Interested in the kind of governance progressives have in mind for Anaheim? Watch Santa Ana under the Sunshine Ordinance regime.

Last night, the Santa Ana City Council approved a 5-year strategic plan required by the so-called “sunshine” ordinance adopted in 2012.  Both were largely the products of lobbying by SACReD (the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development). SACReD is Santa Ana’s equivalent of the coalition of left-wing interests in Anaheim that pushes for policies like single-member council districts and retention ordinances; in fact, it includes some of the same players, like OCCORD.

Much of the strategic plan is what you would expect to see in such a document produced in any city, and replete with jargon, buzz words and catch phrases. Other parts reflect the political priorities of the progressive interests that lobbied for it under the SACReD umbrella.

This is progressive governance – as distinct from traditional representative government — in action. With the latter, candidates present their political beliefs and governing priorities to the voters, who respond by either voting for or against them. The judgment of the citizenry, rendered at the ballot box, then sets the direction of government via the electorate’s selection of who will captain the ship of state – subject to amendment or reversal in future, regular elections.

Progressive governance differs because it views government not as a mechanism, but as a living organism that should embody the passions, priorities and needs of the people at any moment not only reflects, but incorporates the people. There’s no real distinction between “the people” and the government. Since progressive see themselves as representing the legitimate aspirations of the people, then it is their political priorities constitute the legitimate objectives of government.

You saw the progressive approach to governance played out in the development of Santa Ana’s strategic plan: community surveys and workshops to listen to stakeholders  and the public and incorporate their input. The reality is the process was dominated by SACReD, which organizes its networks of organizers and activists in a choreographed effort to present their priorities as representing those of the community. When the strategic plan didn’t include their political priorities – for example, canceling the city’s contract with ICE — it is denounced as disregarding the community.

It is governance by community workshop; a symbiosis between pressure groups and city staff. The strategic plan provides for twice-yearly public hearings on its implementation,. As during the drafting process itself, these will tend to be dominated by SACReD organizers. In effect, SACReD is ensconced as the de facto arbiter of the legitimacy of Santa Ana city policies to the extent it judges those policies to be consonant with SACReD’s political priorities. In other words, the legitimacy of

Public outreach and public hearings are necessary tools of good governance. Local governments should always strive to keep citizens informed and be open to public input. That is healthy and good.

But workshops, public hearings, outreach, etc. are valuable tools to inform elected representatives. They are wonderful means for informing government and the government but they can’t replace elections. or the legislative function of a city council. City policies ought to be determined by the judgment (good, bad and indifferent) of councilmembers, not by the possibly ephemeral results of a community survey.

The difference here is that the policy-setting role of council elections diminishes. The direction of city policy becomes more the function of a “living” strategic planning process than regular council elections. The legitimacy of what the process produces is judged more by progressive political interests than by the electorate. Somewhat paradoxically, local government becomes less, not more, transparent.

As a result, city councilmembers function less as governors and more as ratifiers of the arithmetic of public comments – exacerbating the separation of policy-making from council elections. If a future council departs from an aspect of the strategic plan supported by SACReD, the departure will be denounced as illegitimate and contrary to “the community” (and the denunciation echoed and amplified in the media) – notwithstanding the citizens elected the council and nobody elected SACReD.

One sees the same progressive approach to city governance in the politics of Anaheim’s political Left. When City manager Bob Wingenroth submitted his resignation, Dr. Jose Moreno and Los Amigos called for a series of community workshops to determine what kind of city manager the people of Anaheim want – which is properly the job of the council. It’s what they’re elected to do. Denizens of the Left in Anaheim likes the community forum-system of governance because they better at manipulating the media headlines emanating from such meetings than they are at winning at-large council elections – and so better to effect policy through the former than the latter.

This is destination to which Anaheim’s Left want to lead the city, down a road paved with single-member council districts.