February 29, 2012; Source: San Diego Reader

In what appears to be a move for participatory budgeting in San Diego, the Community Budget Alliance, a coalition consisting of environmental, faith-based, labor, and community groups, has submitted a letter to the mayor and City Council that makes budget recommendations for the city. As priorities, the group highlighted jobs that pay a basic self-sufficiency wage and “cost-recovery plans including actions such as levying fines on banks that allow foreclosed properties to fall into disrepair and require increased city attention.” But more to the point, the group is pushing for more participation of citizens in the budgeting process.

Diana Ross, a spokesperson for the group, says, “We are a diverse group that strongly believes the city’s budget discussions need to be much more open and understandable, and must include the voices of people affected by those decisions…Investing in the future of San Diego includes empowering citizens to be partners in creating a vision for the budget.”

According to the Participatory Budgeting Project, “Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. Most examples involve city governments that have opened up decisions around municipal budgets, such as overall priorities and choice of new investments, to citizen assemblies.”

The idea appears to have originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has been slowly spreading. YES! Magazine published an article in 2010 on participatory budgeting’s use in Chicago’s North Side. According to the article, “participatory budgeting has gone global, spreading to over 1,200 cities around the world and winning the United Nations’ recognition as a best practice of democratic governance.”

We would love to hear about any experiences our readers have had with such initiatives. –Ruth McCambridge