Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 8:42 pm | Fair 44º

 
 
 
 

Pete Peterson: Citizen-Driven Housing Policy Emerges in San Mateo County

To solve a seemingly intractable challenge, an unprecedented public engagement campaign is under way.

image

Pete Peterson

While residents of Santa Barbara County may think their housing prices are out of control (even with the recent downturn), San Mateo County has the highest median home prices in California. At $880,000, it takes an annual income of $260,000 just to be able to purchase the median-priced home. Renting in the county only affords a slight break, as the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment is $1,769, requiring an income of $71,000 to make the monthly payments.

Housing is a vital element of public policy in that it determines not only who can live in a community, but who can work there as well. This is especially true for public servants like teachers and police officers. In San Mateo County, for example, not one of the 200 or so sheriff’s deputies actually lives in the county he or she patrols. In fact, special housing has been built next to the Courthouse so these officers who have to commute a long distance can stay over the night before a trial. Extrapolate this situation across to teachers, nurses and lower-income service workers and one can see the beginnings of a crisis that affects public safety, education, and health care — not to mention small businesses and economic growth.

What can be done?

As in Santa Barbara County, city planners and city councils make all decisions relating to the building of affordable housing in San Mateo County. The loudest “voices” in these debates usually spring from the grassroots level in the forms of neighborhood associations, open space/environmental groups and housing advocates. In most cases, the two former organization types line up against housing additions, while housing advocates are joined by a developer or two in supporting construction. But a question remains as to whether these voices are truly representative of their communities.

In San Mateo County, a group of citizens from a variety of perspectives has gathered together to find the answer. Comprised of business leaders, housing advocates and open space supporters, they have named their organization, “

Threshold 2008/Building a Public Voice San Mateo County

,” and are in the process of conducting a public engagement campaign of historic proportions — centering the deliberations around the building of affordable housing throughout the county.

These organizers, led by Threshold 2008 executive director Greg Greenway, have developed a unique three-stage approach to involving citizens in the decision-making process. Importantly, many of the major “stakeholders” or partisans were involved in the early information-gathering stage, writing the materials to be used in the facilitated conversations around the county.

The first stage of the public engagement process was a “Deliberative Poll,” which involved more than 200 county residents, conducted over two days at Canada College in Redwood City. Developed by Stanford University political scientist James Fishkin, the methodology involves gathering a statistically representative group of citizens, surveying the participants about a particular issue at the beginning of the two-day event, then having them participate in a series of discussions with housing experts and fellow residents, and then surveying them again at the conclusion.

Click here

to view the results of this first stage of the process.

The second stage of Threshold 2008 is currently under way online. This electronic dialogue has more than 400 citizens participating in a two-week, facilitated “chat room” environment. Like the Deliberative Poll, this dialogue involves both learning about the issue from a variety of perspectives while also participating in a “conversation” with other concerned citizens. Unlike the Deliberative Poll, participation is self-selected (anyone can join), not pre-selected.

The last stage of citizen engagement is due to begin next month when volunteer — and trained — facilitators will hold a series of 50 “community conversations” throughout San Mateo County. Area residents will be invited to participate in these two- or three-hour dialogues about housing to both learn more about the issue and offer their opinions.

Final results from all of these stages will be announced in a report due out in the early fall. Of course, what remains to be seen is how the actual policy decision makers will receive this “public voice,” but great efforts have been made to include public officials in each of the stages. In fact, San Mateo County’s housing coordinator is on Threshold 2008’s advisory committee, and a county supervisor is on the Board of Directors.

Threshold 2008 shows what can be done when citizens get together to try to generate a representative “voice” around a particular policy issue. But it also demonstrates a continuing trend toward greater “citizen engagement” in particularly difficult public policy decisions in California. Efforts like Threshold 2008 are becoming more commonplace as citizens and municipal leaders attempt to make more informed choices.

Pete Peterson is executive director of

Common Sense California, a multipartisan, nonprofit organization that supports Threshold 2008. He is also a Lecturer of State & Local Governance at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy

.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >