Your part of the Area F Official Community Plan review is starting in earnest next week. I say your part because we absolutely need to hear from you. The stakes are high: this OCP will determine how your neighborhood evolves in the next 20 years. So you need to participate, even if it means just sitting in a chair and filling out a couple of surveys. And since you are reading this, you should make sure everyone you know participates.
Let me put it this way: If you can’t be bothered to participate, you cannot complain if things don’t go your way. It is that simple.
There are three main modes of public participation during this process:
- Open houses
- A multi-round survey
- The comments sections of this website (at the bottom of each posting)
The open houses are a good place to go and learn about OCPs, look at maps, ask questions, and talk to professional planners. This website allows you to ask additional questions, or provide more background on your beliefs and preferences (see an example of an issue-based thread here). At the end of the day, however, how you get heard is through the surveys. The surveys will run in (at least) three rounds.
- In the first round, you will be asked open-ended questions. The purpose is for you to tell us what you think the burning issues are in your neighborhood. We are looking for short, bite-sized issues, but space is available for you to add explanation/clarification. Also: don't forget to provide your email address in the last step. The consultants will take the results from Round 1 and create groups of high-level issues and objectives. We don’t know what these are yet, but an example of something we might see is: “Minimize fragmentation of agricultural land.” That’s what we mean by an “objective”. It is a very high-level belief about what should be done.
- In Round 2 you will be asked to rate the relative importance of the issues/objectives. Again, you will be provided with a space to justify your rating or argue your point. If you do not believe, for example, that there is anything wrong with fragmenting agricultural land in your neighborhood, you can rate the objective low and provide a few words explaining why. This is all about what you want and believe. The consultants will sift through all the comments from Round 2 and summarize the arguments pro and con. Of course, no names will be attached to any comments. These surveys are entirely anonymous.
- In Round 3 you will see the numerical ratings for each issue/objective plus the summarized list of arguments pro and con from the previous round. Your views may change in response to this feedback or they may stay the same. Either way, you will be asked to re-rate each issue/objective.
What is the point of this three-round process? First, it allows you (rather than planners, consultants, or elected officials) to determine the issues under discussion. Second, a kind of debate emerges as people read and respond to the comments of others. This is certainly a more limited debate than the all-out shouting matches we sometimes see at public meetings. The surveys provide a safe space for all to be heard if they so choose. Finally, the ratings, carefully considered and debated over multiple rounds, give us some hard numbers on which to base our policies.
Some questions about the OCP surveys
Q: Is there a risk this process will be hijacked by special interests?
A: Yes, absolutely, unless everyone participates. We need at least 400 participants in each round to claim any kind of democratic legitimacy. That is a huge number for something like this—the consultants have expressed doubts that we will get there. We need to prove them wrong.
Q: I am really busy. Are these surveys a lot of work? Will I have to sit down and think about the issues?
A: Um, yes.
Q: Can my partner and I both do a survey?
A: Yes, it is like voting. One person = one vote. Plus, there is no guarantee that two people in the same household will hold the same views. At least that is my experience...
Q: I will not or cannot use a computer. Can I do the surveys on paper?
A: Round 1 is available at the open houses and the RDOS office in workbook form. But it isn’t really practical or cost effective to do Rounds 2 and 3 on paper. You and your neighbors are paying for this OCP review, after all. The library has computers, or perhaps you can get a friend to help. It is 2017 and we have seen plenty of evidence that the stereotypes about computer use just don’t hold up anymore.