Saturday, September 19, 2009

Community Forums Underway to Facilitate the Most Comprehensive Initiative to Define Results with Citizen Input, Associated with Prioritization

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Community Forums Underway to Facilitate the Most Comprehensive Initiative to Define Results with Citizen Input, Associated with Prioritization

Talking about what's important
by Elisabeth Nardi Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/09/2009 12:45:23 PM PDT

Start talking, Walnut Creek.
Five meetings scheduled over the next month aim to get Walnut Creek residents talking about what's most important for the community and what city government should provide.

"Community Conversation on Balancing for the Future" meetings is a new tack city leaders are taking in an effort to make residents part of the city's budgeting process.

The City Council has identified six "big picture" goals. Residents will discuss those goals and eventually help to prioritize around them. The council used information gathered during the General Plan process, resident surveys and general feedback to set the goals — it was not done in a vacuum, said Gayle Vassar, community relations manager for Walnut Creek.
The goals are:
- Strong neighborhoods and a sense of community
- Economic vitality
- Effective transportation and mobility
- Stewardship of the natural and built-up environment
- A safe community
- Culture, recreation and learning opportunities
So far, 40 residents have signed up, Vassar said. Participants who attend any of the five workshops will work in small groups and will be faced with a central question or statement linked with a goal, such as "When Walnut Creek has/does (fill in the blank) we will have (name of goal)." Vassar supplied an example: "When Walnut Creek has emergency preparedness classes, we will have a safe community."

Anyone who registers will be part of the workshop, and if there are more people then can fit within a meeting, the city will add more meetings, she said. The meetings are open to anyone who lives or works in Walnut Creek, including unincorporated portions of the city.

"Talking about what these goals mean to Walnut Creek will help (city leaders) understand what the community values, so that later on we can take all of our programs and measure them against those values" to help make budget decisions, Vassar said.

There will be a "step two" in this process, in which goals and how those relate to programs will be weighted and ranked. Exactly how the public will be involved has not been determined, but residents will be able to participate, she said.

These "conversations" have been promised by city officials for the last few months as Walnut Creek faced multi-million-dollar shortfalls. Through various measures, including cuts to employee compensation, this fiscal year's $5.6 million shortfall has been filled. In April, budget projections showed a $13 million shortfall for the 2010-11 fiscal year and a $16.7 million for 2011-12. Since employee groups agreed to compensation changes no new projections have been released by the city.

In an interview with the Times last month, City Manager Gary Pokorny estimated the budget cuts made in July came close to cutting projected deficits in half.

The budget cuts were necessary to show the public that the city was "getting our house in order," said Pokorny. Now, residents are needed in these "community conversations" to discuss funding priorities and give opinions, he said.

"The next budget is going to be equally tough if not worse, " he said. "Will we be able to raise some new revenues through increased fees or taxes or do we have to do it through program cuts?"

Reach Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617.

Community conversation workshops 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 10 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, Rossmoor (open to Rossmoor residents only) 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22

The meetings will be held throughout Walnut Creek. Locations will be given once someone registers. To register call 925-256-3505 or e-mail When registering include your name, phone number, Walnut Creek address (home or work), and e-mail. Residents can also specify a specific goal to work on.

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