DUARTE — This small town of 21,000 wants to think like a big city.
The first step, city officials say, is "strategic planning," a process copied from larger municipalities.
Strategic planning relies heavily on citizen participation to find ways to capitalize on a city's strengths and overcome its weaknesses.
First developed by corporations, such long-range planning has been used in recent years mostly by large cities. Duarte hopes its planning process will become a model for smaller cities, which have tended to rely on general plans that relate only to land use and zoning.
"We want to determine city goals in all areas for the next 20 years," said City Manager Jesse Duff. "At this time we need a creative process for identifying the most important actions we need to take for the future."
Six task forces, each with eight to 12 members, will tackle everything from economics to education.
The economic development group, for example, will study business and employment growth with emphasis on how the Los Angeles Raiders' proposed move to neighboring Irwindale can help Duarte, said Manuel Ontal, the city administrative assistant who drew up the plan.
"That group will spend a lot of time finding ways to respond to the opportunity" presented by the Raiders' move, Ontal said. Since Irwindale reached an agreement with the pro football team, Duarte has already been approached by developers interested in building hotels and restaurants, he said.
Another task force will examine how to improve the cultural, educational and recreational aspects of city life. A health and medical task force will focus on new technology. Duarte is home to both Santa Teresita Hospital and City of Hope Medical Center, a major research facility for catastrophic illnesses.
"We could move ahead and be a regional center for medical services," Ontal said. "We don't have that reputation now."
The public safety task force will study whether Duarte, which contracts with the county Sheriff's Department for law enforcement, should consider having its own police department. The financial task force will seek innovative ways of paying for municipal services. The environmental task force will focus on waste-to-energy projects, which Duarte has strongly opposed, and alternative methods of trash disposal.
Since Duarte began to redevelop itself 10 years ago by building new housing, its population has grown sharply.
"The residents, especially newcomers, have expressed an interest in becoming involved in the direction of the city," Duff said. "This is another attempt by the city in getting community involvement. The residents are not expressing a slow-growth sentiment but are concerned about the type of growth in the future."
The process, expected to cost $15,000, will get under way when the steering committee, to be appointed by the City Council, meets Sept. 24. The entire planning process is expected to take about a year.
Steering committee members, who will oversee the task forces, will include representatives of the City Council, city manager, Planning Commission, Chamber of Commerce, school board, City of Hope and Santa Teresita. The task forces will be organized the last week of October. Residents and merchants interested in taking part may contact Ontal at City Hall.
Proposed strategies for "Duarte 2007" will be presented to the City Council next spring. The council will hold public hearings on the recommendations and decide which to implement.
The city has hired John Parker, a professor of public administration at California State University, Long Beach, as a consultant. He told the council recently that cities use strategic planning to help them create the best possible future.
"Strategic planning is used to look at a community's own unique strengths and shortcomings to come up with courses of action that can make the most of the opportunities and neutralize the threats, taking into account regional trends," Parker said.
As an example, he said, a small city in Minnesota found that its main weakness was lack of highway access and its strength was good medical facilities. The city strengthened its role as a regional health center and formed a task force of city, county and state planners to develop highway links.
In Los Angeles County, strategic planning has been undertaken by Pasadena, Long Beach, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles.
In March, 1985, Pasadena organized six task forces of 30 citizens each to examine arts and culture, education, cityscape (how the city looks), technology, business and jobs, and needs and resources (finances).
By June, 1986, 39 recommendations had been identified as feasible, and now nearly 50% of the plan is being implemented in some form, said Richard D. Phelps, a resident who is chairman of the committee in charge of carrying out the plan.
He said 11 of the recommendations have been funded through the public and private sectors, six have been approved but not funded, 17 are being evaluated and five have been deferred.
Among the funded programs is one in which new businesses share space and office staff. Also, the Pasadena Arts Services, the city's first communitywide arts agency, is a reality. And a pilot program for giving low-income teen-agers summer jobs is under way.
Phelps, who works for Arthur D. Little Inc. as a corporate strategic planner, is enthusiastic about Pasadena's experience.
"Any community can gain from this process," he said. "But I have one caution: When amateurs--and citizens are amateurs--get involved, you don't know what will come out. But our experience was that ideas that have no merit fall by the wayside."