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:
- Defined public benefit
- Kitchens – allowed?
- Administrative costs – allowed?
- “Unclear public benefit”
- “Too narrow of benefit, insufficient scale”
- Specifying locations
- Sustainable revenue source
- 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.)
1) DEFINED PUBLIC BENEFIT OR NOT, AND WHO DECIDES?
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.
2) KITCHENS — ALLOWED, OR NOT? SAY THE MAGIC WORDS?
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
4) “UNCLEAR PUBLIC BENEFIT”
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.
5) “TOO NARROW OF PUBLIC BENEFIT, INSUFFICIENT SCALE”
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.
6) SPECIFYING LOCATIONS?
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.
7) SUSTAINABLE REVENUE SOURCE?
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.
BOTTOM-LINE: LET THE PUBLIC DECIDE
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.
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.