Building Consensus To Manage the State's Growth

To manage growth in California, state policy makers should seek input from key public and private organizations at the state, regional and local level, according to a new report by researchers at the University of California.

Researchers believe that although consensus building is time consuming, it is far less expensive than "the costs of litigation, delayed projects and the cleanup of environments not protected."

The report, funded by the California Policy Seminar, recommends developing a growth policy using consensus building that would include a state council, regional bodies and local leadership by city governments.

The researchers, all from Berkeley, are Professor Judith Innes, director of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development; Judith Gruber, associate professor of political science; and Michael Neuman and Robert Thompson, both graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning. They analyzed 14 cases around the state that required consensus building to determine the integral parts of the process.

Consensus building refers to long-term, face-to-face group discussions that incorporate key interested parties--including representatives of public agencies, interest groups and local governments--in a search for common ground.

Currently, according to the researchers, many public and private agencies and organizations cannot succeed in meeting their own objectives without coordinating with others because their actions are mutually interdependent. The task for California is to institutionalize the flexibility, adaptiveness and self-management of consensus building.

The report calls for legislation that would make consensus building a key part of the development of growth management policies.

Some other recommendations are:

o The state should establish and coordinate its own policies and programs on growth.

o The state should create strong incentives for regions to organize and for localities to join regional coordinating bodies and reach agreements. A primary incentive would be the requirement that state agencies follow regionally developed strategies consistent with state goals and standards. State funding should be contingent upon cooperation.

o California should establish a state-level council to head the effort and coordinate with regional groups to develop an agreed-upon state strategy.

o Discussions primarily should occur within the state council and regional coordinating bodies. Mediation and conflict resolution services should be made available to help resolve disagreements within regions.

o The state should provide funding to staff the regional consensus-building efforts and financial support for local governments to take a leadership role in the process.

Established in 1977, the California Policy Seminar addresses state policy concerns by drawing upon research expertise from throughout the UC system and its affiliated laboratories.

The policy seminar funds research by UC faculty on issues identified by the steering committee that oversees the seminar's work.

The committee comprises representatives of the governor, Assembly speaker, Senate president pro tempore, and UC president.


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