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The Altadena Community Visioning Process – Polishing the Lenses

A month after the process the picture is still a bit blurry.

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.

Susan Campisi July 24, 2012 at 02:11 PM
The consultants are disappearing for two years?! That's absurd. I wonder how much the County paid them for this magic act. You could've saved the County (i.e., we the taxpayers) a lot of money by running one meeting (instead of three), which addressed the areas of concern you listed. We'd have concrete actions and a lot more money in the coffers.
Angela Odom July 24, 2012 at 02:21 PM
"a sub-zero refrigerator but no kitchen", love it!! Yes, it's disjointed and screams placate but who am I? I'm the one who read it and realized I'm in the wrong line of work. Two years to contemplate post-its? Yep, I'm in the wrong line of work.
Mike Roberts July 24, 2012 at 03:49 PM
The consultants were hired to do what they did. They weren't supposed to help us through the legality or price tag associated with future planning decisions. Wasn't part of their scope of work. There was plenty of time for additional audience comments & input. Each meeting had ample time to break into small groups, mostly clustered around the 6 "characteristics" tables to provide additional input. Who knew what our "mutual" concerns were until we all sat down at the first meeting? I thought that's what the visioning meetings were intended to do? There wasn't supposed to be "calls for action" in the meetings. That's for us to decide. Did you really want consultants from out of town telling us what we should/shouldn't do? The first meeting (with all the post it notes spread over Treasures/Challenges/Vision) was over 3 months ago. Why whine about it now? Even as the community tries to takes steps towards a better Altadena, we still complain about the process to get there! This isn't a knock against the author of this article. Rather, it's an observation based on what I read & hear around town.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) July 24, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Please note, we just made an edit to the article... the consultants, as Mike says, are just here for the draft report - the two year reference should have been to the county, which has told us in previous reports they hope to have figured out how to implement changes suggested in the report two years from now.
Cafe Pasadena July 24, 2012 at 08:03 PM
SC, I think it may be cuz The County can't pay them is the reason why they won't be back for at least 2 yrs.
Pasadena Adjacent July 25, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Corpo speak is probably something that's been created by psychologists - language used to manipulate your intended audience by creating a false sense of involvement. When in reality, the plans are already in place. Isn't that why there's a two year wait? No one is going to remember what they wrote on those post its. "Consulting psychologists typically work in business or non-profit organizations, in consulting firms or in private practice. Consulting psychologists are typically professionally licensed as psychologists." wikipedia Isn't this line of business how Dr Phil got his start? I hope they served packaged treats with the customary 8 oz bottled water.
Gary Edwards July 25, 2012 at 12:40 AM
did county ppl tell karin that consultants were disappearing for 2 yrs? really? i never heard this at the mtgs. stop freakn everyone out. noone's gonna wait 2 yrs.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) July 25, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Here's what Karin was referring to with the two years: http://altadena.patch.com/articles/altadena-code-changes-could-be-completed-within-two-years. Basically, the county planning department says it will take two years to figure and implement the practical line by line code changes that were suggested in the public input process.
Leslie Aitken July 25, 2012 at 01:37 AM
A scene comes to mind from Mel Brooks' movie, "Blazing Saddles", in which Mel as the Mayor of Rock Ridge says to his pal Hedley Lamar, while playing with a bolo paddle -- "Gentlemen, we have to protect our phony baloney jobs!"
Leslie Aitken July 25, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Post it notes! "We don't need no stinkin' Post It notes!" AAAAARRRRRGGGGH! If I could take back the time that I have spent involved with RIDICULOUS TIME CONSUMING MEETINGS THAT LEAD TO NOTHING!!! It started with Vera Vignes and her "Blueprint for Education" in the PUSD. The HOURS spent by volunteers donating their time to the betterment of the PUSD -- that resulted in NADA! 'Visioning meetings" like the three mentioned in this article weren't necessary -- all the county people needed to do was READ THE PATCH! I was at the chamber meeting where the visioning project was first discussed. A man mentioned that consultants were going to be hired to gather the information, digest it and issue a report. In my lifetime, I worked for 22 years as a business management consultant. I have written business plans and business charters and business procedures. I raised my hand and said that I could do the job and was shuffled off to Buffalo! Two years to do a report based on post it notes? Nice work if you can get it! What type of a con is being run here? It doesn't take two years to figure out what needs to be done for Altadena. I moved here when I was 23 -- now I am 58 --for crying out loud -- two years? I will be 61 in two years, and watched as Altadena has floundered. As the kids say, "Puh-leeeeese!"
Mike Roberts July 26, 2012 at 04:51 AM
It won't take "two years to figure out what needs to be done for Altadena". It could take up to 2 yrs to implement the changes that are recommended to the county. Changes will need to go thru many county dep'ts to determine the viability and legality of the recommendations. I believe recommendations to the county will happen w/in 12 mths. Sucks that there's such a misunderstanding about what is going on w/ this process.
Monica Hubbard September 16, 2012 at 02:14 PM
About a decade ago Fran Scoble gave a speech and I saved a couple of her comments. "It is about developing a deep sense that a good life is a project of possibility and an understanding that talent and intelligence count most when they are used generously in the service of what the world most needs." What does Altadena most need right now, and how can we, a residents who love our town, put our talents and our intelligence to work to meet those needs? Fran's second quote: "The greatest difference we can make in this world is to stand with the healers and with those who turn to the light." Why not seize this opportunity presented to us through this document, flawed as it might be, and work together pro-actively to bring positive change to Altadena? Let's build a better Altadena together.

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