CA town: the public will help determine how a one penny sales tax increase is spent

Amidst other changes in Vallejo, California, the community is trying something innovative involving a recent one cent sales tax increase:

And the city council struck an unusual deal with residents — if they agreed to a one-penny sales tax increase, projected to generate an additional $9.5 million in revenue, they could vote on how the money would be used. The experiment in participatory budgeting, which began in April, is the first in a North American city.

The approach was pioneered in Port Alegre, Brazil, as a way to get citizens involved in bridging the large gap between the city’s middle-class residents and those living in slums on the outskirts. Individual districts in New York and Chicago are also experimenting with the process, and residents there have expressed interest in spending money on things such as more security cameras and lighting, public murals, and Meals on Wheels for seniors.

Here is more information on Measure B the city provided before the vote over the tax. Measure B itself passed in a very close vote and it looks like the city opened up the approved sales tax to the process of “participatory budgeting” (with some disagreement) in April 2012:

A bid to draw significant public participation in the city’s budget planning was approved Tuesday night by the Vallejo City Council.

The council voted 4-3 to launch a process known as “participatory budgeting,” setting aside 30 percent of revenue collected from a sales tax hike initiative voters passed in November.

Under City Charter provisions, public-proposed uses for the estimated $9.5 million a year ultimately will require council approval.

Duly noted: this is a measure with some controversy. It will be interesting to see how this works out: how much input will the public get? Will a good number of people in the city participate in the process? How much money will the public be able to control? What happens if the public wants to use the money for other purposes than the city council?

Could this work beyond the local level?

h/t Instapundit, Via Meadia

Meteorologists debate whether recent Chicago snowstorm was 3rd or 4th largest on record

Headlines after the recent Chicago blizzard suggested that the storm had the third largest amount of snow in Chicago history. But when this was later changed to the 4th largest storm, an argument erupted among meteorologists about what exactly counted as part of this particular storm:

After a brief drop to No. 4, the Blizzard of 2011 has now been put back in its rightful spot as the No. 3 worst blizzard in Chicago history.

Earlier in the day, the National Weather Service downgraded the Ground Hog Day Blizzard to 20 inches, taking away .2 inches of snow they say fell hours before the actual blizzard hit. At the same time, they decided that the 1979 storm lasted three days, not the two generally cited. That upped the storm’s total to 20.3 from the 18.8 inches generally credited to the storm…

But during a teleconference with meteorologists from Chicago area media outlets, there was such outcry over the weather service’s decision to lower the total snowfall from this year’s blizzard that the decision was reversed.

“You really are getting into hazardous territory,” WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling warned National Weather Service officials during the teleconference. “To downgrade this storm in any way shape or form is highly subjective. You guys are the arbiters of this, but I don’t agree with it.”…

Allsopp emphasized that these storm totals are more for the public’s benefit than for the record books. The official snow records are listed by calendar days.

Even the weather, data we might consider “hard data,” is open to different interpretations. It is interesting that the final decision went the way of the local forecasters. While Skilling is right to suggest that the decision to downgrade the storm was subjective, wasn’t ranking the storm 3rd also subjective?

Perhaps the key is the final statement in the article: this is for the public, not the record books. In the long run, does it make Chicago area residents feel better or more proud to know that the recent storm was the 3rd largest? If we went by the official snowfall by calendar day, this website suggests the record was 18.6 inches on January 2, 1999.

With all of those cameras watching, few people change their public behavior

A Canadian sociologist argues that although more people are being watched in public, through phenomenon like Google Street View and a multitude of security cameras, few people are changing how they act in public settings:

Nathan Young, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, believes few Canadians have altered their public behaviour.

“When we’re out on the street, there’s an understanding we’re in public and there’s a risk of being seen or talked to,” says Young. “What’s different now is if we go outside to change a tire in our underwear, it can be exposed worldwide.”…

Voyeurism has always been a part of human motivation, says Young, an authority on privacy issues.

But ogling the Google images also tells us something about our sense of fun, he explains, pointing out some of the images are theatrics or misunderstandings of a moment.

“Clearly, there are people out there that want to play (with the technology),” he reasons. “Not for politics or protest. Just a personal imprint.”

Young says there’s no evidence people are more aware or cautious as they head out their doors.

At this point, if you are acting “normally” in public, you don’t have much reason to worry that some camera out there might see what you are doing. At the same time, there seems to be a decent number of people who are worried that these cameras and technologies could end up being used against them.

It is interesting to note how people do act in public and to think whether this differs from how they act when they are alone.