In 2013, Vallejo became the first to adopt a citywide participatory budget (PB) process. In this form of ultra-direct democracy, citizens are invited to propose and directly vote on public projects that use their tax dollars. Proponents say it increases community engagement, understanding of the local government process, and transparency.
Vallejo adopted the idea as a way to boost morale in the aftermath of the Great Recession, which forced the city into bankruptcy. It was modeled on a similar program in Brazil and championed by former City Councilwoman Marti Brown.
The interest in PBs has grown since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the renewed focus on social and economic justice. Large cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento now have PB projects in the works. They’ll have a strong equity component.
CapRadio News recently dove into the PB movement and the history of Vallejo’s program in particular. City officials and activists considering community budgets should have a listen. They’ll learn a great deal about how Vallejo’s experiment worked and the challenges it faced at the outset. They’ll also learn about the most popular PB project by far: potholes.