A Muddy, Uneven Playing Field: City’s Initial Review of PB Projects

By Anne Carr



City staff reviewed 42 community proposals for the Participatory Budgeting ballot, approving 7, rejecting 15 outright, and sending 20 back for minor to major revisions.


If you look at the City’s PB Matrix (a summary of their decisions), in at least 29 instances, 8 criteria were applied inconsistently to evaluate the community PB proposals, specifically in these areas:


  1. Defined public benefit
  2. Kitchens – allowed?
  3. Administrative costs – allowed?
  4. “Unclear public benefit”
  5. “Too narrow of benefit, insufficient scale”
  6. Specifying locations
  7. Sustainable revenue source
  8. Revision or rejection, loose or strict guidelines


The City has said that it will explain its vetting decisions in a report to Council on Sept 9. In the meantime, here is the project detail where the vetting process seems to have been inconsistent. (4-digit numbers are project codes.)



In the list of the “Golden 7” approved projects, the City’s Matrix does not mention public benefit. Oversight? Also noticeably absent are criticisms leveled at other projects, e.g., sustainable revenue & measurable results (required of others, but apparently not ReBranding); narrow scope of benefit (night lighting in daytime parks); kitchens (approved for Omega Club, ineligible for City Museum.) What makes a bike ramp more valuable than an Entrepreneurship Program or vocational training?  The City is pre-empting the public’s choice in defining public benefit.



The kitchen for the Omega Cub was approved (Project 1429), but rejected for the City Museum (Project 1432). Staff said that the Museum didn’t express the public benefit of their kitchen, but if the Museum could revise their proposal, it would reinforce public empowerment instead of grants gamesmanship. In a City with insufficient community space, more kitchen-enabled facilities are needed; maybe they didn’t say the magic words the first time, but the team should be allowed to revise their application, and the proposal should go on the ballot.


3) ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS — ALLOWED, OR NOT? PARTICIPATORY PUBLIC WORKS?  Some have cynically named Cycle 2 PB as “Participatory Public Works;” PW is asking for more than $1.6 million, roughly 2/3 of the entire Cycle 2 allocation. Didn’t we give at the office? Also, Public Works has been allowed to increase budgets by 30% for “design & delivery costs” for four different projects, while this type of fee has been nixed in the community proposals.

Allowed: 1453 Bike Lanes, 1454 Crosswalks & Traffic Calming, 1436 Trash Cans, & 1431 Waterfront Memorial Park

Rejected: 1432 Naval & Historical Museum Preservation, 1401 ABC Arts Beautification & Community, 1457 After-school Music Program



Approved: 1414 ReBranding Vallejo — approved even though branding efforts are notoriously difficult to quantify and measure. 1440 River Park & 1442 Blue Rock Springs — $412k for nighttime lighting at two parks that close at sunset.

Rejected: Two proposals rejected because “the Council had not previously approved,” yet pre-approval by Council is not a criteria for eligibility. 1411 Revenue Generating Activities, and 1413 Public Finance Feasibility Study.



How does the City define public benefit – cost per person? Do all projects need to benefit everyone, and is that even possible? Can the public decide if they want to support certain efforts, e.g., seniors, kids, small businesses, homeless?

Approved: 1429 Omega Club Kitchen, and 1438, Omega Parking Lot — to follow staff logic from other projects, these would have “narrow” scope in that they mostly apply to children, in North Vallejo.

Approved with Revisions:

  • 1407 Mission Solano Vallejo Together Homeless Shelter — $588k for 30-bed facility. $19,600/bed. Staff nixed the implementing partner, and wants to leave open how this money is spent. With no one to implement, and no specified deliverable, how is this still a project?
  • 1425 Summer Youth Employment & internships. $181k for 50 youths, $3620/per person.

Rejected: 1430 Adult Vocational Training — training for 90 adults in vocational skilled trades, $135k, $1500/per person, less than half the cost/person of #1425!

  • 1426 Entrepreneurship & Business Development – $101k, Training for 10 small businesses, and 25 Leadership Vallejo spots.
  • 1427 Mentoring Program for Boys — rejected for having “narrow public benefit” (50% of youth population?), and unclear separation of religion. Inconsistent with City’s precedent of funding Global Center for Success & Reynaissance Center, i.e., religious organizations providing social services.



Approved with Revisions: 3 Public Works projects are not required to name locations: 1453 Bike Lanes, 1454 Crosswalks & Traffic Calming & 1455 Potholes.

Heavy Revisions: 1401 ABC Arts, Beautification & Community — required to get neighborhood agreement for 8 neighborhood art installations, plus back-up neighborhoods

Rejected: 1439 Solar Panels on City Buildings — rejected for not providing locations, plus lack of detailed budget — yet other projects allowed to revise their projects with details.



Approved: 1414 ReBranding Vallejo — not a one-time project. Do they have “guaranteed” revenue source?

Explain? 1425 Summer Internships merely has to explain their sustainable revenue source.

Rejected: 1402 BizPod – nixed for not having “guaranteed” revenue source, and for having fees that were a result of City suggestions!

1412 Non-profit Check Cashing Service — knocked for being fee-based and for lacking sustainable income source (i.e., the fees)



15 projects were rejected outright, while 20 projects were allowed to revise. Project 1407 Homeless Shelter the City is nixing the implementing partners AND the deliverable (a shelter) – yet the City wants the project fee ($588k) to go on the ballot for the City to decide how to use.


Project 1403, the Mira Roof – the City is applying criteria outside of the PB Rulebook and inconsistent with other PB funding, and even City funding.



The City wants to revise or reject the following 14 projects, but they meet PB Project Criteria as stated in the Rulebook. Put these on the ballot, let the public decide!


1432 Naval & Historical Museum — keep kitchen & “design & delivery” costs, keep the kitchen.

1457 After School Music Program — Keep “design & delivery” costs.

1401 ABC Arts, Beautification & Community — keep “design & delivery” costs. Allow ABC “discretion” regarding locations (similar to Public Works discretion).

1402 BizPod — fees are the identified revenue source, project should be eligible. Allow.

1403 Roof for Mira Theater/Community Center — 501(c)3 public non-profit organization, is eligible for funds consistent with City & PB precedents. Allow.

1422 Revenue Generating Ordinances — City Council action or inaction is not an official PB criteria. Allow.

1412 Non-profit check cashing Services — fees address need for sustainable income. Allow.

1413 Public Finance Feasibility Study — City Council action is not an official PB criteria. Allow.

1426 Entrepreneurship & Business Development — Public should determine value. Allow.

1427 Mentoring Program for Boys — Public should determine value. Allow.

1430 Adult Vocational Training — Public should determine value. Allow.

1439 Solar Panels in City. Locations non-issue, similar to Public Works discretion. Allow.


In sum, where there are questions about the “scope of public benefit” — the PUBLIC should be allowed to determine if they value the projects or not.  Unless the projects violate PB criteria, there is value in the projects going on to the ballot.  


Obviously, the laxness or strictness of project criteria should be applied fairly and evenly to ALL projects, also be consistent with other City funding & policy practices.


The bottom-line:

1) The PUBLIC should be allowed to determine PB project value, not City staff.

2) The spirit of PB is about encouraging participation. Mistakes were made in vetting this year, thus there needs to be some sort of Appeals or Review Process this year.


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'A Muddy, Uneven Playing Field: City’s Initial Review of PB Projects' have 5 comments

  1. September 8, 2014 @ 9:43 am Justice Keating

    Well said Ann, good analysis, great facts and research … does the city folks know this? Have you presented this to the attorney ? wonder what her “truth” would compare with your “truth”… May be ÿour people”should call “”their people”? LoL

    Questions about “scope of public benefit” — the PUBLIC should be allowed to determine if they value the projects or not. Unless the projects violate PB criteria, there is value in the projects going on to the ballot.
    That is why it is called PUBLIC BENEFIT, hello …. not the manager’s or attorney’s or the mayor’s opinion of it.

    The laxness or strictness of project criteria should be applied fairly and evenly to ALL projects, also be consistent with other City funding & policy practices.

    The bottom-line:
    1) The PUBLIC should be allowed to determine PB project value, NOT City staff.
    2) The spirit of PB is about encouraging participation. Mistakes were made in vetting this year, thus there needs to be some sort of Appeals or Review Process this year, NOT by crushing projects so late unfairly.


  2. September 8, 2014 @ 10:11 am Ravi Shankar


    Hi Josh,

    I am thrilled at how PBP is spreading across other US cities ! Your genuine desire to help people in communities with litle to no voice is gaining momentum, including attention from President Obama’s White House and many other City Governments across America.

    I recall sending an eMail asking for your input and support on our Vallejo-PB as it is taking on the City head-on for the 2nd or 3rd time this year, with MAJOR OPPOSING VIEWS on managing and resolving contradictions and inconsistencies.

    I understand you are super busy this year, possibly being a reason for not yet hearing from you. BUT, PLEASE GET FEEDBACK OF FACTS FROM GINNY (Oakland, CA office), VALLEJO PB-STAFF at City Hall & OUR STEERING COMMITTEE including past and current Chair/VC and HELP US !!

    Vallejo just received the Pitman Award for Ïntegrity, Transparency & Public Engagement” just when the entire public in Vallejo is crying out “Foul” …. loud and clear… We have the city folks using the word “transparency” like water without applying it 100% to the vetting process and communication with the Steering Committee. THIS MUST CHANGE now . We the People of Vallejo (& the Steering Committee) need your help to regain control back to the People who Participate…

    PB’s 3rd National Conference is in Vallejo in 2-weeks and the current situation is an embarrassment to ALL parties, if left unresolved fairly with 1-sided authority.

    Warm regards and many thanks.

    Community Activist


    • September 9, 2014 @ 12:43 am wharf rat

      The labyrinth of local government is epic …… And the money is beyond belief …. When the per capita income is factored in , combined with , where just the money is spent , What we have is a major .. RIPP OFF of the Citizens of Vallejo , and the School district is, and a major Fellon , A party to the crime, CRIMINAL in scope ……. VCUSD has yet to be purged .. Our families were ripped off … We paied\the price …….. PERIOD now that we have spent our every dime to ensure our childrens quality of education , we are now faced with this most , stupid and ludicrous , Bond measure ….. NO WAY NO HOW we have been ripped off for too many years , we give you money , and your totally dysfunctional organization produces shit …… I will not pay dime one — period
      You have Disassociated and Screwed most of the Master Teachers , that once made Vallejo a gem …. as per the Department of Education at Cal Berkeley — THE SCHOOL OF EDUCATION … we were once a cutting edge District now a mere junk yard …….


  3. September 16, 2014 @ 9:41 am Publicus

    Remember that in hierarchical organizations like the City of Vallejo, staff takes its marching orders from the top down. No little peon is calling the shots and deciding on evaluation criteria all by themselves. They have meetings and meetings to make sure all are on the same page as defined by their fearless leaders. So that would be Keen…. Unless he has been told he will follow in the footsteps of other City Managers thrown out by the City Council. In which case, you might look at the great and terrible OZ.


  4. September 16, 2014 @ 12:52 pm BehindTheCurtain

    Agreed, that staffers are not making the decisions, top managers are — and imo, this has the hand of Oz all over it. That said, I don’t think Keen is a fan of PB either — and he can make points with Oz by decimating it, balancing the tally after helping to thwart Oz’s strong mayor gambit.


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