Post-its are great for some things – Reminders to buy milk, call the dentist, or pick up the dry cleaning. But as a vehicle to communicate one’s concern and vision for a community, post-it’s are, well, just tiny sheets of paper with only enough real estate for a word or two.
Which is why I found the county’s “Altadena Community Visioning Process,” held twice in April and once in June, a pretty blurry affair. At the very first meeting, they – and I guess the “they” would be, ultimately, the county or the consultants, determined our conversation could, no, would be parsed into three categories: Altadena Treasures, Challenges, and Vision.
And as for our part, we-the-people were asked to fashion cogent, well-reasoned arguments for a better Altadena on little pastel-colored post-it’s and stick the gummy side on the bulletin board under one of the three pre-approved categories.
And at first, at the very first, that seemed ok. No one from the County had even asked for a word or two before. So when we gathered for meeting #1, the auditorium was packed and full of energy, everyone scribbling.
But as I was heading towards the bulletin board with my third “Treasure” post-it – maybe it said Trees! or Trails! or something -- I stopped mid skip. Hadn’t I been to this party or one similar before? Ah yes, that’s right. It was a party held by a large company, where employees were invited to help plan a major corporate redesign. Write their thoughts on 2x2 post-its, and stick them under one of three headings: Winnings, Challenges, or Opportunities.
Six months later, the company issued its findings in a multi-page report titled, “We Heard You!” and promptly laid off 25 percent of the workforce.
Not exactly the same thing, true. But similar enough to give one pause. I’m left with the squirmy feeling that the County has borrowed this decade’s-old corporate trick, one that patronizes the audience, limits the conversation, and, by subtle implication, tells everyone to color within the lines.
I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling, as there was a significant drop in enthusiasm and attendees in subsequent meetings.
So now we have a 24-page draft, a compendium of the three Altadena Visioning Process meetings, and it reads like a bunch of random comments. Nothing in the consultant’s draft divides specific calls for action – such as fining absentee landlords for property blight -- from the nebulous but nice, as in “support neighborliness.” Nor does the draft separate suggestions according to those which could be implemented at no expense and immediately, from others with a price tag and legal implications.
I’m no architect, but it seems if you’re going to build something, you start with a blue print, a floor plan. An overall design that has been vetted by general consensus. Otherwise you end up with four bedrooms and no roof; a sub-zero refrigerator but no kitchen.
I think the whole scope could have started with a one-page overview that included the major areas of mutual concern. Just as a for instance:
- Greater autonomy in our town’s affairs, and where that isn’t possible, greater County accountability
- Protecting the natural beauty and integrity of our foothills
- Historic preservation
- Attractive, supportable shopping and dining opportunities within walking and biking distance
- Financial incentives and CUP waivers to attract and promote independent and/or high-end retail establishments.
- Severe financial penalties to discourage commercial blight.
Then, from this base camp, we could all deconstruct the current codes and zoning laws, and determine those which support or hinder our goals.
But that isn’t what we have. I read the draft; it’s disjointed; almost as though someone wrote the whole thing on little post-its. Go figure.
County officials have said they’re going to disappear for a couple of years to chew on what they’ve gathered after meeting for 12 hours or so with our community. Two years to digest the equivalent of half a day’s conversation? That’s something else I find that a little hard to swallow. Something to write on a post-it and stick under Challenges. Or maybe Visioning. Anyway, it’s no treasure.
Editor's note: The original version of this story suggested county consultants would be working on implementing the visioning process plan for two years following the release of the draft report.