide Congress of Directors. The final versions are voted on by the people in the NAs.

5) What will it all cost?

About $2.5 million per year. This is less than 0.3% of the overall city budget, and includes staff pay, NA operating funds, etc.

6) Is this legal? Is this constitutional?

Passing a charter amendment means changing the law, so in this sense, it is legal. Could we beat any lawsuits brought by those who want to maintain the status quo? Would the relevant courts agree with us? There is nothing in our research that says we cannot do it. The law is always a matter of historical and political struggle.


Budget Vote
1) How does the budget allocation vote work?
2) How do program/department-specific proposals get made?
3) What will guarantee we don't get a whacked out budget in the end?
4) How to use the expertise that already exists in the departments/among city officials?

1) How does the budget allocation vote work?

There are two funds that voters have power over:

  1. General funds: Voters see a list of the departments of the city, with their current percentages of the general funds budget. Voters decide what they want the percentages to be. All the voters' choices are averaged. This becomes the general funds allocation for the following fiscal year.
  2. Special funds: For more specific uses. CWCs with expertise in the relevant departments submit proposals for which departments should get which funds. Voters then choose between the CWC proposal and any alternative proposal from city officials. The allocation is the average.

2) How do program/department-specific proposals get made?

People who have ideas for specific programs or departmental changes submit proposals to their NA. If the NA votes to pass, then the proposal gets sent to the appropriate CWC specializing in that aspect of city operations. Each CWC discusses and synthesizes the proposals they receive into an alternative budget for their department. Voters then decide between the budget submitted by the CWCs and any alternative submitted by the department. (The departments & CWCs use the allocations already set in the previous year as their baseline for program planning.)

3) What will guarantee we don't get a whacked out budget in the end?

A whacked-out budget is what characterizes the status quo. People in the NAs will certainly be no worse—and will probably be better—at balancing diverse interests and hearing the voices of the disadvantaged than the special interests that dominate policy-making today. In any case, since the budget allocation vote is an average, extremes will tend to be balanced.

4) How to use the expertise that already exists in the departments/among city officials?

City officials will be motivated to share their insights to and hear feedback from the public gathered at the Neighborhood Assemblies, and the space will exist to encourage dialogue and transparency. Moreover, department officials will be encouraged to share information with the CWCs. This is again in their interest, as they would want to influence any alternative budget to be proposed by the CWCs. And finally, city employees are also city residents who will want to have their say at the NAs.

Sample Neighborhood Assembly Agenda

  • Opening: Music by women's choir
    1. Welcome from Directors & shout-outs from visitors
    2. Brief review of last month's minutes
    3. Reports from subcommittees
      1. Graffiti subcommittee
      2. Street party subcommittee
    4. Reports from city-wide committees (includes time for feedback)
      1. Parks & recs (no delegate; video)
      2. Library & after-school programs (delegate)
      3. Fire (written)

 

  • Mid-Meeting Break: Entertainment by local youth dance crew; tea/cookies generously provided for free by Maple's Catering
    1. Presentation on police budget (2nd in two-part series)
    2. Discussion of presentation
    3. New proposals for subcommittees and city-wide committees
    4. General discussion
    5. Appreciation of note-takers and meeting assistants; task assignments for next meeting

 

  • Wrap-up

 

 

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