Newly-elected Mayor Sam Liccardo of San José, CA continues to advocate for the introduction of a participatory budgeting program for the city.

A quick look back:

Here’s a May 23, 2013 article in the Mercury News that outlines then-Councilmember Liccardo’s original proposal:

The idea is to provide $100,000 for each of the 10 council districts to spend in a one-time resident-identified project. The money would come out of the city’s essential services reserve, along with $50,000 for staff services.

Probably most important, the project would provide a forum for residents to speak up about priorities, identifying and fixing problems within their own communities.

“If $100,000 can keep a library open on Saturday–this is hypothetical–then the library in that district stays open. If another community wants to see enhanced maintenance in four parks, that’s what they get,” Liccardo said in an interview.

“Regardless of the process, we’d expect to see dollars from this fund flow to support neighborhood services and projects. Participatory budgeting will dramatically change who decides, whatever and however they decide. With this effort, we can embark upon a path to enable our residents to play a more prominent role in the decision-making of our city,” Liccardo said.

And here’s his argument for participatory budgeting as shared in the Huffington Post a week later: Smarter Spending Through Participatory Budgeting

Why is Participatory Budgeting a good idea for San José?

The time has come to explore Participatory Budgeting in San José. Why?

First, we can make better decisions if we involve more people, particularly if we involve people who know the needs of their neighborhoods the best. “Crowdsourcing” ideas expands our range of good and creative options.

Second, we will promote civic engagement. Residents who have spent several hours together discussing how to invest local funds in their own neighborhood have done more than make a few budgetary decisions. They have met each other. They have learned from one another. They have become more likely to work together to solve common problems outside of the Participatory Budgeting process.

Finally, Participatory Budgeting makes government more efficient. Every single tax dollar is scarce. By allowing our communities to prioritize the local investments that will have the biggest impact, we create a feed-back loop that makes our government more effective and responsive.

Liccardo went on to host a “community planning meeting” in his council district that June (which I attended), but ultimately the idea didn’t garner enough support.

Forward a couple of years, and participatory budgeting is back on the agenda, but this time with a much higher likelihood of actually reaching implementation. From the Mayor’s June Budget Message for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 (PDF):

City Council District 3 Participatory Budgeting Pilot: San José has a wealth of
community leaders who deeply engage in improving their city through their volunteer energy and creative ideas. Our neighborhood advocates often inform us how they can “do more with less,” leveraging modest amounts of public dollars with volunteer sweat equity, grants from employers and foundations, and personal contributions. Participatory Budgeting has become a proven means of democratizing civic governance in hundreds of cities globally. I’ve encouraged colleagues to step forward to pilot this process, and District 3’s Councilmember Raul Peralez has volunteered. The City Manager is directed to allocate $100,000 in one-time General Fund funding for a District 3 Participatory Budgeting Pilot program for Fiscal Year 2015-2016. (BD # 18 Peralez)

This item was already included in the mayor’s March budget message (PDF), which passed with unanimous support of the city council. However, the budget allocation under discussion then was significantly higher (page 18):

[…] Any councilmember wishing to lead the effort within their own district will take $250,000 of the $2.5 million Essential Services Reserve, with the expectation that they make no other claims or proposals on the General Fund through the FY 2015-2016 budget deliberation process. […]

With a population of slightly over 1,000,000 residents, and ten city council districts, an amount of $100,000 in San José translates to only about one dollar per person, give or take. Based on our collection of historic data from previous participatory budgeting efforts in North America, that’s not a lot. In fact, it might be the lowest per capita amount allocated in any participatory budgeting project in the United States to date, which may dampen citizens’ enthusiasm to spend a lot of time and energy engaging through this new process.

Final adoption of the 2015/2016 budget is scheduled for June 23, 2015.