Community Matters: Finally, a novel approach to resolving the Petaluma Fairgrounds quandary


Eager to find a solution to the quandary, Petaluma City Manager Peggy Flynn recently unveiled an entirely new approach that would utilize a novel “democratic lottery process,” the exact opposite of “politics as usual.”

Healthy Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit consulting firm with a solid track record of helping local governments tackle and resolve complex public policy issues, was recruited and an introductory meeting was held last month to outline the proposed process for the public.

But the meeting left some die-hard fair supporters unimpressed, with one fair board member gloomily predicting that the new process would pick “winners and losers” and “come back to haunt all of us.”

But that dour assessment flies in the face of the very successful outcomes being realized by cities around the world which have embraced democratic lotteries to solve their most difficult problems. That’s according to Healthy Democracy’s program director, Alex Renirie, who I spoke with earlier this week to get a better understanding of how the process could resolve the fairgrounds matter.

As explained by Renirie, a group of randomly selected Petaluma residents would receive a letter inviting them to participate on a panel examining the fairgrounds’ future. From willing respondents, an impartial and diverse citizens panel would be selected representing Petaluma’s unique demographics in terms of age, gender, location of residence, race and ethnicity.

In addition to interviewing dozens of stakeholders–including state fair officials, local government representatives, business and civic leaders, farmers, 4-H leaders and fairgrounds tenants and neighbors – the panel would conduct its own independent research to ensure they have accurate and thorough information that reflects multiple perspectives and incorporates all relevant technical complexities.

With the support of trained professional moderators, panelists would then collaboratively deliberate on potential policy options and prioritize alternatives through extensive discussions over multiple days.

In under six months, the panel would deliver its recommendation for consideration and possible adoption by the Petaluma City Council. . . .

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