Santa Monica, for about a century, has been a hub of major technological innovation.
For much of the 20th century, Santa Monica was where some of the most important advances in aviation and aeronautics technology happened. Before the war, the first plane to fly around the globe was designed and built here.
Now, at the start of the 21st century, Santa Monica is at the center of a new, greener technological revolution.
Unlike the engineers employed by aviation and aeronautics industries that called Santa Monica home in the middle of last century, Santa Monica’s new crop of innovators aren’t trying to circumnavigate the world by plane or design better missiles. They are focused on finding solutions to the problems we face in our day-to-day lives, whether it’s by making it easier to get to work without driving, finding a sitter for your dog while you’re on vacation, or even connecting caregivers with homebound seniors.
Santa Monica is home to hundreds of tech startups and we are attracting more and more talented entrepreneurs with potentially world-changing ideas to our city every month.
With all this happening in our backyard, Santa Monica is in a unique position to harness the creative energy of “Silicon Beach” to help bring City Hall into the 21st century, using technology to lower the barriers to civic engagement for all those who live, work, and play in Santa Monica.
Santa Monica is, in many ways, miles ahead of other cities when it comes to offering innovative ways to engage local government. The People’s Academy, the social media campaign surrounding plans to rethink Lincoln Boulevard, and the city’s new open data portal are all examples of Santa Monica taking steps to change the way we engage with City Hall.
Video and audio archives for the City Council, Planning Commission, and other important meetings are readily available online for anyone to access any time. So are the agendas for these meetings.
Still, to many who are trying to get a career off the ground, starting a family, or otherwise busy building a life in Santa Monica, the public process can appear cumbersome, byzantine, and downright inscrutable.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at a City Council meeting, the stage where many important debates have been playing out, whether it’s about zoning or the future of AirBnB.
The barriers to participate in these public debates are often prohibitive for many, except those with the most permissive schedules. The process selects out people who, for whatever reason, can’t be at City Hall at 5 p.m. on any given Tuesday and can’t afford to wait around for hours to speak for two minutes.
Not to mention how difficult it is for anyone juggling a life to even keep abreast of the many issues debated and decided on at the various boards and commissions.
Civic participation is still, at all levels of government around the world, an overwhelmingly analog process in an increasingly digital age. As a result, more and more voices are being left out of important discussions about their future.
While this is a global problem, Santa Monica, with its deep pool of talent, its culture of robust civic engagement, and the desire to bring new people to the table, can be the place where the solution to this problem begins.
Our civic discourse only benefits from diversity, and the more members of the community our leaders can hear from – whether they live, work, visit, or run a business here – before important decisions are made, the better our government becomes.
By Lizzy Tooke, Cynthia Rose, Juan Matute, Judy Abdo, Carl Hansen on behalf of Santa Monica Forward.