Specific proposals will address how the city and community-based nonprofits deliver critical health and human services to our neediest residents. We propose making this an integrated part of the budget process, not a last-minute afterthought. Toward this end, the Community Congress will present actionable proposals to create innovative "resident/government" partnerships to improve local government responsiveness and efficiency.
RAISING—AND SPENDING—THE BENJAMINS
One of the keys to unlocking the city's stagnating economy is progressive revenue generation and more democratic participation in budgeting. We must enlarge the public pie while reapportioning it in a way that stimulates job creation and shifts the tax burden onto the large businesses that reap vast private benefits from public goods and services. The city's budget process must be dramatically reshaped and democratized. Communities need a seat at the fiscal table when the budget is being crafted — instead of lobbying tooth and nail at the end of the process just to retain funding that barely keeps programs afloat.
How can we build a participatory budgeting movement that brings residents and communities into the process? For instance, community budget councils composed of elected and appointed residents from every supervisorial district could assess neighborhood needs and incorporate them into drafting the budget. Whatever form this takes, the goal is to put the needs of residents at the forefront of how the city spends its resources.
The Community Congress can also help redefine fiscal responsibility. Taxing and spending must be accountable and transparent and respect the fact that this is the public's money. Let's be honest: much of what passes for government excess is due to management and executive bloat at the top, not salaries of frontline workers like bus drivers, social service providers, and hospital workers. True fiscal responsibility also means investing in prevention: education, healthcare, and services that help people build their lives.
It's time to reclaim the public sector as the sphere of our shared interest. Rather than thinking in terms of the old paradigm that counterpoises "government" and "the market," let us envision a new citizen movement to create a more participatory, democratic, and accountable system of self-government.
The San Francisco Community Congress is about bringing people together — community activists, those working in the trenches of our increasingly strained social services, our environmental visionaries, our artists, the urban gardeners and permaculturists, poets, bicycle enthusiasts, inventors ... in short, assembling our pool of collective knowledge and wisdom, and yes, our differences — in a forum to discuss, debate, share concerns and viewpoints, and ultimately produce a working template that is both visionary and can be implemented.
The Community Congress will create a space for all of us to participate in defining our own vision of San Francisco. It is a first step toward reasserting popular control over economic development. It is an invitation to be visionary, rethinking in fundamental ways what it means to live in the 21st century city, and a forum for creating real, practical platforms and proposals that can be implemented using the powers of local government.
We want to propose a new vision of urban governance. Not more bureaucracy, more commissions, more departments, but the creation of new institutions that are democratically accountable and place new kinds of economic and political resources in the hands of ordinary citizens.