Tag Archives: democracy

Coastal Commission fight highlights need for open, accountable government

Tomorrow, behind closed doors, twelve members of the California Coastal Commission will debate the “Possible Dismisal of the Executive Director.” There’s sure to be a rowdy crowd at Morro Bay for the public portion of the “debate.” But when all’s set and done the future of Dr. Charles Lester, who has served as executive director for the past five years, will be decided in private.

To many it’s been cast as a battle pitting environmentalists and developers. To a few, it’s about whether the Commission has become uneccesarily beureaucratic as it seeks to slow and ultimately halt coastal development.

To me its an attrocious example of democracy in action. Democratic because the executive director serves at the “pleasure of the Commission” and they have every right to dismiss him.  But the worst, because true democracy requires an equal dose of clarity and transparency.

The reality is it’s hard to tell what’s really going on at the heart of the debate, so we all fall back to our predetermined positions. I am guilty of this. Because I have had the good fortune of working with Dr. Lester and his predeccessor the indubitable Peter Douglas, I feel he is doing a “good job” at upholding the charge of the Commission. Therefore, it follows that dismissing him is a deliberate attempt to undermine the work of the Commission and open the coast for development.

But I have also worked with several of the Commissioners who are at the center of the scandal. In Del Norte County, Commissioner and Supervisor Martha MacClure was a champion of our work to protect the redwoods. Commissioner Wendy Mitchel and her husband Richard Katz were strong supporters of protecting Santa Monica Bay and the waters of southern California. These are all good, smart, people. And on some level they are all “environmentalists.” They also serve at the pleasure of the Governor. And no doubt, they each have their own opinion of what “good” looks like for Dr. Lester.

And this is where clarity and transparency comes in. If the Commission could demonstrate to the public that it had agreed with Dr. Lester to a clear set of goals, performance stanadards, and metrics work for his work as executive director over the past 12 months, it would be obvious if he was meeting them.  That’s leadership and management 101.  You may disagree with the goals, but it would be impossible to argue whether the performance matched them or not.

Tomorrow I urge the commission to do just this. Show us what you asked Dr. Lester to do and how he’s done against those goals. If you can do this and show he’s failed to perform, the argument is over. If you can’t or won’t do this, keep him in his post and let the world know what you’ve charged him with delivering. That’s the only way to depolitize this and ensure the coast is protected for future generations.

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Enjoying the beaches of Santa Monica Bay

 

 

Bringing spatial decision making to the masses

Geography is everywhere.  Of course, being a geographer I would say that. But for many people geography means a list of state capitals and perhaps the atlas published by the National Geographic.  I’ve just come back from the 2015 Esri user conference in San Diego and saw first hand that this is changing quickly. While much of the discussion was about new software and tools, the most exciting change is the way these tools are deployed.

Just as Google maps has transformed the way we navigate our world (when was the last time you used a paper map?!), spatial decision support tools are transforming the way we understand the world around us and how we make collective decisions. GIS – geographic information systems – is the tool enabling this transformation.

GIS is not a new technology. It’s at least 40 years old in its modern incarnation and I’ve been using it for about half this time. Having just spent a few days at the Esri user conference, it is clear that the power of GIS as a decision support tool is on the verge of being brought into the heart of the public domain. It’s exciting and has the potential to transform the way we live, work, and govern.

A number of trends are converging to make this possible.

  • Data is being collected in real time and near real-time. Our GPS enabled smart phones are at the front line of this data collection revolution. They are being rapidly joined by an army of drones, and matched up with unprecedented satellite images being updated on a daily basis.
  • Data is shared and available 24/7 on the cloud rather than being hoarded on hard drivesFrom the latest Landsat image, to a live twitter feed, to projections of sea-level rise, we all have access to curated and constantly updated datasets.  Served up through a geoportal, you can quickly find what you’re looking for and know that you’re accessing current data.
  • Powerful GIS analysis and publishing tools are available online. I no longer need a UNIX workstation,  thousands of dollars of software, and an expensive plotter to conduct and share an analysis.  Using ArcGIS online, or one of the other freely available online tools, I can quickly publish and share work.

Bring these three threads together and real-time analysis is available to anyone. In the classic production cycle, experts would take weeks to conduct a static analysis that was shared with the decision makers as a printed map. There was no way quick or easy way to interact with the results. Most of your time was spent preparing the data, rather than conducing the analysis. In the end, the decision maker had to accept what the map said – or risk another lengthy cycle to change things up. It was the classic top-down approach.

Now, I can throw the data up a on a web-site — pulling data feeds from many different places — and give the users simple ways to explore and visualize the data. They can dig in and draw their own conclusions. Or I can walk them through a story map to help them understand what is going on.

This will fundamentally remake the way decisions are made. The environmental review process for development and land use projects can become interactive. Companies can understand spatial trends in real time. In essence, decision making will become democratized as everyone has access to relevant data and analysis.

Does this mean GIS professionals will whither away? Far from it! Rather than just being the folks you go to to make a map, they’ll be at the core of how we collaborate and make shared decisions. Sounds like fun to me!

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