A few months ago I was asked to give some time as a volunteer for the new Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement. It’s a division of the San Diego Foundation charged with, among other things, raising the degree to which people and institutions are actively participating in civic life in our region. This is, not surprisingly, a very streamlined explanation of the Center, but if you want more depth you can read more here. I am volunteering on the Leadership Council and in the spirit of the “give” portion of this site, I want to share the experiences as they unfold. From time to time, I’ll write about a Leadership Council meeting or an interesting or important development that impacts the Center for Civic Engagement’s role in facilitating more engagement. As with the food and drink and travel posts I write, I won’t take myself too seriously and you should take what I write in the good-natured and informative spirit intended. Meetings–virtually all of them–can be boring or exciting (or just necessary), I’ll do my best to highlight stuff that is at least interesting and hopefully entertaining as well.
With that as broad background, I can tell you a couple things to frame the information I’ll be sharing. First, the Foundation conducted a visioning process. There was also an online survey and sessions at the Jacobs Center where we were in groups and talking about what we saw as important. Being concerned and interested, I participated in all three and found them interesting. Before that big group meeting, I remember speaking to someone about whether the regional agency organized to plan for things like transportation and growth was working with them. That group is called SANDAG, which stands for the totally unoriginal San Diego Association of Governments. It struck me the two groups were in the same sandbox and I was curious how this plan would work with SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan. I don’t remember the answer, actually, but hopefully there’ll be some cooperation/collaboration.
The second thing I’ll mention is that they hired an Executive Director who is exactly what this effort needs. His name is BongHwan “B.H.” Kim. He spent the last several years running a government entitycalled DONE that was tasked with empowering something like 100 community groups in L.A. He is exactly the right blend of visionary and practical thinker that the Foundation needs to engage communities who are wary of its ends. I’ve had the good fortune to get to know Bob Kelly, the CEO, a bit. He runs the San Diego Foundation. He’s a good guy with a compelling story and passion for improving San Diego. And bringing on B.H., as long as he gets the Board support necessary, will pay dividends when it comes to building trust with people in our communities. Having someone who can speak egghead and still grasp the practical reality of community life is important. And having someone who is humble enough to realize that he can learn from everyone regardless of status or position is equally important. B.H. is both of those things, so I’m hoping more and more people give him the chance to prove that the Center for Civic Engagement is serious about being a legitimate partner in the region.
My first several posts will be about two areas: the Center assisting the Downtown San Diego Partnership’s development of a vision for downtown and the ongoing efforts to work with people outside downtown San Diego to make the regional partner concept a reality. If you are thinking that downtown has had enough attention, I thought that too, at first, but bear with me. The money the Foundation contributed wasn’t that much, and so it wasn’t going to enable a rethinking of, say, mid-city or Mission Valley or the communities south of downtown. I’m not saying these other options aren’t important–they are–I’m just saying I’ve warmed to the idea that the ball needed to get rolling and the Partnership was laced up and ready to go. Bad sports analogies aside, I’ll continue to cheerlead for other parts of the San Diego region and there are several involved who have similar hopes. Anyway, I can’t promise that this won’t be boring to all but the most civic-minded people. But give me a chance. I’ll try to work in some jokes, some simple anecdotes and I will unabashedly work in references to craft beer, bikes, and good food whenever I can. Like, for example, this report about the $3 Billion (with a “B”) impact of craft beer on the California economy.
Our region is growing (see this), so we have a lot to confront. Our kids aren’t ready for the jobs we need, though the San Diego Workforce Partnership is trying to tackle some of that. Black and Brown children are dropping out of school and, sadly, society, in staggering rates. We need to deal with economic development and housing density/affordability, protecting the environment, growing small businesses–jeez, it’s a big mountain, I know. But the Center for Civic Engagement can help and if my vantage point from the Leadership Council is any indication, they’ve already begun to do so. When I start posting my notes from minutes and asking for thoughts about direction, please don’t be shy. I want to carry as many voices as possible back to the meeting room. Not everyone has time to attend a meeting or 10, but since I can attend a few I might as well make it an easy way for you to share what you think, too. Thanks for reading.