The advent of a Presidential election year promises a year-long season ahead during which public officials, the democratic election process itself, and the government institutions critical to our national well-being will endure relentless pummeling. For the sake of civic sanity, I’d like to take a step back from the American sport called "trashing the commons" and offer an appreciation for what so many among us too readily dismiss.
Amid tragic scenes of devastation, most recently from the dam breaches and flooding in South Carolina, it is government that local residents will turn to for the big picture stuff, like rebuilding those dams and fixing roads and restoring water supplies and electricity. And, of course, FEMA for grants and loans, property protection and public safety during that crucial post-disaster period when people are regaining their balance. That is the job of government. Disaster has a way of bringing the need for big muscle into acute perspective. That’s at least one reason it’s good to have a government agency or two around and a few officials looking out for the public good nearby when things go awry.
At Community Partners, we’re fans of good, active and engaged government. We appreciate, for example, that an insightful new Mayor of Long Beach, already busy running a complex city of nearly 500,000, created the Mayor’s Fund for Education and asked to house it under the Community Partners umbrella. He knows we care about the people of his city and will work diligently to help fulfill his intention that a city government that cares about having smart citizens will have another ally in the task.
More trees are taking root around the City of Los Angeles, thanks to CityPlants, formerly Million Trees, which started out as a program in then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office and continues with the leadership of Mayor Eric Garcetti. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council, too, started out as a City of Los Angeles initiative and moved as it grew more complex to fiscal sponsorship with Community Partners. The Council has made huge strides in moving large institutions like LAUSD to support local food purchasing and recently launched a new, national effort to share best practices learned on the ground in Los Angeles with leaders in cities across the country. When the now-shuttered Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency wanted to foster new green business in the city, they launched the Cleantech Incubator under our fiscal sponsorship program. Today, Cleantech is an independent nonprofit organization about to open a new building they redeveloped downtown. Who says people in government can’t innovate and seed change?
But taking advantage of fiscal sponsorship programs like ours isn’t the only way government extends its reach. With leaders of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health we:
- Led community input and engagement efforts as the County considered a plan to integrate the departments of health services, mental health and public health. Community Partners staff facilitated a series of public convenings to gather feedback regarding the proposal, and then managed another round of gatherings to solicit input for moving forward, once the plan was approved by the County Board of Supervisors.
- Helped restructure and strengthen Emergency Network of Los Angeles to build and foster greater resilience in times of emergencies in the county. Over the past three years, we have applied our knowledge about networks to help ENLA better engage with the numerous coalitions of nonprofit organizations, and government and private-sector partners, with some disaster function.
- Guided and supported the design of a performance improvement program for four medical centers and 19 outpatient facilities throughout the county.
We’ve worked with the Department of Health Services on efforts to improve access to specialist care for under- and uninsured patients; conducted trainings and coaching for members of the Los Angeles County Hate Violence Prevention Network, under the leadership of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. And right now we are in the planning stages with the office of Los Angeles County 2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to reprise a program we helped coordinate in 2010, one that works to boost the strength and skill sets of nonprofit organization leaders in South LA.
None of these programs would have started without the leadership of courageous, creative and cooperative government leaders, elected, appointed and career civil service alike. They tapped their own prodigious resources and looked around the community for reliable partners to make sure that the public – that “demos” in democracy – stayed in government and that government stayed squarely for the people. The next time someone starts trashing our commons by taking boneheaded swipes at government, ask them which direction they’ll be looking for help when the Big One ruptures our very own, very stressed San Andreas Fault. I can assure you that whatever the bluster on their lips, their eyes will turn toward City Hall and, in their heart of hearts, the hope that government’s coming to the rescue will pulse loud.