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Ventura County Perspective

Lessons Learned in the Pursuit of a Shared Vision

Seize the Future, the Ventura planning initiative designed to engage the public, nears the halfway point.

April 11, 1999|WILLIAM FULTON | William Fulton of Ventura is publisher of California Planning & Development Report and chair of Ventura's Seize the Future Citizen Outreach Committee

Back in January, I wrote in these pages about the great experiment in community building that we were about to undertake in Ventura. This experiment, of course, is the creation of a shared strategic vision for the future of Ventura through a process we've dubbed Seize the Future.

Now it's April, and we're close to halfway through the process. We have a long way to go, but we've already learned a few important lessons. Here they are:

First, you can never spend too much time outside City Hall. We've broadened and deepened our participation by going beyond "the usual suspects" and appealing directly to the groups and organizations that serve as the backbone of our community. Since January, these groups--along with their representatives on the Citizen Outreach Committee--have turned out dozens and sometimes hundreds of people to Seize the Future events.

Second, you can't do too much marketing. We gave away thousands of balloons at Cottontail Canyon Day in Arroyo Verde Park. We've put out so many press releases that the reporters have gotten tired of seeing us coming. We've run endless radio spots and print advertisements--including those little teaser ads ("Nordstrom in Ventura? Yes or No?") designed to get people to call our phone number or visit our Web site. (Our phone number, by the way, is 677-3955; the Web site is

Third, you can't have too much fun. Back in January, instead of making our kickoff event a boring planning symposium, we turned it into a fair called FutureFest. The result? We got 1,500 people to come to an all-day event on a beautiful Saturday when there were plenty of other things to do. And we've got plenty more plans to keep having fun with Seize the Future. We'll bring an interim report to a downtown street corner during ArtWalk on May 1, and we'll unveil a draft of the final product at the July 4 Street Fair.

Finally, you can't ignore the traditional venues, at which concerned citizens really get down and dirty and bat around visionary ideas in detail. We've already had three communitywide workshops rich with discussion--one on the environment, one on the economy and one on community programs. The fourth workshop-- dealing with community design--will be held Saturday morning at DeAnza Middle School.


We're not out of the woods yet. It's clear that a lot of people in town aren't engaged yet. Many more are quite skeptical, because they don't quite trust that the city will actually carry out the vision that emerges from this process. But I think a lot of that skepticism will wash away when we enter the next stage--the exciting days in May and June when our Citizen Outreach Committee wrestles with what the vision is actually going to be and then presents it to the people of Ventura to see what they think.

We're still thinking through how to make that "feedback loop" work as well as the initial outreach has worked. But don't worry: Like phase one, phase two will be fun, inclusive--and so heavily promoted that you can't help but hear about it.

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