On Wednesday, Jan. 23, the San Luis Obispo City Council held the 2019-2021 Financial Plan Community Forum to get the community’s input and participation in deciding what issues need to be funded.

Going into the community forum, each participant was given an information packet and five dots to use as their vote on which issues they felt to be the most important. This dottocracy style of gathering public opinion is used in the preliminary stages to get an idea of what the community really wants.

Prior to this open house where everyone was placing their dots, the facilitator Don Maruska told the audience that this process allows people to be more directly involved.

“You have your five green dots, and that is an opportunity for you to be a council member for a night and apply those dots across a portfolio of different initiatives that you think are desirable for the city,” Maruska said.

The main issues that were presented were city goals concerning climate action, housing, multi-modal transportation, fiscal sustainability and responsibility, Local Revenue Measure and downtown vitality. There was also space for new ideas. Along with these input stations that allowed participants to vote as well as write in their own more specific ideas, there were also informational stations on the budget and core services, the Fiscal Health Response Plan and funding for the future booth.

Along with this form of voting and being able to add ideas to the table, participants were also encouraged to stay for the public comment part of the evening and elaborate on their ideas and comments to the public.

Associated Students, Inc. President Jasmin Fashami said ASI also wants to have student voices present in the city budget process.

“We are going to go in and do our initial dots, and from there we are looking to gather student stories about their experiences in the downtown or the student areas about where lighting is needed,” Fashami said. “There [are] many steps of it, but we will be advertising about it as we move through.”  

Lauryn Luescher | Mustang News

In October 2018 the City Council put out the Community Priorities Survey through both mail and online to get an idea of what the city’s priorities were before the community forum.

This year there were more than 1,500 survey responses received, which was a 97 percent participation increase from 2016.

According to San Luis Obispo City Manager Derek Johnson, the amount of public participation in budget planning shows the unique nature of San Luis Obispo residents.

“San Luis Obispo sets the bar high when it comes to public participation,” Johnson said during his presentation at the community forum.  

This community forum along with [the] survey is just the beginning stages to finalizing the budget for the next two years. The feedback from the survey and the forum will be compiled for the City Council to review in advance of the goal-setting workshop on Feb. 4 at 5 p.m.

During the presentation, Mayor Heidi Harmon explained the importance of this forum and community participation.

“I just wanted to remind ourselves and the community that no matter how high the pension liability and how challenging the climate crisis is, they can never, ever, ever take our dots from us,” Harmon said.

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