Public Engagement Case Story

City of Vallejo Launches Third Cycle of Participatory Budgeting

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Summary

The City of Vallejo launched their third cycle of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in 2015, a process that gives residents and stakeholders the opportunity to develop and prioritize community-generated ideas for a portion of the city budget for city council consideration.

Over the previous two cycles, participating residents have been able to identify their budget priorities and make their recommendations to the city council. In both years, the Vallejo City Council has made budget allocations for the priorities identified by participating residents.

Program Highlights

  • PB in Vallejo has given residents a more formative and substantial role in the city’s budget development.   
  • Prior to first cycle, the city council established a 21-member Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee (PBSC), comprised of at least 14 local civic organizations and up to seven individual or at-large members. Currently, a body of 19 members work with city staff to ensure that the process is transparent, fair, and inclusive, by helping coordinate and facilitate public meetings, mobilizing diverse communities, completing an initial review of proposals, and monitoring project implementation.
  • The city collaborates annually with the Steering Committee to compile a rulebook. The cycle 3 rulebook added updates including; incorporating Community Development Block Grant guidelines to program and service projects, a three stage vetting process and project eligibility requirements.
  • Residents who become budget delegates receive an inside view of the budgeting process. Delegates work with city staff to further research and craft initial proposal concepts into projects eligible for the ballot. The city offers information sessions for these delegates where they may learn more about the city and its departments as well other local public agencies.

Lessons Learned

  • Plan for the need for significant amount of staff time to oversee and implement a participatory budgeting process.
  • Ensure that all proposed projects satisfy the public benefit requirement so time is not spent discussing inelegable projects.
  • The PB process generates a lot of postitive publicity for the city and helps residents gain a greater understanding of the local budget process.
  • The PB process can facilitate positive relationships between residents and city staff.

The Rest of the Story

The City of Vallejo emerged from bankruptcy in 2011 and became the first U.S. municipality to undertake a participatory budgeting model city-wide. On November 8, 2011 voters approved Measure B, a ten-year one-percent sales tax to generate funds to enhance quality of life for Vallejo’s residents, buisnesses and stakeholders. The city generated $11,875,000 in Measure B revenues as part of the FY 2012/13 budget process.

In 2012, the city council adopted a resolution establishing a participatory budgeting process in Vallejo and allocated $3.2 million (30 percent) of Measure B to fund the program. The city contracted with the non-profit Participatory Budgeting Project to help design Vallejo’s initial participatory budgeting process and to help coordinate these efforts with staff of the city manager’s office. In the tale end of 2013, the city manager’s office hired three administrative analysts to support the process.

The city initiated and completed two successful participatory budgeting efforts to date. In cycle 1, budget assemblies in October 2012 were followed by a public votes from May 11-18 2013. During the vote, 3,917 residents selected 12 projects totaling $3,282,100:

  • Potholes and Street Repair                            
  • Lighting Improvement Project                       
  • Parks and Recreation Improvement             
  • VCUSD STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) Program
  • Street Cleaning & City Cleanup         
  • College Bound Vallejo                                    
  • Community Gardens & Nutrition Education
  • Small Business Grants for Mare Island & Downtown
  • Spay Neuter Project
  • Florence Douglas Senior Center Improvements
  • Omega Boys & Girls Club Gym Restoration
  • Public Safety Concerns                                             

Participatory Budgeting in Vallejo takes place year round.

  • Idea Collection: Vallejo residents and stakeholders attend Budget Assemblies, community meetings, across the city to learn about the city’s budget and PB guidelines, meet in small groups to brainstorm project ideas and volunteer to develop ideas;  
  • Budget Delegate Preparation and Deliberation: Budget delegates, or community volunteers, complete an orientation process and meet in committees to transform initial project ideas into full proposals. In the third cycle of PB, delegates will utilize a new collaborative three-stage review process to prioritize, eliminate and submit proposals to a steering committee and the city for review and approval;
  • Project Expo & Vote: Residents age 16 and over vote on the projects to fund, with the projects with the most votes presented to the city council for consideration; and
  • Evaluation and Monitoring: Budget delegates and other PB participants evaluate the process, provide feedback, and monitor the implementation of approved projects.

The City of Vallejo’s PB process is governed by four overarching goals: To: 1) improve the city; 2) engage the community; 3) transform democracy; and 4) open up government.

Vallejo’s second cycle began in February 2014. In October 3, 2014, 744 residents selected projects ranging from education and arts to economic development and youth. The city partnered with the Stanford Crowdsourced Democracy Team to provide a convenient and secure digital voting platform, as an alternative to traditional paper ballots. Nearly a quarter of the second cycle ballots cast were digital.  The eight projects that received the most votes included, with budgets totaling $2,442,553 included:

  • Help the Homeless Veterans, Seniors, Disabled and Kids
  • Prioritizing Street & Pothole Repair-Repaving
  • Improving School Meals
  • Summer Youth Employment & Internship Program
  • Sidewalk Repair & Street Tree Preservation
  • Strike Up the Bands
  • A.B.C. Arts, Beautification, Community Development
  • Special Fire Rescue Vehicle Replacement

In November 2014, the city council approved and allocated funding for those eight projects.

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