Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bill Bogaard and the Future of Local Politics

The Planning Report recently made several articles available in its archives. One of them, happily enough, features Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and it's an interview worth reading (TPM, so you know, is a planning and development newsletter for the LA metropolitan region that primarily publishes interviews with the movers and shakers in government and public investment).

The Q&A with Bogaard ranges over a variety of topics, many of which have graced the pages of Foothill Cities: the 710 tunnel, the Gold Line extension, the aging Rose Bowl. Heck, even the Affordable Housing Bunny gets some coverage. But what really caught our eye came at the end of the interview. The second to last question reads:

As the mayor of an important California city, you are aware of how digital revolution in communications and its impact on political dialog and civic participation. What are the challenges to governing brought on by MySpace and similar media?

Bogaard's response deals primarily with the challenges facing local newspapers, noting that "Some people are predicting that in five years newspapers as we know them will be gone." And undoubtedly local newspapers provide information in a way that citizen journalists and commentators just can't. But the question strikes at the very heart of the Foothill Cities endeavor. Government at the municipal level has the most influence on our day to day lives, and, at the same, is most likely to be influenced by the individual. And yet City Hall remains a cipher to the average Jane, its actions seeming to be the provenance of a removed, insular elite, while the White House and the state capitol receive far greater attention and interest.

It's into that breach that Foothill Cities throws itself. We're here to have an "impact on political dialog and civic participation." That is, we want to increase both. As much as we like to chuckle at the mania for political expression in Sierra Madre or the scheming of the "Claremont 400," there's something to be lauded in the both cases. Local politics really matter because it's where the rubber meets the road, where the abstract principle gets put into practice. Eminent domain abuse matters a hell of a lot more when it's your lifelong barbershop being bulldozed or your home that's been "blighted" out of existence. It's one thing for the President to promise more police on the streets, but it really matters if Glendora puts more men in blue on Myrtle Ave (especially if their priorities are a little, ahem, off). And allegations of corruption mean a lot more when it's your local redevelopment agency, which may have changed the face and demeanor of your community, that is being challenged.

We're optimistic that the digital revolution will increase participation in local politics, and we think that's a good thing. Bill Bogaard's not so certain, as he ponders what might happen if local newspapers die off:

I think it will make public service more difficult. The amount of information will be more, but its quality will be less. There will be more people, perhaps, accessing and reading information. That could be helpful. But it’s hard to predict; that subject would make a good discussion—either at thoughtful seminar or a lengthy conversation over a glass of wine.

Ah, now you're talking, Bill. We'll take you up on that offer any time, perhaps at a preferred local eatery. We could call it the "Think 'n Drink with Bill Bogaard: Politics and the People." Any sarcasm aside, I honestly think that would be a great conversation and one worth having.

Until Bill gets back to us, we'll continue that "lengthy conversation" with you, the folks of the Foothill Cities.


Aaron Proctor said...

Bill then proceeded to show us all his MySpace account and which council members are in his "Top 8".

Miss Havisham said...

As a Pasadena wino and myspace junky I am fatter, I mean flattered by Bogaard's regaaards.

I don't think newspapers will be completely gone. A hard copy, when the lights go out is irreplacable. The writing will be more condensed, tailored for the cell phone attention span reader. The link to where you can find a more indepth article online beside each byline.

Salute. (clink clink)

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