Democracy Version 3.0

Last May, we got the idea that since we have no easy way to make a difference about the lack of infrastructure and increasing density, we could create a new model for a town council, designed to make participation easy and even fun. We became a formation committee to incorporate Point Loma Town Council with a mandate to hold an election in the Fall of 2018, to elect members of a town council to represent residents. It’s like a conventional town council but integrated with an online app that will allow every resident with a smart phone or internet connection to inform and poll their community. Poll results can trigger consideration by the elected town council, empowered by our bylaws to take appropriate action. Kinds of action are common to town councils, running the gamut from education and communication to litigation.

Any member that is a resident of our Peninsula can launch a district-wide poll about anything they believe impacts their ability to flourish. The Peninsula is divided into districts of less than 5,000 households, c. 9000 voters, about the number of people in Del Mar. A priority of our app is relationship-building: it promotes civil discussion and is a source of trustworthy information and a forum for conflict resolution.

A possible outcome of this experiment in democracy is that it reduces dependence on mass media in election campaigns.

Yesterday, I heard an NPR interview with John Cox, a wealthy lawyer in Rancho Santa Fe, who previously unsuccessfully ran for president and congressional races in other places. He has been a Trump-flavored Republican and has now announced he would be governor of California, another venture capitalist out to “drain the swamp”. The interesting thing is that he’s mentioned a strategy for revamping representation based on dividing the entire state into 10,000 person districts. sounded similar to the design we came up with for PLTC, however the top-down plan that he suggests, though it works in theory is politically impossible, while it has great potential as a community-based project.

The difficulty, however, is in enrolling participation in the beginning. Unlike Mr. Cox’s suggestion, doesn’t require changes to election law, and it’s independent of partisan, economic or cultural issues. Mr. Cox’s program requires us to rewrite parts of the State constitution. Perhaps, a good idea but for greed, economic interests, resistance from the California League of Cities and so on.

We all know that local representative government is skewed in favor of priorities of those who fund campaigns. As Mr. Cox has noticed, democracy works best in small, homogenous populations, where there’s more chance that constituents know each other and share values, whether or not they actually like each other. This means our democracy is based on 18th century populations and uses 19th century technology.

It is said (by Tip O’Neill when he was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, “All politics is local”. With our mobile population, rapid urban growth and diversity that was unimaginable in 19th century America and most of the 20th century, constituents are powerless about governmental decisions that create conditions that impact enjoyment of life. Since local media makes this powerlessness clear in the way it discusses every issue, and those who are new to San Diego, get the impression this is a place where lip service is paid to problems like climate change and growing congestion and it’s not cool and extremely hard for people to engage in political action.

We realize that land use and economic decisions in Houston, Puerto Rico, Fukushima, Santa Rosa, Las Vegas made these places vulnerable, not to mention the ease with which Russia influenced the voting of hundreds of millions of Americans in the last election.

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