Not so sweet little Lies

By Marti Brown, past Vallejo City Councilmember



I just read Dennis Yen’s letter to the editor dated June 18 regarding Participatory Budgeting (PB) and all I could think of was that Fleetwood Mac song: “tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies, tell me, tell me lies….”

It would be one thing if his letter was grounded in truth and fact, but it’s baseless and only serves to demonstrate that he barely participated in PB Vallejo if at all. I guess when you know nothing about a process you can make up whatever “facts” you want, right?

Mr. Yen’s first paragraph in his letter is so inarticulate and without anything more than conjecture that it doesn’t even warrant a response. His second paragraph makes no sense at all. Regardless of whether capital projects are approved through the PB process or by the City Council, city staff will have to work.  But isn’t that what we pay our staff for? To work?

In the third paragraph of his LTE, he states that PB is a grand experiment and has only been implemented on a project-by-project basis. All I can say is: ignorance is bliss. PB has been implemented in more than 1500 locations around the globe and, IN MOST CASES, those processes were implemented town or city-wide—NOT on a project-by-project basis. He also states that it’s a “loosely conceived dream.” Again, PB has been engaging citizens around the globe for more than 25 years. Just because the United States is a late bloomer when it comes to PB doesn’t make it “a dream.”

As for the final paragraph of his letter, Dennis suggests that PB has been used to distribute ‘Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, monies for our city golf courses and supporting Downtown businesses.’ Huh? This is such a complete lie that, once again, I don’t even know where to begin.

In my experience as both a former Vallejo City Councilmember and a member of the public, the city has always conducted the bare minimum of required civic engagement when it comes to CDBG funds (more due to a lack of resources than anything else). There has been nothing remotely close to PB and allowing citizens to place project ideas on a ballot and vote on them. The golf course? What percentage of the city’s population even uses the golf courses and yet the city subsidizes its water to the tune of $500,000 per year. Dennis, do you really think the citizens of Vallejo would vote to subsidize the water at Blue Rock Springs Golf Course at a half a million dollars per year if they knew that it would pay for the total compensation of a little more than two police officers per year? Seriously? And what PB process has the Central Core Restoration Corporation done to include citizens in revitalizing the downtown? Your entire letter reminds me of the Wizard of Oz – pay NO attention to the man behind the curtain. It’s baseless, without fact or merit.

For the record, the City of Vallejo spent approximately $50,000 on consultants for PB Vallejo this year. A pittance compared to the consultants used to justify water agreements and fee structures between the City of Vallejo and Blue Rock Springs Golf Course. By the way, Dennis, don’t you work for Blue Rock Springs? No hidden agenda there, right?

With PB’s ongoing success in more than 1500 cities worldwide and growing every year, I’d hardly call it an “unproven social experiment.” Nice try, but if there’s anything that’s unproven, it’s the content of Dennis Yen’s letter to the editor.


Note: All opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Vallejo Independent Bulletin.

'Not so sweet little Lies' have 23 comments

  1. June 24, 2014 @ 2:06 am warf rat

    When the now Discovery Kingdom (aka Marine world ) built out on the 141 Acres , displacing the old chabot golf course , yes there was a huge golf-course there, wich was re-located /rebuilt as the BLUE ROCK golfcourse …. We re-located a huge golfcourse , this cost was born by the Vallejo taxpayers , and in fact was a net negative and remains , one to this day to the tune of over $100,000 per year , yes we subsidise a huge golfcourse year in year out … Considering the Acreage and impacts perhaps Discovery Kingdom was not the panacea it was foisted off as ? would a mixed use business park have provided more real $ revenue ?? … let us learn from our past , otherwise continue to sprial in the vortext of self created purgatory a tornado with no tomorow “a rudderless Ship” Mere flotsam and jetsome , drifting whilly nilly on the ocean currents , wile smaller communities bordering us ALL have vibrant Business parks , while Vallejo can only produce a self storage facility with 1.5 jobs Our neighbors do so much better , with a diverse and market advantaged buisness , some of wich I have worked in , and many wich thrive !!! When the costs and actual long term #ers are crunched I suspect the Marine world experiment and the Mare Island Miss-adventure will not pencil out … Afterall time is money ! and Vallejo is burdened with the aftermath of the passing of the cash cow (MI) We , after giving the prime property away to Lennar are left with mere crumbs,
    Our own dam fault .., We are left with a pile of loon sh-t on the north Island , not worthy of building a mere dog house on , as most of the land is un-engineered dredge spoils , deposited when Ships became larger and with deeper draft and, massive dredging was reqiuired to maintain the channel depth .. North Mare island is not an economic engine , rather it is an Anique that has thrown a rod decades ago …. If investors / developers can not finance projects there why the hell should Vallejo invest dime one in it ??? loon s**t is loon s**t kinda like politics ….. Ya know like PAC’S ………. They deposit a bunch of stinky mud that has no practible purpose , and only contributes to subsidence and eventual liquefaction …………… Vallejo’s wealth resides in it’s housing stock and “can be” small business community , this is the coin or our realm .. City Hall remains an impediment to economic development because the functions are diametricly opposed , lets not argue !!! economic development can only be done by Entropneers/ business people not by bearuecrats
    when COV embraces a wholesale “PASSPORT” for all prospective small and other businesses in Vallejo can the economic engine be started .. Fallow brownfields on north MI are but a desert , with little infrastructure and few oppurtunities, a mere pipe dream an “economic engine with a broken crankshaf”t , all while the oppurtunity and possibilities exist with infrastructure and in place infrastructure… Our Paraents and Grand Parents laied the foundations , will we build upon them ? or will we run this City from a computer screen , or will we finaly lace up our work boots and get to work ??? Vallejo has the grit and allways has !!! ……….


  2. June 24, 2014 @ 4:27 am Bong Hit

    Your tone comes across as angry and vindictive especially considering the fact that Mr. Yen is paying for measure B while you are not.


  3. June 24, 2014 @ 8:08 am Salty Dog

    What is so important about PB and what makes it so popular as a governance tool is that it has the effect of counterbalancing the powers that we generally see as “the bureaucracy”. It is not an attack on the power of Council, rather a strategy to ensure that the real “concerns” and “desire” of citizens have another avenue for debate and action.

    In a world where growing bureaucracy and abuses (think IRS and Congressional hearings) that can occur in the name of the “formal organization” represented by city staff, PB provides the warm passions of community to come squarely up against the cool sense of proportion that characterizes bureaucracy. And that has to be a good thing.

    In my opinion.


  4. June 24, 2014 @ 8:11 am Billy Goat

    Dennis’s Letter tot the Editor is from the school of, “If we say it often enough, we can make lies appear true.” As the head of Jumpstart and their scorched earth tactics, Dennis is hardly a credible spokesperson. It’s interesting and telling that he is so opposed to Participatory Budgeting. Obviously as an old guard type, he feels threatened by the power of a broad cross-section of CITIZENS developing projects together, building consensus, and insisting on the right to have a hand in how Vallejo is run, and how Vallejo allocates its resources. The Jumpstart crew & their candidates, with more than $200k of special interest money, want City resources to go to a narrow set of targets — the already bloated contracts of police and fire, and to hand-picked business interests. PB expands the number of people paying attention to how the City is run — that’s gotta be terrifying for those used to plundering the City.


    • June 24, 2014 @ 9:43 am Salty Dog

      The unfortunate danger of municipal elections is that a bloc (Jumpstart) with a relatively narrow frame of goals can conspire to monopolize the agenda which may, or may not be to the general community benefit, but is narrow, by definition.

      The strength of PB is that it can truly represent a wider array of grass roots desires and needs through a process that is democratic and likely better represents the priorities that the community wishes to explore.

      Since PB is a minor aspect of the total municipal budget, both the incumbent elected reps and the formal staff organization should not view PB as a threat but rather as a tool to better gauge the community and thus, better serve the aspirations of community. IMO.


  5. June 24, 2014 @ 11:24 am In The Know

    This morning I was quite surprised and saddened to read Ms. Brown’s letter to the VTH and then of course this letter that was the same as printed in the paper today. I have known Mr. Yen for many years and although we have been in different camps on several issues in Vallejo I really didn’t think his letter deserved the words or tone that Ms. Brown gave it. Suffice it to say I can understand how she would differ in her approach but to use phrases such as “tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies, tell me, tell me lies….”, “his letter is so inarticulate”, “All I can say is: ignorance is bliss” and ” This is such a complete lie”: doesn’t address the issues raised in his letter with the kind of discourse letters to the editor should command.

    And finally, “Dennis, don’t you work for Blue Rock Springs?” might or might not be the case. I happen to know he was or still is on the Board of Directors but that as far as I am aware he is an unpaid member as many who serve non-profits in Vallejo. To state so without knowing the facts doesn’t do justice to someone who wrote a letter to the editor expecting good discussion rather than the rants of someone who disagrees.

    Boy these types of responses sure give someone in the future pause to write their thoughts on matters important to proper differences of opinion.


  6. June 24, 2014 @ 4:46 pm Marti Brown

    To “In the Know” and “Bong Hit:”
    Mr. Yen’s letter is misleading and deceptive. I have no problem agreeing to disagree. But the dialogue to continue or not continue PB should be based on the truth – not opinion stated as fact. You cannot have “good discussion” when letters such as Mr. Yen’s are quite simply a misinformation campaign designed to falsely discredit the PB process.

    As for paying for Measure B, every time I eat out or shop in Vallejo (which is still rather frequent) I am paying for Measure B.


    • June 24, 2014 @ 9:06 pm Bong Hit

      Water for the golf course and a mulligan for you. I’d let sleeping dogs lie if I were you.


    • June 24, 2014 @ 10:53 pm John K

      I think Dennis is persistent, yet ignorant, sleeping in the same bed with Sam Kurshan and JT Miller (JD’s Dumber Brother) and the Jump Start Farce. Not good for taxpayers. Same budget ideas with excess generosity toward employee unions that put Our Town into bankruptcy, and will continue to keep us in deficit spending for years to come. I have heard Dennis accuse others of “drinking the koolaid”, but it looks to me as if Dennis has, himself, quaffed down big gulps of the bogus stuff. Brings to mind the disciples of Karl Rove. Just keep repeating the lie until folks think it’s true.

      What is it that Dennis sees as wrong with citizens, residents, and taxpayers taking a small part, maybe ONE THIRD, in how their tax money is spent? Seems that the mayor Osby and people like Dennis Yen think that our tax money is THEIR OWN to decide how to spend. Are they smart enough to do a better job spending our tax money? Doubtful.


    • June 25, 2014 @ 6:52 am In The Know

      The “good discussion” you want to have is not fostered when you use the words and terms you used. It’s one thing to be passionate on a subject but to be as mean spirited as you came across doesn’t get the discussion anywhere.

      One last comment. PB might be the greatest grass roots effort since the Voting Rights Act of 1964 but for Vallejo, coming out of bankruptcy and with the Great Recession of 2008 still barking at the door, experimentation does not seem to be the wisest move to have made. Fundamentals of putting our city on a safer footing with rebuilding our public safety and the capital expenditures needed seems far wiser for the foreseeable future.

      Have a good day in the Capitol, Marty.


      • June 25, 2014 @ 6:01 pm Marti Brown

        “In the Know,”
        A “good discussion” also cannot be fostered when the content of the letter that initiated the dialogue is fabricated and based on conjecture. While my tone may offend you (and others), it is quite simply because I’m frustrated that so many people don’t actually bother to do any homework or learn anything about PB and then speak as though they’re experts. As is often the case, the “tone” of my letter has become the subject of these exchanges rather than the fact that Dennis made several unfounded assumptions, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Go figure.

        But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Even your own opinion in the second paragraph above refers to PB as “experimentation.” Since more than 1500 PB processes have been completed world wide, I’d hardly call that “experimentation.” When does it simply become another budgeting process with a very strong civic engagement component?

        I agree that we should put the city on a safe footing and continue to focus on public safety. But it will be very difficult to complete that undertaking when City of Vallejo employees’ salaries are still the fifth highest in the State (according to a recent study). Perhaps we should focus on those numbers, instead of taking away from the public the meager 1.2 percent of the total city budget that was allocated to PB this year. It is a very small amount of money that has done tremendous good. Returning it to the General Fund will not fix our public safety or rebuild the city’s reserves. We will have to continue to control spending, increase economic development and grow our revenues in order to do that. That’s the only way to sustainably rebuild all of the city’s departments including public safety.


  7. June 24, 2014 @ 11:49 pm ImtalkinHere

    Mr. Yen is a one trick pony. The gold course has been subsidized for at least twenty years. The “board” hasn’t been able to bring that course into the black as long as I can remember. How many people even use that place in comparison to the people touched by PB. He is solely focused on keeping his privileged few equipped with their golf carts and traveling cocktail wagons. He doesn’t care about the needs of the everyday citizen. I hear he even pitched a plan to take some of the grounds of Blue Rock Springs park to build a club house for the golfers! That’s the sickness that comes with Jump Start. Funding staff positions, approving a budget that is based on anticipated revenues and assumptions, ( pie in the sky stop light changes that promises a rebate based on the contingency that we change over 400 stop lights a week for the next 6 months, a budget that assumes that no raises will be given to the entire city staff for the next five years, etc. etc.!) This is just the tip of the iceberg that will sink the good ship Vallejo. Again…


  8. Firebug

    June 25, 2014 @ 8:10 am Firebug

    Like wise funding contracts and employee compensation that exceeds general fund revenues hoping that we do not go bankrupt again is obviously not learning from the past.


  9. June 25, 2014 @ 8:34 am Bong Hit

    Here is a very good and short analysis of PB. If you take the time to read it, see if you come to the following conclusions which flow directly from the authors findings:

    1.) The PB process and it’s outcomes is completely dependent on the specific factors present in the local community. Social, cultural, economic, political conditions all influence how PB is implemented.

    2.) There is no single definition or universal implementation strategy for PB. There is in fact a vast matrix of participants and possible interactions among public and private entities.

    3.) The PB process is so new that data is not available to make long term projections on the impacts or make generalized statements on how best to implement PB.

    My take away is this. Vallejo taxpayers should not be locked into a single model of PB. Change in PB here in Vallejo is inevitable and healthy. There are many more potential positive outcomes and models for public participation in the budgeting and governing process in Vallejo. Ad Homonym attacks on people who propose changes to PB are neither helpful or correct in any context.


    • June 25, 2014 @ 6:12 pm Marti Brown

      “Bong Hit,”

      I attacked the content of Dennis Yen’s letter.

      As I said to “In the Know,” it’s interesting that the “tone” of my letter is of far more interest than the unfounded assumptions and conjecture in Dennis’s letter. I guess wanting someone to base his/her letter on facts and truth is too much to ask for.

      If I did some digging, I’m sure I too could find a scholarly article that supports my point of view. Instead, I”ll just cite the White House, the World Bank and the United Nations (in addition to many other organizations) who have stated that PB is a best practice in Democracy and budgeting…and leave it at that.


  10. June 25, 2014 @ 8:29 pm Bong Hit

    Yes Marti, I understand you attacked both the content of Dennis Yen’s letter and the content of his character. We get that part. The part that I don’t get is why you found it necessary to stoop to character assassination when basic education is called for.

    I trust your judgement on the general fund, GAP and how the municipal budget is broken down (please don’t prove me wrong). Your command of the facts is impressive and one of the reasons I voted for you but I don’t like vindictive, nasty attacks on ordinary citizens who are not seeking personal gain by their opinions.

    You say you could do some “digging” to find a paper on PB. Once again, let me help you with the research. If you read/skim through these 15 pages which include references, I’m confident you will learn something of value. I strongly encourage all my fellow citizens who have been blessed with a good education to do the same. Public allocation of taxpayer funds through a budgeting process is one aspect of this most recent phenomenon called “participatory budgeting”.

    Among the 60 or so examples in the wold to date, there are vast permutations of how the ordinary citizens can interact with the formal bureaucracy through this process. In some cases, citizen panels are set up and taken inside the confidential negotiation processes between public and private entities. This is intended to increase transparency and build public confidence in the elected government. It may turn out that allocation of taxpayer funds is not the highest and best use of this process. I would love to get some of our brightest citizens who live here and pay taxes here inside the city administration to report out what they observe. I’d prefer that to spending one time money on many of the project proposals I’ve seen.


  11. June 25, 2014 @ 10:40 pm Salty Dog

    I, of course, agree with you Marti…..your tone, in the minds of some here, seems to take precedence over the largely factually devoid content of Yee’s opinion piece. Which, in my opinion misses the point….the value of PB in a democracy, particularly a modern democracy awash in forces that tend to alienate the great unwashed is to effectively harness the wants and needs of a community for the betterment of its residents.

    However given their past and current records, I would shy away from using the White House, World Bank or , God forbid, the United Nations as a backup for best practices.

    I view the value of participatory democracy, particularly at the local level from the perspective of my studies in bureaucracy and the exponential expansion of formal organizations under the rubric of bureaucratic models that manage the complexities of modern governance. Don’t get me wrong. I believe bureaucracy is a necessary evil and the only mechanism that seems able to handle complexity. But it does so in a world of facts,data and mechanical models and devoid of the warm passions and values that real people display in their lives and in living. In doing so, there is a tendency toward a “disillusionment of the world, in which we all become cogs, some bigger cogs than others, but cogs nonetheless”(Max Weber).

    That is the great fact/value dichotomy represented by a local governance structure, between the formal organization headed by the City Manager ,and those who are governed, represented by seven elected Councilors. His imperative is to ensure continuity and certainty for the structure ….and that has nothing to do with right.wrong/good or bad/love or hate/fairness or fecklessness. Yes, he is an individual with all those personal human values, but the hat he wears professionally is one that considers with a cool sense of proportion, the organizations effectiveness through certainty and continuity. His is a world of rules, facts and regulations to support that goal. Human values become secondary to that purpose.

    PB, as an adjuct of seven elected reporesentatives, in my opinion, provides another avenue by which human “values” can be injected into the bureaucracy (kicking and screaming naturally because it is contrary in nature to what bureaucracy expects). People of varying experiences and values come together and articulate their “desires” and “needs” for the community and are able to actively participate and “feel” that their opinions have merit and are given due consideration. More importantly, the PB process provides a window for those elected to govern to understand a community’s priorities and to reflect policy that more closely correlates with the community’s wants and needs. A bureaucracy that focuses only on continuity and certainty is neither equipped nor motivated to provide such insight.

    Any strategy that conjoins the warm passions (values) of community with the cool sense of proportion (facts) represented by the formal bureaucratic structure has to be healthy and beneficial . And that, in my humble opinion, is truly responsible governance.
    PB is a step in that direction3


    • June 26, 2014 @ 10:49 am wharf rat

      While I find the math required on this new site format a bit of a challenge I must respond to Salt’s comments …
      So in a nutshell are you inferring that the bear—ocrassy is a non humanistic enterprize ? or rubric asside devoid of a soul ? if so you are spot on .. To move foreward one must know the contents of their tool box and if lacking augment such ..


      • June 26, 2014 @ 1:31 pm Salty Dog

        That is precisely what I suggest, WR…….not that those working within the formal organization don’t have a “heart” and “feelings” and all those other values that make us human. But, within the organizational context, they are just cogs, with some bigger cogs than others….but still cogs that are bound by statutory rules and regulations.

        PB provides an avenue for residents, citizens, taxpayers…….real people to put forward their wants and needs that the bureaucracy must address since PB is established and becomes part of the formal organization’s process for meeting its “ends”.

        Much to the chagrin of bureaucratic purists, the “means” (PB) are pretty unpalatable since they must deal with human values in a system that is only designed for maintaining continuity and certainty through regulatory process.

        In my opinion, their is an ethic of responsibility in governance that the seven elected members should reflect upon….that is, a responsibility that community values are injected into the “system” which is how they became elected members of Council. That of course, needs to be balanced with the regulatory requirements that bureaucracy requires . PB is a thrust in that direction.

        In that regard, I believe Ms Brown and other PB supporters have it right. It is also why there will always be a push back and reluctance from those operating within the organization. Feelings and facts are like oil and water….very difficult to mix. Maybe an emulsion though?

        In my opinion.


  12. June 25, 2014 @ 11:00 pm Salty Dog

    @ Bong……

    Great readable citation. Thanks.


  13. July 2, 2014 @ 4:47 pm Anonymous

    None of this matters people. Dear God you waste SO much time discussing things that have no bearing on our quality of life, patting yourselves on the back and congratulating yourselves for being so incredibly smart. Well, you are not. Logic, reason and critical thought are dead and gone in places like the Bay Area, and that is frighteningly evident in places like Vallejo, East Oakland, Richmond etc. We live in a ghetto full of ignorant, angry, lazy welfare people & the “educated” who just are not very smart and insightful. To sit around whining about participatory BS budgeting when our streets are literally crumbling and the crime rate can no longer be ignored or dismissed is the height of hypocrisy and idiocy. This former city council person spoke of the improvements to this shabby town that happened on her watch. If you live here, you know what a joke that is. Take care of the noise, filth and crime or NOTHING will change. That is just the way it is. And it won’t change with your verbal masturbatory back flips.


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