Sacramento is officially launching its participatory budgeting program, which over the next few months will let residents decide how the city will spend $1 million in sales tax revenue.
The pilot program comes two years after the city’s Measure U Community Advisory Committee initially proposed the idea. The committee, which offers ideas on how Sacramento should spend a large pot of sales tax funding, first suggested the city start the pilot with $15 million.
When the Sacramento City Council debated the proposal last year, Mayor Darrell Steinberg suggested the pilot should start with a smaller dollar amount and possibly increase year after year.
“We ought to do participatory budgeting for the entire budget,” Steinberg said Feb. 10 at a press conference officially announcing the program. “What we develop here, we ought to make part of the culture and part of the tradition, part of the expectation in Sacramento.”
The Measure U committee spent six months developing the program and approved a four-step plan in January.
With the program getting underway, here’s what you need to know about participatory budgeting in the city, how it impacts you and how you can get involved.
What is participatory budgeting?
For starters, it’s not a new concept. It originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil in the 1980s and has since spread to a number of places across the world that now utilize this type of budgeting in some way. Vallejo, Oakland, San Francisco and New York City are just a handful of places that have a participatory budgeting program.
It’s a form of direct democracy, wherein the people decide together how to spend public money, as opposed to politicians handling the budget.
“When you think about what's missing in our democracy — not just in the city, but throughout the country and in some ways the world — is that people feel left out. They feel disempowered,” Steinberg said. “They don't believe that their voices actually matter, and what we are attempting to do here … is to say that your voice matters.”
Why does it matter?
Sacramento voters passed a second version of the Measure U sales tax in 2018, extending the tax and raising it from a half-cent to a penny. How that money would ultimately be spent is up to the City Council, but the Measure U Community Advisory Committee can offer suggestions.
The participatory budget pilot is one of the most significant suggestions the city has accepted from the Measure U committee, and puts the power directly in the hands of the community.
City Council members backing the program hope this won’t be the only time participatory budgeting is done in Sacramento, and want even more money added in the future.
Council member Katie Valenzuela said the pilot should be a “foundation upon which we learn,” not a one-off program.
“This is really just the first step in what I hope will be an ongoing commitment from our city and not just to expand the pot of money that is available for this direct process,” Valenzuela said, “but to take the lessons learned from this process, and implement it in how we make decisions to make … our city decision making more accessible to the community.”
What’s the process for the participatory budget program?
The Measure U committee worked with the city and third-party consultants to develop a four-phase approach to roll out the program.
Here’s how it looks:
- Phase 1, idea collection (April-May): Any Sacramento resident can submit an idea for funding consideration when proposal applications open in April. (We will update this page with a link when that is live.)
- Phase 2, proposal development (May-July): Volunteers will work with city staff to review the ideas to decide which projects are feasible, which ones to prioritize and develop the highest priority ideas into fully-fledged proposals. Those ideas will get on a ballot that will later be voted on.
- Phase 3, voting (August): Community members will vote for their preferred projects. The projects will be ranked based on the highest number of votes, and they’ll be funded in that order until the $1 million budget is used up. The results are then announced publicly.
- Phase 4, implementation & monitoring (September): Winning projects move on and are implemented and monitored to ensure they are completed according to the project proposal details.
Which neighborhoods are participating?
Any person living in Sacramento can submit a proposal, but not every neighborhood will be involved in the pilot round. Of the $1 million, half will go to neighborhoods in north Sacramento, and half will go to south Sacramento — areas that have historically seen a lack of investment.
These are the north Sacramento neighborhoods: Village Green, Parker Homes, Youngs Heights, Del Paso Heights, Johnson Heights, Strawberry Manor, Gardenland, Northgate, Hagginwood, South Hagginwood, Cannon Industrial Park, Ben Ali, Richards Village, Willis Acres, Noralto, Old North Sacramento and Swanson Estates.
There are the south Sacramento neighborhoods: Parkway, Meadowview, Woodbine, Brentwood, South City Farms, North City Farms, Central and South Oak Park, Lawrence Park, Fruitridge Manor, Avondale, Southeast Village, Glen Elder, Power Ridge, New Brighton, Belvedere, Granite Regional Park, Ramona Village and Colonial Manor.
How can I get involved?
There are a number of ways to get involved. At this point in the process, the city is working to get community-based organizations to get the word out to residents in the neighborhoods that will be involved.
The city is giving out $5,000 grants to those community-based organizations — local nonprofits, neighborhood associations, churches, etc. — that want to help with outreach. To apply, click here. The deadline to apply is March 18.
For community members, the city is currently doing outreach and hosting information sessions about participatory budgeting. For a list of those sessions, click here. The city regularly updates that web page with new sessions.
In May, community members will be able to volunteer as proposal delegates, which will work with the city and Measure U committee to decide which project proposals will be feasible. To qualify as a proposal delegate, you must be 14 years or older, live, work, attend school, or be the guardian of someone who attends school in one of the focus neighborhoods.
In the case that there are more volunteers than city staff and the participatory budgeting committee can coordinate, there will be an application process to select proposal delegates.
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