Guest column: Improving community participation
I recently wrote an article that highlighted a need for greater community involvement in city issues. My intent was to incite action from those who feel they are underrepresented, be it our youth, members of our Latino community, or even those in our progressive older population who are tired of being lumped in with the people who are fine leaving our town the way it is. We all recognize South Lake Tahoe has some unique issues, but what are the next steps in improving community participation? I’m not claiming to have all the answers, but here are just a few suggestions:
Move City Council meetings to nights. If Sacramento can conduct all of its council business from 6-9 p.m., why can’t we? This would hopefully accomplish three things: It would force city staff and council to be more efficient with their time (yes, we could all benefit from that); it would allow a vastly different demographic to run for City Council at the next election; and it would allow people the opportunity to participate in city issues after work, thereby increasing the likelihood of public involvement and community-guided decision-making. Of course I understand that we live in a town where a lot of people work at night and we wouldn’t be satisfying all groups. We also run the risk of people not showing up anyway, no matter what time it is — it’s Tahoe, people are recreating and working three jobs and will most likely be too tired to care at the end of the day — but it might be worth a shot.
Get informed. If we seriously want to create community improvements that are based upon public involvement and input, information dissemination is probably the most important part of the equation. We need a “one-stop-shop” for all of our favorite Tahoe issues. Posting on the city website or in the local paper is not enough. There needs to be a site where you can instantly see a community calendar of events and important meetings that are happening region wide. Ideally it would be a place where you could log in, select the issues that are most important to you, and be instantly emailed/tweeted/Facebooked about upcoming events. It would be great if the information came to you and was catered to your interests. Tahoefuture.org can help keep you informed. It was initially created to provide information on the TRPA Regional Plan Update and it has since been adapted to serve community needs and provide information on Tahoe issues. Hopefully we will soon see some survey based functions so that our decision-makers can use the same site to see how the public feels about particular issues, thereby guiding them on how they should vote and create policy.
Contact your representatives. If you have ideas on how to inspire or improve community participation (or you would like to get involved yourself) you can always contact our City Council or the city manager directly. We live in a small town. A lot is possible if you put forth the effort.
Change is a product of your involvement. Well-focused complaints are OK; positive action is even better. Show you are proud of where you live and you are ready to do something about it. Shovel the sidewalk in front of your business, go to a public meeting, write an informed letter to council, pick up the trash or the dog poop on your favorite trail, fix your dilapidated sign, tell a tourist where the best restaurants are, volunteer with TAMBA to build some mountain bike jumps, or show Chris Brackett that you are ready to take him on in the next Christmas light competition. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are unqualified or inexperienced. You are capable of affecting positive change on a variety of levels. Our town is waiting.
Scott Valentine is the chairman of the Earth Science Department at Lake Tahoe Community College.