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Santa Monica to Offer Citizens Academy to Boost Civic Participation

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jorge Casuso

May 8, 2013 -- One day after more than 350 residents packed a spirited public meeting to discuss height and density guidelines for Santa Monica’s Downtown, City officials announced a new program to increase community involvement.

On Tuesday, the City Manager’s office announced the launching in spring 2014 of Santa Monica’s first Citizens Academy to “educate residents about their local government and encourage participation in local public policy making,” City officials said.

The free seven-to-ten week program is designed to “help Santa Monica residents learn about their local government and how it and other community institutions and non-profits operate,” said Matthew Mornick, principal analyst for the City Manager’s Office.

“Residents of all ages and backgrounds who have in the past or are currently considering serving in leadership roles in the community, or are curious as to how the City and its partners make decisions, allocate resources, and get things done will be encouraged to complete a brief application,” Mornick said.

A selection committee will pick between 20 and 25 residents who apply for the program, which calls for attending six to eight hours of classes of several hours in the evening or half days on weekends.

Each class -- which will be led by “subject matter experts among City staff or partners in the community” -- will focus on a particular issue, officials said

The topics of discussion likely will include such issues as transportation and parking, planning and economic development, public safety, public infrastructure and education.

“The curriculum will focus on the different nature and needs of the community’s social, economic and community institutions and the role and importance of each to the overall wellbeing of the city,” Mornick said.

Some community activists argue that there is already plenty of community involvement by a citizenry that is well educated in the workings of its government.

On Tuesday, community activist Mary Marlow sent an email to the local press touting the strong showing at Monday’s meeting at the Civic Auditorium.

"We think we showed last night that when over 350 people turn out to talk passionately about their Downtown, they are deeply representative of this community and deserve to be heard and respected throughout this process," Marlow wrote. 

“The residents of Santa Monica are ‘Mad as Hell and not going to take any more,’” she wrote, echoing the famous line delivered by the protagonist of “Network,” Paddy Chayefsky’s biting satire of the television industry.

Residents who believe they are already active participants in the public process have long argued that City officials dismiss their concerns, particularly when it comes to the record number of major developments being approved.

It is unclear how many of these activists will apply for the Citizens Academy.

The City Manager’s office will ask the City Council to earmark $12,000 a year over the next two fiscal years to pay for the academy.

“Residents who participate in the Academy will gain a fuller understanding of what is going on in the city and how to engage the democratic process to improve policy prescriptions, programming and communication,” Mornick said.

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