Letter to the proponents of San Francisco proposition E 2015
I received email promoting prop E and sent the following letter in response:
Mr. [David] Lee,
I have already voted against this proposition primarily because it does not provide any provision for managing the inflow of non-local comments. I don't mean people who live nearby because of our over-priced city and who are personally affected by the matters discussed, I mean the same kind of people in other states and even other countries who spend their time trolling the comments on SFGate.com. A lot of those folks are there because they don't like San Francisco values. They're burning time and attention to stir things up and slam the city and its people. It's bad enough in our newspaper discussions (and other SF-affiliated online comment spaces); we don't need it in our government. Have you already forgotten the out-of-state involvement in Prop 8?
Further, the idea of scheduling specific times for comment will hinder the ability to work through many items at public meetings. I've attended lots of local government meetings and many times have attended at the last moment because I was able to get there unexpectedly. I'm not alone in that. There's no predicting how many people will want to comment on an issue. There's no predicting how many people who came will decide to comment or not comment based on the statements of the primary parties involved. Scheduling specific times will produce unnecessary constraint in number of speakers (or, one hopes, an overflow into the next scheduled slot so that no local voices are unheard). Also at these meetings there's often a postponement of an item, for example when an interested party was unexpectedly not present at a recent Board of Appeals meeting I attended. Should the Board and all the attendees for the next matter on the agenda have had to sit silently for half an hour until a scheduled time came up? That's not efficient or a good use of anyone's time.
Yes, more livestreaming would be great. We need it.
Yes, methods for those who live, work, or study in SF to contribute to these meetings without attending in person would be good. But it needs to be done in a manner which doesn't clog the process with those who are not impacted by the matter at hand.
Yes, improved handling of the timing of high-interest agenda items would be great. But those running these meetings are already incentivized to make that happen and unfortunately the variability in matters to be covered—e.g. how long it will take to approve the minutes of the prior meeting, or to resolve other routine start-of-meeting matters, or to work through any given agenda item—means that a schedule is very problematic. You can't legitimately cut anything short to stay on track and you don't want dead time in order to stay on track; it's got to be flexible.
Proposition E did not address those major 'But's and needs to be re-worked in future to earn my yes vote.
I hope you will share my letter with your students so that they understand a defeat on this proposal is most definitely not because we don't want to hear their voices.
Technology is not the only part of improving a challenging civic function like this; it needs community management skills—just like any good online discussion space—and careful implementation and problem resolution planning before a mandate of methodology can be laid down.