Not coincidentally, cyclist participation declined steadily through 5 meetings between last summer and this Spring. People who attended the first couple of 5pm meetings (not easy for working folks) were strong out of the gate with numerous suggestions, but it soon became clear that their good efforts disappeared into the ether. Where are the official notes? None is posted to the Bike Plan Committee documents page. We’ve only received one set of notes by mail (there were five meetings). [Update: the only notes, those from the first July 7, 2011 meeting, fails to document the substantive contribution made by bike community attendees.] So folks simply stopped showing up. We at Better Bike couldn’t tell them their time wasn’t wasted.
Second, Public Works has shown a clear contempt for engaging the public in the business of the single-largest city budget line item outside of safety. This is not new; it’s a perennial problem. Consider that Public Works hasn’t posted Public Works Commission meeting audio since 2010. It is one of the city’s worst departments when it comes to posting legible public documents (indeed any public documents at all). And it stands nearly alone among about 25 other city bodies for not making the department’s work open to the public. If you’re seeking information about Public Works projects or plans, you will find the literature rack in the Public Works building lobby nearly empty and bereft of outreach materials that could inform Beverly Hills stakeholders.
Believe it or not, providing information via the lobby was actually cited in the department’s workplan as a criterion for increasing public engagement. But then the department also says in its workplan that it would make 100% of meeting audio and minutes available. It fails according to both criteria.
So you see, posting tomorrow’s Traffic & Parking Commission Bike Pilot agenda in a place where the public could find it, whether on the committee or commission sites or the city’s calendar – or all three! – would actually have been out of character. The city’s Charitable Solicitations Commission must be working toward a different standard, though, because it was able to post its own Wednesday ‘special meeting’ agenda on the city’s website in timely fashion. Don’t get us started about our city’s use of the ‘special meeting’ designation to escape legal posting requirements….
A cynic would say that the low regard for tomorrow’s T&P Commission Pilot meeting is in keeping with Public Works’s low regard for planning generally. Some might even call it ‘bad faith’ planning. But we know it’s not as simple as a City Hall that’s rotten at the core. We’re no Bell or Hawaiian Gardens. Beverly Hills is ably led by many volunteer commissions and elected officials that put in long hours in Council meetings to make sure that the city functions. Many exhibit clear pride in our city.
So what explains the disregard for including the public? One has to wonder if it’s not the tail wagging the dog here: if the problem is the departments themselves which in theory are accountable to the elected city leadership. Maybe we’re laboring under an inversion of the City Hall organizational chart (right) where the stakeholders sit atop the governance pyramid only on paper. The elected officials who serve us rule only on paper over the departments.
If the bike planning effort is any indication, this organizational chart is a convenient fiction with the Pilot meetings a charade to satisfy the legal requirement for public input but not the spirit of engagement and participation behind it.
The enduring mystery (at least to Better Bike) is how it can continue in an area like transportation safety. Every day, in every way, cyclist safety in Beverly Hills is sacrificed to vehicular flow. It seems like we’re also sacrificed for the convenience of Transportation officials, who appear to labor hardly at all where the safe travel for all road users is concerned.