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New Book By Encinitas Politicians Explains How To Work With The System To Enact Change

 December 9, 2020 at 10:14 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Lots of people complain about government, but don't really do anything to change things. Perhaps you've griped about potholes or a new development in your neighborhood. Even talked with the neighbors about the problem. Maybe even made a phone call to a legislator, but nothing changes. It could be nothing changes because you don't know how local government works a new book by two former incinerators city officials explains what you need to know to make change. The book is called potholes parks and politics, a guide to getting things done locally without having to run for office yourself. It's by educator and former Encinitas city council member, Dr. Lisa Schaefer and Lisa, welcome to the program. Speaker 2: 00:45 Thank you. Pleasure to be here and Speaker 1: 00:47 Also collaborating on this book. Former Encinitas mayor Teresa Barth, Theresa. Welcome. Thank you. Now, Lisa, when did it start occurring to you that many of your constituents didn't know the first thing about how to complain or a lobby for change effectively? Speaker 2: 01:03 Well, it actually started before I was elected to city council when I was frustrated, trying to get things done. And then after I was in office, I realized how little I knew about how the system worked and how much more effective I could have been if I had known more. And so I started paying attention to who the city council listened to, uh, while we were in office and which speakers were effective in, which were not. Then after my term was over, I started writing about what I had learned from the experience. And that's was the Genesis of the book Speaker 1: 01:36 When you were on the entity to city council, were there any specific instances where you saw that there was a need for people to be guided through the process? Speaker 2: 01:45 Oh, there were lots. One of the biggest issues was housing, affordable housing and what the state rules were, what discretion the city had. We had people asking the city to take actions that were not within our purview, that that were state or federal mandates. And so it was frustrating because they, they were frustrated that we weren't doing what they asked, but we didn't actually have the authority to do what they asked. Speaker 1: 02:08 Lisa. One of the first pieces of advice in the book is for people to define the problem that they have, that would seem very easy. But what do you mean by that? Speaker 2: 02:18 Well, the example that I use, one of the examples is that somebody wants to get across the street safely to get to the park. And they think that putting a stop sign on the corner is the obvious solution. If the cars had to stop, then they could get across the street. But in reality, a stop sign might not be the answer. It's really what their problem is, is being able to get safely to the park. And it might be that walking an extra block or two to an existing traffic control place might be a better, a better solution or having a pedestrian crosswalk that could be activated when there's somebody ready to cross, but not making every car that goes through that intersection stop. Even when there are no pedestrians. So some problems Speaker 1: 03:00 Are more complex than they might seem at first, Lisa, Speaker 2: 03:02 I would say almost every problem is more complex than it seems at first. Speaker 1: 03:09 Theresa, let me ask you one of the first things a very motivated citizens often do is start a petition to present to legislators. Is that okay? Speaker 3: 03:17 Good idea. It is. If they understand again, the body in which they're supposed to present that to when we were on council, we had people with a petition about a school issue. Well, we had no authority over the school, so we couldn't help them. Also petitions need to be focused on the municipality. So if we had a petition that was signed by people all over San Diego County on an instant need, a specific problem that rather diluted that, you know, you can get lots of people to sign a petition. If you put it up on social media and that sort of thing. And if the majority of the signers didn't even live in the community, then I discounted that petition to a large degree. Speaker 1: 04:05 So Lisa, it seems that there is a very informative part of your potholes parks and politics book that is specifically about what you and Theresa have been talking about. It's called identify the players, know the rules. It's almost like a full-on civics lesson, isn't it? Speaker 2: 04:23 Yes. In fact, one of the issues that we encountered is that most people are not well-educated about local government. And for the most part, there's no reason they need to be because the city works pretty well and the streets are paved and the ambulance shows up when you call them. But when an issue arises, you don't really know where to start and people can spin their wheels a lot and get very frustrated because they don't understand who to talk to. So if you don't know those things, then it's unlikely. You're going to be successful trying to advocate for change. Speaker 1: 04:56 And Lisa, you advise people after they get that kind of knowledge and have what they need to know about the problem they have with local government, they have to build their case. How do they go about doing that? Speaker 2: 05:09 The first thing is to get educated and to learn why does the problem exist and who has a stake in it? So if there were people advocating strongly to enact a policy that you're unhappy with, you need to understand who those people are and why they did that, so that you can develop a strategy for creating change. And so you need to know who would benefit from the change you're looking for, who might oppose it. How can you find a win-win situation? Then once you understand that you can talk to neighbors, you can use social media, um, and you can see who has an interest and educate them about the things that you are trying to advocate for. Speaker 1: 05:50 Teresa. Does it seem to you that sometimes people would just rather yell at politicians rather than actually get something? Speaker 3: 05:58 Oh, uh, unfortunately yes. I think most of us, um, like expression is we have to vent every now and then. And I, I think a lot of that frustration is what brings people to, uh, to a council meeting, to stand there at the, at the podium. And they don't really want to do the work as Lisa referred about finding out who you need to contact and what you need to do. They don't really want to do the work. They just want you to know that they're not happy and that you should do all of the work to make it work for them. So, um, I, I think that's part of our culture in our society, that instant gratification, um, because it's a lot of work to accomplish change in the civic environment, in the, in the city and, and state environment, at least. Speaker 1: 06:49 Is there an example you can point to, of citizens who have done their homework and may change perhaps in Encinitas or, or beyond? Speaker 2: 06:58 Yes, absolutely. And that was part of what, um, my motivation was in writing this, we had a young mother who came to council, concerned about pesticides in the parks and she had some health issues and she wanted to make sure that when she took her kids out, they weren't breathing toxic chemicals and she did her homework and she came very politely, very respectfully and knowledgeably. She worked with others to come up with a pilot project. And so it was a graduated way to get a new policy, to allay the fears that people had, that it would cost too much or it wouldn't work. Speaker 1: 07:32 So we end with a success story and we've been speaking about the book, potholes, parks and politics, a guide to getting things done locally without having to run for office yourself. And I've been speaking with former Encinitas city council member, Dr. Lisa Schaefer and former and Sanitas mayor Teresa Barth. Thank you both very much. Our pleasure. Thank you. Thank you.

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A new book by two former Encinitas city officials explains what you need to know to make change. The book is called "Potholes, Parks, and Politics: A guide to getting things done locally (without having to run for office yourself).”
KPBS Midday Edition Segments