San José has been a leader in a number of different civic engagement and Participatory Budgeting initiatives. Here is an overview of the three main processes the City has been using.

Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. A steering committee of citizens oversees the overall process and works with the City to develop guidelines for potential projects and voting requirements (such as ensuring that all projects are for capital improvements).

The process generally involves three distinct phases:

Share Ideas: In this phase residents generate ideas on how to improve their neighborhood, district or other area of interest. In this phase we encourage as many residents as possible to contribute ideas through activities like community meetings and online software tools that facilitate idea capture.

Proposal Generation: In this phase budget delegates review ideas to ensure they adhere to any guidelines and develop the details of the proposal, including cost estimates.

Proposal Selection or Voting: In this phase the potential projects are presented to residents for voting. The projects with the greatest number of votes are selected for implementation.

Once the voting process is complete the City implements the selected projects.

Click here to learn how to get involved in your district.

Zero-Based Budgeting

A very special version of Participatory Budgeting is known as Zero-Based Budgeting, a technique first introduced by Mayor Liccardo in February 2016.

The primary goal of Zero-Based Budgeting is to determine how residents wish to spend a budget that remains the same from year to year. Let’s explore this further.

Budget: The total budget is held as constant for the prior year. So, if the City spent $64M on neighborhood services last year then the Budget for the next year is the same – a “Zero” Change.

Project or Program Cost: The initial cost of the projects or proposals, in this case neighborhood service programs, are the amount of money the City spent in the prior year.

Item Funding Policy: Residents can choose to increase or decrease the amount of funds for a given program. This means that if a program is working well residents can fund more of the program and if it is working poorly residents can fund less of it or recommend that it be eliminated by not funding it at all. All items start out with zero funding – the “Zero Base”.

Write-In Candidate: We allow residents to add up to two write-in candidates for new programs and ask them to indicate how much they’d like to invest in these new programs.

We’re really excited about Zero-Based Budgeting because it provides residents with a means to shape the programs of the city in a way that better meets their needs over time.
Click here to learn how to get involved in the Citywide ZBB project.

Budget Games

The first Budgeting Event for the City of San José, CA, transformed how the Mayor’s office engaged with the community during the budgeting process and directly affected the city budget. According to then Assistant City Manager Kip Harkness, “This was the first time the City was told that while police and fire are important, there is a limit to how much we’re willing to cut libraries and parks.”

During the second year of Budget Games, 80% of the recommendations generated by citizen participants were adopted and integrated into the City’s $2.6B budget.

We do not presently have any Budget Games programs planned.