The City of San Fernando has always enjoyed its quiet governance tucked away in the Northeast San Fernando Valley with little interference. Only the most salacious affairs have brought it outside attention.
Most who live in this small community don’t participate in local civic affairs and leave the decision-making up to City Hall with its hired administration, its own police department and elected council members who meet twice a month on every other Monday evening.
Most decisions that are made go largely unnoticed as busy residents hold down jobs and focus on raising their families. There is only a small percentage of the town’s 25,000 residents who attend local council meetings, or are even aware that they can participate. Sometimes you can count them on your two hands.
Contributing to this lack of involvement, the City of San Fernando communicates and functions the same way it always has for decades.
For years, the City has informed residents of public hearings by placing notices in utility bills that most residents pay little attention to. However, this mode of communication has allowed the City to check off the box to say it’s done what is legally required to outreach to residents.
The result is — like council meetings, too few residents attend the public hearings that directly impact them.
This rather passive form of communication can be convenient for the City and council members when an issue is viewed as controversial or in need of quick approval.
This mode of outreach may be viewed as “adequate” by the City and may meet the minimal criteria for informing the public, but it fails miserably in building a strong and engaged community.
It’s rather embarrassing to note that the City of San Fernando is far behind most other cities that for many years have regularly broadcast their council meetings and public hearings live via their local cable channel, and stream their meetings live on their city websites.
San Fernando is perhaps one of the last cities that doesn’t utilize technology to provide live broadcasts of their meetings. The City communicates in a time warp, operating closer to the days of string and tin cans rather than providing the technology that would allow for transparency and provide residents with full access to view the council meetings and crucial public hearings from their local cable channel, computers or their cell phones.
As we begin a new decade and year, 2020 begins a new era of technological discovery that will continue to quickly innovate with new and bigger data, robotics, artificial intelligence, and much more that we have yet to imagine. The City of San Fernando cannot continue to operate in a vacuum.
Technology and the internet have created a global community with rapid communication. The same issues that impact the rest of the world impact small cities. Climate change and issues of the environment impact the Northeast Valley — we all find ourselves in extreme heat and concerned about devastating brush fires that are now expected annually. What emergency plans does the City of San Fernando have in place?
The issues of job security, food insecurity and homelessness are visible in every community and can no longer be ignored. What offerings does the local City have to provide support for its struggling residents?
For too long, police and city officials have claimed that crime and gang and drug activity come from outside the City and quickly brush violent crimes under the rug with claims that an “investigation is underway.” There are still too many serious crimes unresolved and little communication after they’ve occurred. Does the City plan on joining other cities to have a system of checks and balances with an independent citizen oversight committee?
Active local leadership is needed to think down the road because change comes faster than ever before.
How is the City serving the generations of seniors, Z, Y and millennials who access digital information daily? Don’t they deserve to know what their city officials are doing and what is coming around the corner?
It’s a simple and necessary fix.
Public participation can be achieved online. Residents need to see their elected officials in action, and a basic use of technology can provide fast interactive communication on various platforms via live broadcasts, and other modes. Some cities also offer live radio broadcasts.
It’s long past time for the City to catch up with how governance is conducted in other cities for residents, giving immediate access to information which is especially crucial during times of emergency.
So, what’s stopping the City from powering up and finally turning on the cyber switch?
Will the City finally make a move so residents can watch council meetings and hearings, and see those they elected regularly, not just when they show up knocking on their door to ask them for their vote when it’s time to re-elect them?
It may make those elected to local office more accountable. And who knows? Perhaps with a live camera focused on their chairs, it may cause some of them to show up to meetings more consistently, on time and maybe even stop what’s becoming a tendency to leave meetings early.
…As the City turns…