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Santa Cruz’s Robert Singleton (left) and Manu Koenig will showcase their start-up’s attempt to find new solutions for problems across the political landscape at Civinomicon Nov. 15-17.

Santa Cruz’s Robert Singleton (left) and Manu Koenig will showcase their start-up’s attempt to find new solutions for problems across the political landscape at Civinomicon Nov. 15-17.

People were coughing swear words into their hands and yelling at one another outright. One city councilwoman referred to some of the public’s concerns as “idiotic.” And a homeless advocate with a penchant for Nazi salutes was roaming the city council chambers making side comments to anyone who would listen. It was just an especially bad Santa Cruz City Council meeting.

“That was very, very uncomfortable. That was the most uncomfortable public meeting I’ve ever sat through,” says Robert Singleton, co-founder of Civinomics, who later wrote a blog post “Bullshit and Bathrobes: The State of Our Civic Discourse” about the experience.

On the council agenda that night, Sept. 24, were an extension of the downtown no-smoking zone and proposed regulations for street vendors and performers, which passed 5-2, and Singleton thinks the anger level in the room may have affected the outcome.

“The crowd was incredibly rude and loud and booing at certain points,” 23-year-old Singleton says. “If that’s going to be the state of our civic discourse in order to gain attention and ultimately shoot yourselves in the foot, like what happened at the government level with government shutdown, it’s really depressing.”

Singleton and Civinomics CEO Manu Koenig are trying to take city discussions in a different direction. Their startup tech company is hosting an event they’re calling Civinomicon, which sold out early—Singleton and Koenig already raised the capacity three times to 125 people.

The free three-day weekend event kicks off Nov. 15 with Santa Cruz County treasurer Fred Keeley as a keynote speaker, followed by county supervisor Zach Friend on Saturday and Mayor Hilary Bryant on Sunday. Six out of seven city councilmembers—all except vice-mayor Lynn Robinson—will also attend.

Koenig and Singleton are splitting the conference, which will be held at Cruzioworks in downtown Santa Cruz, into a series of small group discussions led by city and county staff. Every comment and presentation from the event will be saved and posted online. People who aren’t at the event can comment on the ideas and vote on them on Civinomics.com. Then at the end, every attendee will have a chance to make a case for solutions to city problems.

“Say your solution to homelessness—this is an example—is affordable housing: basically tell me the who, what, where, when and how,” Singleton says. “Who’s going to sponsor it? How is it going to be paid for? Who’s going to govern it? Where’s it going to go? What groups are you going to be talking to? Why are you doing it in this way? What case studies are you building off? And you have five minutes to pitch this, live-streaming, to the entire community.”

The event reflects what Koenig and Singleton are trying to do every day on Civinomics.com—get new ideas from everyday people for fixing old problems. Visitors to their site can post suggestions for how to improve Highway 1 or prevent dire water shortages.

“If you drive on the same road every day going to and from work, you probably know that road pretty damn well—probably more so than the staff person designated to allocate transportation funding—and your perspective is valuable,” Singleton says. “If there’s not an outlet for you to give it, that information is lost. Right now, the way public meetings work is often times they’re hostile—very much so.”

If all goes according to plan, the two young techies from Santa Cruz will be making good things in the county happen very soon.

“What we really want to do is accelerate the process by which the good ideas are implemented, and we think the way to do that is to make discussion about them,” Koenig says. “Rather than making them happen behind closed doors with task forces, study groups. People are only going to be interested in us if we can have an effect on the real world.”

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2013/11/05/civinomicon_seeks_to_fix_local_public_discourse bill@fordodell.com

    In a public discourse sea of darkness, glad to see some light. This is hopeful.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/civinomicon_seeks_to_fix_local_public_discourse.html bill@fordodell.com

    In a public discourse sea of darkness, glad to see some light. This is hopeful.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2013/11/05/civinomicon_seeks_to_fix_local_public_discourse Robert Norse

    Broadening the public process certainly isn’t a bad idea.  However the real issue is often whether the broadening is real or illusory.  If the process isn’t being stagemanaged or filtered through hand-picked committees with a prior agenda (like Mayor Bryant’s Task Force on Public Safety), this could be positive.

    Talking “civility” is also a way of discrediting dissent and managing the outrage the Council’s high-handed actions have roused. Suggesting after-the-fact chatter sessions when specific issues have already been decided is naïve at best.  It’s also based on the theory that if only you “talk reasonably” with politicians, they’ll answer with hearts and heads, rather than with bellies turned toward fund-raisers, elections, and prejudices.  In fact, the truth is that what power really understands…is power.

    Civinomicon’s line-up does not give cause for optimism.  Fred Keeley is already implicated in the ongoing “deport the homeless” agenda of the Bryant’s hand-picked Task force on Public Safety.  Zack Friend, an old SCPD PR man now wearing ominous supervisorial robes.  It’s being held in Cruzioworks, a venue recently stonewalling accusations of discrimination against a homeless man trying to rent space there.  There’s no indication that the disenfranchised are invited to the discussion.  Who’s paying for all this incidentally?

    Jake Pearce points the “Miss Manners” finger at the occasional groans of outrage from those dispossessed of basic rights and traditional Santa Cruz practices.  “See No Poor” aesthetics have captured positions on the City Council and have long held sway in the City staff and SCPD.

    The 9-24 City Council meeting discussion on the “Shrink the Sidewalk Space” anti-performer measure followed by its prior 9-10 discussion was a classic example of a prefabricated outcome beholden to special interest groups, ever eager to strip Santa Cruz of the poor and “shabby”. 

    The ridiculous proposal that Council passed ignored the overwhelming public testimony against it.  Their law now requires all performers, vendors, artists, and tablers to confine themselves to three of the small Pacific Ave. sidewalk squares—a sour contortionist’s joke. 

    Police officers are already on the beat with the threat of $200-300 citations for playing a guitar too near a trash can, or registering voters within 14’ of a bench.  Perhaps the patent absurdity of the law is why it is currently unenforced—though this may be the calm before the storm.

    The political “process” used involved a bill heaved up by SCPD water carriers Julie Hendee and Scott Collins.  It had no vetting either from the Downtown Commission or the Arts Commission and no input from the groups impacted.

    Georgia Perry did a serviceable article in your paper 2 weeks ago describing its absurdities. City Council’s abusive process towards poor and countercultural people has been the norm in the past. See http://www.santacruz.com/news/2013/10/22/will_new_rules_change_culture_of_pacific_avenue 

    The issue is not “civility” but accountability, transparency, and respect for basic rights.  When these are denied in the rote fashion that Mayor Bryant has used throughout the year, we should not merely expect the occasional groan of anguish and frustration, but even the occasional cry of rage, and sometimes the uneasy rumble of rebellion.  Now that would be something.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/civinomicon_seeks_to_fix_local_public_discourse.html Robert Norse

    Broadening the public process certainly isn’t a bad idea.  However the real issue is often whether the broadening is real or illusory.  If the process isn’t being stagemanaged or filtered through hand-picked committees with a prior agenda (like Mayor Bryant’s Task Force on Public Safety), this could be positive.

    Talking “civility” is also a way of discrediting dissent and managing the outrage the Council’s high-handed actions have roused. Suggesting after-the-fact chatter sessions when specific issues have already been decided is naïve at best.  It’s also based on the theory that if only you “talk reasonably” with politicians, they’ll answer with hearts and heads, rather than with bellies turned toward fund-raisers, elections, and prejudices.  In fact, the truth is that what power really understands…is power.

    Civinomicon’s line-up does not give cause for optimism.  Fred Keeley is already implicated in the ongoing “deport the homeless” agenda of the Bryant’s hand-picked Task force on Public Safety.  Zack Friend, an old SCPD PR man now wearing ominous supervisorial robes.  It’s being held in Cruzioworks, a venue recently stonewalling accusations of discrimination against a homeless man trying to rent space there.  There’s no indication that the disenfranchised are invited to the discussion.  Who’s paying for all this incidentally?

    Jake Pearce points the “Miss Manners” finger at the occasional groans of outrage from those dispossessed of basic rights and traditional Santa Cruz practices.  “See No Poor” aesthetics have captured positions on the City Council and have long held sway in the City staff and SCPD.

    The 9-24 City Council meeting discussion on the “Shrink the Sidewalk Space” anti-performer measure followed by its prior 9-10 discussion was a classic example of a prefabricated outcome beholden to special interest groups, ever eager to strip Santa Cruz of the poor and “shabby”. 

    The ridiculous proposal that Council passed ignored the overwhelming public testimony against it.  Their law now requires all performers, vendors, artists, and tablers to confine themselves to three of the small Pacific Ave. sidewalk squares—a sour contortionist’s joke. 

    Police officers are already on the beat with the threat of $200-300 citations for playing a guitar too near a trash can, or registering voters within 14’ of a bench.  Perhaps the patent absurdity of the law is why it is currently unenforced—though this may be the calm before the storm.

    The political “process” used involved a bill heaved up by SCPD water carriers Julie Hendee and Scott Collins.  It had no vetting either from the Downtown Commission or the Arts Commission and no input from the groups impacted.

    Georgia Perry did a serviceable article in your paper 2 weeks ago describing its absurdities. City Council’s abusive process towards poor and countercultural people has been the norm in the past. See http:.html 

    The issue is not “civility” but accountability, transparency, and respect for basic rights.  When these are denied in the rote fashion that Mayor Bryant has used throughout the year, we should not merely expect the occasional groan of anguish and frustration, but even the occasional cry of rage, and sometimes the uneasy rumble of rebellion.  Now that would be something.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2013/11/05/civinomicon_seeks_to_fix_local_public_discourse Ran Moyer

    I certainly don’t support any rude behavior at city council meetings, but I think the vote to make changes dowtown was rushed and not thought out well.  It is ridiculous to limit street musicians to a four foot square spot.  My out of tow friends love visiting Santa Cruz, and listening to the performers on Pacific.  How can I explain to them that their favorite African Mirimba band will no longer be allowed under the new rules.  It is obvious that many on city council do not get what makes Santa Cruz special.  Shame on you!  You lost my vote!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/civinomicon_seeks_to_fix_local_public_discourse.html Ran Moyer

    I certainly don’t support any rude behavior at city council meetings, but I think the vote to make changes dowtown was rushed and not thought out well.  It is ridiculous to limit street musicians to a four foot square spot.  My out of tow friends love visiting Santa Cruz, and listening to the performers on Pacific.  How can I explain to them that their favorite African Mirimba band will no longer be allowed under the new rules.  It is obvious that many on city council do not get what makes Santa Cruz special.  Shame on you!  You lost my vote!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2013/11/05/civinomicon_seeks_to_fix_local_public_discourse Robert Singleton

    Robert,

    Listen I know you feel you have no other options to advance your policy ideas, and that you are open (at least with me) about the fact that you feel the need to make a spectacle because nothing else works, and that most of the council already have their minds made up on many issues (the latter I agree with on certain issues) but, anyone can create their own initiative and workshop on civinomics.com, completely free. And, if they so choose, all other people on civinomics.com can vote on those items.

    So rather than resorting to political theatre, which frankly isn’t paying the dividends of change you seem to hope it will, and making disparaging comments directly to those who you hope to influence, why not create a proposal or host a workshop which can substantiate your claims with evidence of public support and backing. In a similar way to how Brent Adams is using a change.org petition to substantiate that he has 1,000 people in support of his sanctuary camp idea, you could use a civinomics space to not only host a discussion where every comment can be voted up or down (beats 2 minutes at public comment) and show the council (who get a daily email digest of all of the activity on the Santa Cruz city workshops) that there are other people who feel the same way. The implicit threat here, from an elected official standpoint, is that these same people may be willing to vote against them if they do not heed the will of the people.

    But again, you are so quick to write off a piece of software and an OPEN/FREE conference that you fail to see its potential utility.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/civinomicon_seeks_to_fix_local_public_discourse.html Robert Singleton

    Robert,

    Listen I know you feel you have no other options to advance your policy ideas, and that you are open (at least with me) about the fact that you feel the need to make a spectacle because nothing else works, and that most of the council already have their minds made up on many issues (the latter I agree with on certain issues) but, anyone can create their own initiative and workshop on civinomics.com, completely free. And, if they so choose, all other people on civinomics.com can vote on those items.

    So rather than resorting to political theatre, which frankly isn’t paying the dividends of change you seem to hope it will, and making disparaging comments directly to those who you hope to influence, why not create a proposal or host a workshop which can substantiate your claims with evidence of public support and backing. In a similar way to how Brent Adams is using a change.org petition to substantiate that he has 1,000 people in support of his sanctuary camp idea, you could use a civinomics space to not only host a discussion where every comment can be voted up or down (beats 2 minutes at public comment) and show the council (who get a daily email digest of all of the activity on the Santa Cruz city workshops) that there are other people who feel the same way. The implicit threat here, from an elected official standpoint, is that these same people may be willing to vote against them if they do not heed the will of the people.

    But again, you are so quick to write off a piece of software and an OPEN/FREE conference that you fail to see its potential utility.