One year ago today, City Council spent a couple hours discussing strategies for engaging a more diverse group of Santa Monicans, particularly the youth.
Last week, city officials released a report on the strategies they executed in 2014 and the ones they’d like to execute this year.
If you’ve been to a council meeting recently, you’ll see a lot of older residents — often the same ones — despite the fact that a quarter of Santa Monicans are between the ages of 20 and 35.
The discrepancy could have something to do with the fact that, according to a survey financed by City Hall, younger Santa Monicans are more likely to be content with the direction the city is heading. But city officials are concerned that it’s also tied to the medium through which they are communicating.
“Local government has been slow to make use of emerging methods of connecting with community members and promoting participation,” city officials said in a report. “Traditional models of engaging in the public decision-making process have proven antiquated in today’s fast-paced world. Local government is faced with managing a vibrant 21st century representative democracy with tools from the late 19th century.”
Last year, city officials engaged the public through classes, talks and art projects.
The People’s Academy was offered twice in 2014. It offered 20 applicants (40 total) a “behind-the-scenes look at local government operations” over the course of six classes. More than 250 people applied for the two classes.
People’s Academy students met with members of the school district and the police and fire chiefs.
“During class participants talked at length with instructors about the consequences and trade-offs of long-term public policy and resource decisions,” officials said in the report. “Rarely did ideas and opinions about the use of public resources align. Participants disagreed, yet everyone remained willing to participate and find solutions to the scenarios presented.”
Two of these academies will be offered in 2015, one starting in April, the other in September.
City Hall also organized a couple art projects through which residents and visitors expressed their feelings about the city. One allowed them to write on chalkboards and the other on nametags.
Most of the responses included in the photos from City Hall are positive, although there is the occasional “I (heart) parking tickets.”
More than 250 people attended at least one of the three November Santa Monica Talks events, which brought together members of the community with big players in City Hall. City Manager Rod Gould was available to talk during the opening event and 70 percent of those in attendance found it highly informative.
Attendance was up 63 percent from 2012 (the event is held every other year).
Notably, a significant number of attendees were between the ages of 25 and 35, according to survey results.
In 2015, City Hall plans on making some technological upgrades to the civic engagement process.
“The ability to submit a chit to speak on a specific Council agenda item electronically will be available in 2015,” city officials said. “Staff is investigating ways for people to track specific issues on a Council agenda and to use technology to participate more easily in the public decision-making process.”
They’re also planning to host events that would bring people together over drinks to talk community and urban life in the 21st century.
The tech community is interested in hosting a hack-a-thon, according to city officials, which would give residents an opportunity to tackle community issues through technology. An app, for example, could make it easier to listen to live city meetings on a smartphone.
“A technological platform,” city officials said, “would complement, not supplant, other non-technology-based ways to connect community members with staff and elected officials.”