Civic Infrastructure

by Carolyn Chase


ll of the recent regional workshops, events and assemblies organized separately by the Building Industry Association, Council of Design Professionals, SANDAG, County Board of Supervisors, community housing advocates and environmentalists have presented a range of concerns and ideas about how to deal with growth.

Interestingly enough, they all identified one common element, in addition to the usual genuflecting to economic prosperity and nouveau-politically-correct pandering to the environment.

"Community leadership" and coalition building were cited as essential at every single forum - whether they liked it or not. And more often than not, elected officials, in my experience, do not like it. If there's one thing that should be a requirement of public life, it's being able to take criticism. It ain't easy, which is part of why a limited pool of people are even willing to consider running for public office. But leaders have to learn to become better as a result of it - either in spite of it, or because of it.

A healthy democracy seems to require getting your feelings hurt. Unfortunately, you really can't tell simply from an outward expression of feeling whether or not any further changes should be required. That requires looking at the design of the system, not the style of any particular official.

People working inside the system are often ill-equipped to see the
flaws in it. This is the inherent design of a civically-controlled democracy. The healthiest systems are those where civilians are empowered to influence policy as much as professionals. Disparaged as gadflies or lawsuit-happy when they attempt to assert themselves, volunteer citizens are evidently a requirement for maintaining some kind of quality-of-life standards.

Carl Guardino, Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Manufacturer's Group, shared his business wisdom about how to approach success in dealing with growth and maintaining your quality of life. Silicon Valley has had to deal with exactly the same growth pressure as we are facing, and is much further along the curve.

"You need regular private citizens. It's never as appealing or
resonating with voters unless you have one private citizen talking to another." and "it's part of our nature to build coalitions." said Guardino.

William Hudnut, former Mayor of Indianapolis, observed, "Citizen participation will characterize the successful city of the future. Cicero described the nature of the common wealth. A commonwealth means a partnership for the common good. What does it take? A healthy, robust civic culture. Today's good citizens should be a part of the networks that build the public good to be more than a empty phrase. What do good citizens do? Scan the public scene for signs of danger as we look out toward the 21st century. When danger approaches, they not only vote, but become informed; join a political group; petition or make some 'civic noise.' Leaders make civic noise and create positive change."

San Diego has a history of civic groups and they deserve our support, now more than ever.

"Citizens for Coordinate Century 3, or "C-3" has created "Toward Permanent Paradise" as a sustainable vision for the region. Their goal: to make temporary paradise permanent. What does it require? Permanent Paradise requires "a well-informed citizenry that shares the vision and is willing to help us pursue it with passion and long-term dedication. Community leaders throughout the region who take action to implement the vision; and a coordinated effort by planning professionals throughout the region to develop the tools needed and then apply them with vigor, creativity, and focus in order to help achieve our goal."

Described by Sanford Goodkin as "a brilliantly led organization with real moxey," C-3, a non-partisan non-profit was founded in March 1961 by a group of concerned citizens led by Lloyd Ruocco and Esther Scott with the support of Hamilton Marston and Ellen Revelle Eckis. Their objectives were to conserve and promote "a handsome/functional community" through research, education and coordinated citizens' action.

In one of the first citizen freeway battles, C-3 fought efforts to widen 163, the Cabrillo Freeway, to six lanes and take out the large trees and greenway as it goes past Balboa Park. They were also instrumental in the city's billboard and sign control regulations constraining size and height.

C-3 is currently seeking the right individual to serve as Executive Director. This is a great opportunity to help build the critical civic infrastructure required to maintain our quality of life in the face of the tremendous pressures of growth. Contact me directly for more information on how to join C-3 or to get further involved in the civic infrastructure.

Carolyn Chase is a member of the Board of Directors of C-3 and Chair of the City's Waste Management Advisory Board.