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Enterprise Op-ed - Democracy is not a spectator sport

By Susan Lovenburg. Co-signed by members of Saving California Communities: Bob Agee, Jan Agee, Sheila Allen, Ruth Asmundson, Davis Campbell, Delaine Eastin, Lucas Frerichs, Jackie Hausman, John Hills, Michael Hulsizer, Sara Husby, Hiram Jackson, Charlotte Krovoza, Karen Mo, Don Palm, Gavin Payne, Jim Provenza, Richard Reed, Don Saylor, Helen Thomson, Kirk Trost and Jay Ziegler. | Special to the Enterprise | June 19, 2009 15:39


Saving California Communities

At the May 16 meeting of Saving California Communities, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin spoke on 'Securing the Blessings of the 21st Century':

'Democracy is so much more than a study of history. Democracy actually comes from two Greek words: demos (people) and kratos (govern). Democracy means 'government by the people.' The ancient Greeks believed that the most important part of democratic government was participation. Indeed, they believed that more important than the government created was the transformation of the individual who participated in the political process. The Greeks believed that civic participation created both a better governance system and stronger individual citizens.

'Archimedes, in the ancient Greek democracy, was asked when he explained his new invention the lever, 'Just how powerful is this thing?' Archimedes said, 'Let me tell you how powerful it is. Give me a place to stand, a lever and a fulcrum, and I will move the world.'

'We need active citizens. That is just what the city of Davis, the county of Yolo, the state of California and the United States of America need, what the world needs. This is the lever of our time.'

Participatory democracy, civic engagement, community activism: Whatever your chosen expression, the commitment was shared by all 150 attendees of 'Saving California Communities: Starting Here!' on May 16. In and of itself, that made the day a success.


Gathered together were school, city, county and state elected representatives; union leaders; business owners; senior citizens; students; educators; and those involved with environmental, health, public safety, social service and political organizations.


These community members represented diverse perspectives, but they embraced a common belief that California state government needs reform. Throughout the day, they sought deeper understanding of the problems facing the state and explored possible solutions.


It was a thought-provoking program. Keynote speaker Robert M. Hertzberg, co-chair of California Forward, shared his view that the foundational elements of democracy are failing as people feel increasingly distanced and disconnected from their government. He suggested that to 'get to goal,' reform efforts must bring government closer to those it serves.


Fiscal policy consultant Michael Coleman defined key principles for successful reforms: simplicity, stability, flexibility and avoiding the game of winners and losers.


Dan Carson of the Legislative Analyst's Office outlined the enormity of the financial challenges facing the state. The LAO advocates maximizing ongoing, permanent solutions such as program and cost reductions or new revenue.


Directors of local agencies - the Davis Joint Unified School District, Winters Health Care Foundation, the Food Bank of Yolo County, the Davis Chamber of Commerce, TREE Davis and Yolo Adult Day Health Care - shared the impact of state dysfunction on those they serve. These organizations are all struggling to reduce budgets, many at a time when services are increasingly in demand.


The group's focus turned to finding solutions. Former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin shared her belief that courage, vision and heart will be needed to achieve meaningful and lasting reform of state government.


She reminded the audience that in the early 1960s President John Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Many forget how roundly criticized he was. 'It is too expensive,' said some. 'The schedule is too ambitious,' said others. 'It is too hard,' complained still others. President Kennedy replied, 'We go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.'


Eastin called upon her listeners to 'Be bold. Take chances. Lead.'


California Forward Executive Director Jim Mayer briefed the group on reforms that restore accountability and trust in government so that revenue will flow for services people value. California Forward advocates multi-year fiscal planning, 'pay as you go,' results-based budgeting, and shifting resources and authority back to local governments.


Jim Wunderman, executive director of the Bay Area Council, shared his belief that 'tinkering' with the existing system is not enough. He described his organization's efforts to convene a constitutional convention to wipe the slate clean and define the state anew. Currently only the Legislature can call a constitutional convention, but should they prove unwilling (legislation is pending), the Council plans to use the initiative process to place two measures on the November 2010: the first to amend the state constitution to allow the people to call a convention and the second to call for a convention.


The Cities, Counties, Schools Partnership Task Force on State Budget Reform will hold a July summit of city, county and school elected representatives to create a common vision of needed reform. Task Force Chair Rich Gordon said restoring community control is a central issue for the group.


With a heightened sense of purpose, participants broke into groups to define next steps for the Davis community. Chosen pathways were: continued education, outreach to other communities, and advocacy for key reforms.


Saving California Communities will facilitate these efforts in keeping with our guiding principles. We are united voices for strong, healthy communities in Davis and throughout California. We support a clear alignment of resources, authority and accountability.


We seek stable revenue for services that respond to the needs of all Californians, and we believe that only public engagement in the problems of our day will generate the momentum needed for meaningful reform.


To find out more and to join our effort, visit and subscribe to our e-mail list to receive announcements of future events. You may also indicate your interest in writing to or P.O. Box 4056, Davis, California 95617-4056.


- Susan Lovenburg is a trustee of the Davis School Board. Co-signed by members of Saving California Communities: Bob Agee, Jan Agee, Sheila Allen, Ruth Asmundson, Davis Campbell, Delaine Eastin, Lucas Frerichs, Jackie Hausman, John Hills, Michael Hulsizer, Sara Husby, Hiram Jackson, Charlotte Krovoza, Karen Mo, Don Palm, Gavin Payne, Jim Provenza, Richard Reed, Don Saylor, Helen Thomson, Kirk Trost and Jay Ziegler.

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