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The City of El Cerrito Engages Residents in Five-Year Strategic Planning Process

Case Story

The El Cerrito City Council adopted a strategic plan in April 2013 to help fulfill its mission to serve, lead and support its diverse community.  The plan is the result of a year-long public engagement effort that employed a variety of strategies. Among these strategies were: a media strategy, focus groups, an online survey, outreach at community events and more.  

Community: City of El Cerrito

Population:  23,549

Summary

The El Cerrito City Council adopted a strategic plan in April 2013 to help fulfill its mission to serve, lead and support its diverse community.  The plan is the result of a year-long public engagement effort that employed a variety of strategies. Among these strategies were: a media strategy, focus groups, an online survey, outreach at community events and more.   The plan will not only help guide decisions about service delivery and resource allocation, it also serves as a road map to help the City of El Cerrito achieve its vision of becoming a safe, connected and environmentally focused San Francisco Bay Area destination with vibrant neighborhoods, businesses and public places and diverse cultural, educational and recreational opportunities for people of all ages.

Program Highlights

  • To reach all members of the community, the city used a variety of different strategies including education and outreach at community events, targeted focus groups and an online survey.
  • The city used a new online tool, Community Voice, which allowed residents to submit ideas and vote yes or no on categorized topics. This helped broaden community participation by offering residents the option to engage online.
  • The strategic plan includes a mission, vision, values and goals. Each goal has success indicators and a mechanism for reporting and accountability.
  • Throughout the process the city consistently provided residents with feedback to affirm that the vision and values being developed were consistent with their input.

Lessons Learned

  •  Using a variety of outreach strategies, including online tools, created an opportunity for residents who do not normally engage to be included in decision-making process.
  • Selecting and agreeing on common goals helps guide decision makers on how to best use limited resources for the collective good. 
  • Including residents in decision-making processes increases government transparency and public’s trust in government.
  • Involving residents in the strategic planning process is a useful tool to help educate the community and creates and opportunity to change and grow together.

The Rest of the Story

After spending years grappling with tight budgets, the City of El Cerrito decided it was time to create a concrete vision for its future and to better understand the community’s priorities for services and how best to go about delivering them. In 2011, the city council approved $45,000 to be spent on developing a strategic plan that reflected community input.

In 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2012 the City has sent a five-page “citizen survey” to gauge the resident’s views of local government and life in the city. The same number of questionnaires have been sent out each year – 1,200 – and the return rate has ranged between 36 percent in 2007 and 42 percent in 2005. For the strategic planning process the city decided it must do more.

The city hired a professional consulting firm to help engage its diverse population. As part of this effort, city staff and the consultants attended a variety of community and cultural events to provide information and invite the community to participate in the process. The city also worked with local  newspapers to help get out the message. In a 12-month span, the city held six focus groups in which they received input from the business community, residents, city staff and community leaders.  

Given that not everyone could participate in person, the city also employed an online tool called Community Voice. Using the tool, residents were able to rate goals such as public safety, transportation and recreation on a scale from 1 to 5. The tool also allowed El Cerrito to ask questions to help understand how the community currently viewed the city, what residents wanted for the future and the best course of action to get there. Survey questions included:

  • What specifically do you recommend as a major city goal?
  • Why is it important to you and the city?
  • How do you suggest it might be accomplished?

Armed with this information, staff and the consultants developed the strategic plan, which represented a shared vision and prioritized the community’s goals. Throughout the process, the consultants interviewed each city council member and provided feedback to residents to ensure the plan was on track to be approved by all. The final draft was disseminated to the public in March 2013, and the El Cerrito City Council approved the plan at its April 2013 meeting.

The city is now preparing an implementation plan with detailed steps to achieve the goals and timelines, secure the required resources and measure indicators of success. The plan will be tied to other key planning efforts, such as a general plan update, a climate action plan and economic development road map.

The outreach efforts helped develop a list of El Cerrito’s strengths, limitations, opportunities and challenges that represents the input of its diverse population. The community was able to weigh in on desired goals and priorities, such as the need for high levels of public safety, a focus on economic development and more funding/resources for the library, schools, playgrounds and public facilities.

Working together, the residents and city council put together a strategic plan that encompassed the entire community’s priorities and goals.

Resources to Learn More

El Cerrito Strategic Plan

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