With voter turnout in Vallejo dropping every year for Participatory Budgeting, the Vallejo City Council wants to re-examine or re-think the process. Maybe they could investigate better methods in their outreach process, become more inclusive to demographics that are not largely represented in voting statistics, plus raise the bar on voting numbers for winning ballots, or actually take the time to listen to the many residents#x2019; needs.

In order to realize a financial democracy #x2014; the primary purpose of the resident participatory budgeting system #x2014; residents#x2019; free participation and representativeness are required. However, realistically, there exists a severe power imbalance in the budgeting process between residents and the bureaucratic organization involved, and the system itself may become operated by people of social power. This is possible because in the traditional administrative paradigm, professional officials lacked training in human interaction, debate and mediation technique. There also exist remaining authoritarian habits.

In addition, it is difficult to have the younger demographic or those with occupations to actually participate as residents. The council recently approved Cycle 4 rule book to drop the minimum voting age from 16 to 14. I think getting younger people more involved in the democratic system being counted as residents is a good idea.

Otherwise, participating agents are mostly those who have relatively more time, such as the older demographic, the unemployed and the independent business workers. This limits the inclusiveness of participating agents and creates problems of representativeness. The essence of the resident participatory budgeting system lies in overcoming the inconsistencies between representative politics and participation to promote the development of a financial democracy. An authentic form of resident participation is the key element #x2014; when residents criticize and control previous forms of an occlusive and inflexible administration system and decision making system.

#x201c;In the usual forms of democratic engagement: Public hearings and town meetings and the people who go to those things don#x2019;t expect anything to happen because of their participation,#x201d; said Archon Fung, a Harvard University professor who researches participatory governance. #x201c;Participatory budgeting is fundamentally different because people expect something to happen with their participation.#x201d;

To fulfill that vision, the process needs resources behind it, enough funds for projects to demonstrate a visible community benefit and ample capacity from the facilitators of the process (whether its officials or City Hall) to truly reach out to the community. Without intention and capacity, PB risks duplicating the process of elections for ordinary representation democracy where white middle or upper class voters are far more likely to vote and therefore enjoy an outsized influence on their neighborhood.

Winning projects may not be the most worthy. Scalability is a problem the larger the community served by the process #x2014; the more difficult it is to ensure that both the process and the resulting projects reflect the needs of the entire community.

If there was $1 million to put toward jobs or programming you#x2019;d probably have 5,000 people showing up for the vote, not to mention community meetings, rather than #x201c;touch and feel#x201d; city capital projects and infrastructure that consistently confuses residents.