[Noozhawk’s note: This is one in a series of articles on Noozhawk’s Santa Barbara Challenge, our public-engagement project on the city of Santa Barbara’s budget. Related links are below.]
Brimming with confidence, I announced nearly a year ago that Noozhawk would soon be undertaking an innovative, high-tech project to engage our readers on some of the vexing fiscal challenges facing the city of Santa Barbara. Those challenges — then, as now — seem intractable, which is unacceptable in a community with as proud a record of civic involvement as ours.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. As journalists, we thought we knew Santa Barbara’s budget. In reality, we had no idea.
With neither a finance degree nor an MBA among us, we quickly discovered ours was a somewhat simplistic understanding of how local government is financed and managed. Thanks to the help — and patience — of a host of current and former municipal officials in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Ventura, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo County, along with a small army of investment advisers, CPAs and financial analysts, we’re now a little more versed in Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports and consumer price indexing. Well, speaking for Noozhawk’s reporters anyway.
So, 11 months later, I’m ready to try this again.
The Santa Barbara Challenge is a joint partnership with the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy in Malibu. It’s a unique venture for the institute, for Noozhawk, and for New Media in general.
Over the next week, Noozhawk’s reporters will be outlining Santa Barbara’s financial circumstances and budget process to provide context for the Santa Barbara Challenge. Afterward, with UserVoice.com, another Davenport Institute affiliate, we’ll be launching an interactive and easy-to-use online survey through which Noozhawk readers can recommend ways the city can fix its budget or spend our money more wisely.
Our intention is to involve our readers in a spirited conversation and authentic debate in the hope — and with the expectation — that, at the conclusion of our project, Santa Barbara’s elected officials and professional staff will be able to make budgeting decisions with a greater understanding of our community’s priorities and values.
Aside from our desire to develop more of these partnerships and collaborations on complex community initiatives, I’m most excited about the participation of Noozhawk readers. Our audience is sophisticated, educated, thoughtful and engaged, and I’m proud to say that it spans the ideological spectrum from far left to far right. For precisely this reason, Noozhawk’s Santa Barbara Challenge is an unprecedented opportunity to use technology to empower the democratic process.
For those of you who may be new to Noozhawk, please know that we don’t take editorial positions or make political endorsements, and we keep our opinions out of our reporting. Our professional journalists have worked very hard to objectively lay out the facts of how Santa Barbara got to this point in time, so that you can draw your own conclusions and not ours. We want you to help develop creative solutions that we as a community can rally around. We’ll do our part by exploring and researching your suggestions to provide additional context, information and continuing education.
I’m grateful to the guidance and generosity of the Davenport Institute, formerly Common Sense California, and to my friend, Pete Peterson, the executive director. Partnering with a New Media company is a first for the Davenport Institute, which typically works with municipalities, school districts, regional governance associations and nonprofit organizations to advance legitimate civic engagement. Among the many institute initiatives are municipal budgets in the cities of Salinas and Santa Cruz, public outreach in San Luis Obispo, the housing crisis in San Mateo County, Fairfield’s General Plan and the San Diego Regional Airport Authority.
Several community sponsors have stepped forward to help us, including American Riviera Bank, RightScale, the Santa Barbara Foundation and Terrain Consulting. Daniel Kan, business development director of UserVoice, has also played a major role.
A professional news organization is only as good as its journalists, and Noozhawk is blessed to have a first-rate team. Reporters Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli did most of the heavy lifting, ably assisted by managing editor Michelle Nelson and reporters Alex Kacik, Taylor Orr and Ben Preston. Taking care of the mechanics are our Web development team of Will Macfadyen and Edgar Oliveira, the latter the brains behind our new user-friendly design and our ExpressionEngine content-management platform. And we could not have pulled this off without Noozhawk interns Kristin Crosier, Andrea Ellickson, Michael Goldsholl, Elite Henenson, Daniel Langhorne, Bryana Nugent, Erin Stone and Lindsey Weintraub.
Throughout this next week, you’ll learn more about the survey and how it works. We’re also asking for your help in spreading the word so we can ensure the broadest possible participation from as many voices and constituencies possible.
This is an exciting project for our community and for our company, and we trust you’ll find the experience rewarding. Please join us in making the Santa Barbara Challenge your own.