Johnny Carson used to say “I did not know that!” Was he the last honest man?
A major insurance company has revived a series of television ads featuring a “fractured fairy tales” approach to classic characters. The setup of “everybody knows that” is followed by a “well, did you know…” leading to an absurd premise. My favorite spot features Pinocchio as a failed motivational speaker. Everything from the concept to the actors is note-perfect. I particularly love the facial expressions – first, the kid’s reaction to his father’s assertion that the fictional boy lacked sales skills, to the crestfallen response from the seminar attendee who sees the wooden wonder’s nose betraying his words that “you have potential…”
If you pay attention, you might see similar looks on the faces of fellow Cambrians as they ingest information from different sources in and around town.
A short while back, an incident occurred where power lines fell across the only legal access road into and out of one of our neighborhoods. Cambria Fire and CalFire responded to the event and followed emergency protocols. Safety first. They took up positions to keep people from coming in contact with the still-charged lines.
According to the Cambria Fire crew that responded, there was a real danger. Active fire impacted the poles on either end of the cable run. The lines that fell into the street were charged and arcing. Yet, even with this crazy and highly visible danger, people were driving and walking around the firetrucks, ignoring the orders to stop. Dumb and dangerous to the citizens and the first responders.
With the road blocked, residents were not able to get out of the neighborhood. This blockage presented some real headaches, as folks needed to get to work, or school, or to a big pro-or- anti -swimming pool meeting. An inconvenience, to be sure.
A citizen approached the firefighters and asked if they could open the gates at the emergency fire road that traverses the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. The crew declined, saying they didn’t have the resources to spare.
So, here’s where the false premise of “everybody knows that” comes in. Grumblings began that the firefighters “didn’t have the resources” – which translated into “they didn’t have a key to the gates.” Which turned into “nobody knows who has the key to the gates.” which became “if this were an evacuation scenario, nobody would know how to open the gates.” And on and on it grew.
Eventually, a community member in possession of a key unlocked the gates at either end of the emergency road, and people were able to use it to exit the neighborhood.
A legitimate emergency – downed power lines -begat an inconvenient situation – no exit from the neighborhood – which begat irresponsible actions – driving and walking around the emergency vehicles and through the danger – which begat a questionable use of an emergency road across a protected preserve – which begat a series of assertions about emergency response preparedness.
Not Everybody Knows That!
The reality is that there are plans to handle emergencies and facilitate evacuations if needed. There are protocols in place, including communications plans, multiple agencies and civilian responders with assigned duties, and plenty of keys to go around.
All of this information has been published, shared, mailed, reported out on, posted, and promoted for citizens to read and absorb. There was a major town hall meeting this past June 29, 2019, focused on fire safety and emergency response plans. Hundreds attended. It was even on the TV.
In January of this year, there was a second town hall meeting hosted by the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group. The Vet’s Hall was packed. Representatives from Highway Patrol, SLO Sheriff’s office, CalFire, Cambria Fire, Caltrans, and SLO County’s office of Emergency Response shared their emergency response plans. Each presenter engaged in Q&A with the attendees. Printed material, websites, and contact information were given out.
But still, in this contained, limited event, things spun out, with people demanding answers and making statements that were more from annoyance and ignorance of the facts than anything else.
So what would happen in a real emergency? Who will respond, and how?
Cambria’s agencies work hard to make as much factual information and data available. Public meetings provide the opportunity to see and hear what is going on. Yet, these meetings are often sparsely attended. Citizen engagement often means the same small handful of folks trooping to the podium to express the same small handful of opinions and grievances, with an occasional “atta boy” for a well-done job or a significant individual accomplishment. Of course, there are also a fair amount of thoughtful, probing, and important questions raised that drive action and greater community awareness.
What is more remembered, the protestation, or the response?
Who Has That Kind Of Time?
Public meetings are often long, sometimes confusing, and regardless of the time of day, difficult for many to attend. There have been honest efforts to try different schedules to drive more attendance, but the result has been the same. So how else do citizens and interested parties get their information?
Community Services meetings are live-streamed as they occur, and broadcast on local public access television. The recorded sessions are archived and accessible within a few days so that interested people can watch the sessions at their convenience. These services come with a price – a rough estimate of the fees charged to facilitate these channels come in around $1K per session – costs increase when the meetings go over the scheduled time. With two meetings per month, plus additional special meetings that might be broadcast, the amount spent adds up.
I was curious as to how effective this process is – how many people watch or listen remotely? I reached out to AGP to gather some data. After some back and forth, they told me they only provide that information to the agencies they serve. I followed up with CCSD staff who returned the following stats. It appears these hits were not previously tracked, so I was only able to get one month’s numbers. They provide limited information, but something worth monitoring over time.
Here’s AGP’s statistics for January 2020 CCSD meetings, provided through a public records request.
CCSD 1.16.20: LIVE: 16
CCSD 1.22.20: LIVE: 22
CCSD Archive views for the month of January to date: 82
It seems like a lot of money for a little return.
The Services District and the Healthcare District host websites that contain information about what goes on in each organization, as well as legal, regulatory, and organizational details that support many of the district policies and practices.
The CCSD site has been recently overhauled and has become more user-friendly. According to the data collected by Google Analytics and provided through the Public Records Request process (accessible through the website,) a good number of people use this tool to gather information and seek answers to ongoing puzzlements.
From January 20, 2019, through January 26, 2020, the Cambria Community Services District website was accessed 87,690 times, with 68,394 unique page views. That is a pretty good amount of traffic, though the top pages were a bit of a surprise.
The complete list of results can be found in the following link:
The Healthcare District website is currently undergoing a redesign, with the goal of making it both user and administration friendly. The work is being done by an active District employee, often in his free time, so it might take a while before it is ready for publication.
Widen The Lens
There has been a sporadic outcry around CCSD directors and staff using electronic devices during meetings, with the subtle and occasional direct accusation that all manner of nefarious communication was happening between board members and mysterious influencers and special interests.
Rather than rail against the perceived downside of electronic communication, why not embrace the potential and expand its use? Open a web channel to the meeting that would allow viewers to submit questions or comments to the presiding clerk, have the item read out loud, and have the written/electronic dialog entered into the minutes. Viewers who wish can ask their questions or make comments through the microphones on their computer, tablet, or smartphone. Brave citizens having a good hair day can turn on their camera for their allotted three minutes. More people will have the opportunity to “speak” to the board, staff, and community without the challenges of having to physically be “in the room where it sometimes happens.” Caller number five could win a toaster!
Businesses engage with clients all around the world in this fashion, using video and audio to make personal connections that increase understanding and decrease uncertainty. Participants can make “eye contact” through video, exchange written comments and conduct Q&A through chat/messaging features, upload documents for review and comment in real-time. Tone, tenor, facial expression, body language – all contribute to a complete dialog.
But..but…Cambria has old people who don’t use computers!
Really? Take a look at local social media sites and get back to me!
Let’s try it!
Public commenters are limited to three minutes per item, with the board President controlling the clock and having some discretion with the time.
I suggest the same (or even shorter) time limits should apply to each board member who wishes to speak on a topic. Yes, the dialog between the members is essential and should happen freely. It is sometimes the case, however, where a director will go on a ramble. That suggests a lack of preparation.
Put together a compelling thought and present it in a manner not requiring a map, a compass, a dictionary, and some of that free coffee from the back counter. Each director should prepare their thoughts in advance and know what points/questions/positions they wish to share. Write it down. Read it back. Time it. Edit. Repeat. Speed up the meetings and reduce much of the frustration of fellow directors, staff, and the public who are trying to follow along. It may seem like this would limit dialog, but in my view is it would make dialog more effective and drive better results.
Even with all the efforts to communicate critical information throughout the community, there are, and will always be, gaps in our collective knowledge. Information is everywhere, we just need to look, ask and at times suggest better ways to share what we know, and what we would like to know. This community is blessed to have a good number of people who help all of us stay smart and safe. But as we are often reminded, we are each responsible for our own well-being.
Just because we may not know something, that doesn’t mean it’s unknowable. As Pinocchio tells us – we all have potential!