A group of Oakland residents are campaigning to radically transform the city’s budgeting process — transferring power from City Hall to one hundred newly established Neighborhood Assemblies throughout the city. At farmers’ markets, civic events, protests, and heavily trafficked areas, volunteers with the Community Democracy Project (CDP) have been collecting signatures to bring a “People’s Budget” to the ballot. The initiative would amend the Oakland City Charter to allow citizens to decide how the city spends taxpayer funds — a process known as participatory budgeting. If the initiative gets the 32,000 verified signatures necessary, and if voters approve it next year, the results would be unprecedented.
To date, some cities have designated parts of their budgets to participatory budgeting. Vallejo has set aside nearly $2.5 million for it, and residents in 24 of the 51 council districts in New York City vote to allocate $25 million in discretionary funds. As of this year, Paris, France has the largest participatory budget, after it allocated 20 million Euros in 2014, and then committed an additional 426 million Euros through 2020. But there is no city of significant size that has created a participatory budget for 100 percent of general city funds as CDP’s initiative seeks in Oakland.
“It’s a big change, but the great thing about our initiative is that it provides a lot of the infrastructure to make it happen,” said Allee Rosenmayer, a co-director of CDP. “We’re not just pushing this radical change to the city charter through then leaving others to figure it out.”