Vallejo Launches Participatory Budgeting

18 Feb
Image from Participatory Budgeting Vallejo

Image from Participatory Budgeting Vallejo

This month, ELP Advisors decided to mix things up a bit and invite a friend and colleague to share her experiences with our readers. Exciting innovations in sustainable development and civic engagement abound and we wanted to bring you an insider’s perspective for one of the topics that we covered back in 2012. We wrote a while back about participatory budgeting [PDF] and wanted to follow-up with an example from California. We’ve invited Ginny Browne from the Participatory Budgeting Project to share some insights from their experiment in Vallejo. Enjoy!

By: Ginny Browne

Just more than a year after emerging from bankruptcy, the Bay Area City of Vallejo is making a new name for itself as a national leader in civic engagement. Last September, Vallejo took this historic step by becoming the first U.S. city to launch participatory budgeting citywide.

Participatory Budgeting, which started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989, gives community residents the chance to decide how to spend a portion of a public budget. The process currently takes place in 1,500 locations around the world, but it didn’t come to the U.S. until 2009. Since then, Chicago and New York City have implemented Participatory Budgeting in a number of wards and council districts.

The Vallejo City Council voted last spring to allocate $3.2 million for Participatory Budgeting, using 30% of the expected revenue from a recent voter-approved sales tax measure. The City contracted The Participatory Budgeting Project to implement the new budgeting model in Vallejo. A Steering Committee of 20 community organizations, nominated by City Council, designed and oversees the process, which culminates in a citywide vote in May open to all Vallejo residents over the age of 16.

The first phase of the process took place in the fall when Vallejoans attended a series of nine community assemblies to discuss the city’s most pressing needs and brainstorm project ideas they would like to see funded through Participatory Budgeting. In all, 806 participants submitted 819 project ideas at the assemblies and online, including community gardens, public Wi-Fi, arts and recreation programs for youth and seniors, street repairs and lighting, a microenterprise fund, job training programs, cultural events, and streetscape improvements to enhance pedestrian safety. Unlike in Chicago and NYC, where Participatory Budgeting funds can only be used for capital projects, programs and service projects are eligible for earmarked funds in Vallejo.

From now through April, nearly 120 volunteers are serving as “budget delegates” to turn the citywide brainstorm into a slate of concrete projects with concrete costs for the May ballot. The delegate committees, including a youth committee and a Spanish language committee, are currently meeting with staff of city departments and agencies to research the costs and feasibility of project ideas. Before the citywide vote, delegates will bring their short list of full-fledged proposals back to the community in a series of project expos. After May’s election, projects that receive the most votes up to the point that the $3.2 million limit is reached will be sent to City Council for final approval.

Vallejo Participatory Budgeting has garnered media attention from a wide range of outlets, including the national FOX News Network and the good government think-tank California Forward. To watch a recent video on PB Vallejo by California Forward, click here. For more information about participatory budgeting in Vallejo and around the world, visit http://www.pbvallejo.org/ and http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/.

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