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!

Jump to topic:


Common Concerns
1) Has participatory budgeting worked anywhere else?
2) Aren't we supposed to elect professionals to figure out the budget?
3) Can I trust other voters to make good decisions?
4) Does this just give more power to the people who already have the time and resources to go to city meetings?
5) Will the city just ignore the results of the People's Budget?
6) Won't this create more bureaucracy?
7) Who is funding the Community Democracy Project?

1) Has participatory budgeting worked anywhere else?

  • Participatory budgeting has already been implemented in nearly 1,500 municipalities and institutions around the world!
  • The first full participatory budgeting process for a city was implemented in 1989 in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil which at that time had a population of 1.2 million (more than twice the population of Oakland). It was a resounding success – sewer and water connections increased from 75% of households in 1988 to 98% in 1997. The number of schools quadrupled since 1986. The health and education budget increased from 13% (1985) to almost 40% (1996).
  • A decade into the Porto Alegre experiment, the World Bank concluded that the high participation rate suggests that participatory budgeting encourages citizen involvement and can yield long-term sustained institutional and political change.

2) Aren't we supposed to elect professionals to figure out the budget?

  • Currently the mayor and city council are responsible for deciding the city budget.
  • Our initiative changes the process so all Oakland residents have an equal say on how much money goes to things like potholes, housing, and services. Elected officials will still be responsible for overseeing the departments.
  • Direct democracy is a fairer way to make sure our communities are getting the resources that they need.

3) Can I trust other voters to make good decisions?

  • It’s our tax dollars that fund the budget, and each of our communities are impacted by funding priorities – who better to judge what resources are needed than the people living in the community?
  • Only residents who have attended at least one Neighborhood Assembly meeting in the previous year are eligible to vote on the budget. This ensures that voters can make informed decisions.
  • The vote on how much goes to each department from the general fund is averaged out across the city, so no individual has a disproportionate say.
  • City officials will give presentations at Neighborhood Assemblies about the existing budget and the different city departments.
  • Interest groups and NGOs can advocate at meetings for their concerns through presenting, tabling, or simply participating in discussion.
  • Delegates from various City-Wide Committees will make regular reports and recommendations for funding individual programs.
  • People develop collective wisdom through practice and exposure over time. It may take some getting used to, but that’s democracy!

4) Does this just give more power to the people who already have the time and resources to go to city meetings?

  • The system we have now already caters to these folks. A more equitable system is possible. With direct democracy, everyone gets an equal say.
  • A World Bank paper on the implementation of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil concluded that the process directly benefited poorer residents and improved access to public services and amenities; they even called the participation and influence of low-income residents “the primary empowering aspect” of a People’s Budget.
  • This proposal includes dedicated staff to promote the program both city-wide and within specific districts. There will also be mailers and promotions across town.
  • Each Neighborhood Assembly will have a budget for outreach to make sure as many Oaklanders are informed, involved, and engaged as possible.

5) Will the city just ignore the results of the People's Budget?

  • The ballot initiative amends the Oakland city charter, meaning this new process would be law.
  • “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.” –Alice Walker

6) Won't this create more bureaucracy?

  • Democracy is hard! We have busy lives already. But if we don’t take responsibility for cultivating the community we want, someone else will at our expense. The affordable housing crisis, the gentrification, the potholes, the corruption won’t be solved without our vigilant participation. Luckily, we share the responsibility, and we can help each other if we are willing to pitch in.
  • The People's Budget amendment replaces one system for another. Rather than elected officials being lobbied by a select few, all residents will have the opportunity to learn throughout the year and produce a budget that reflects the priorities of everyday life. The new process empowers folks throughout Oakland, not bureaucrats.

7) Who is funding the Community Democracy Project?

  • CDP is an all-volunteer organization that has been working to bring participatory budgeting to Oakland since 2011.
  • Our funds come from membership dues, friends, family, and supporters.
  • You! It's easy to make a donation to help make the People's Budget a reality in Oakland.


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

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *