All CDDRL News News June 1, 2022

Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law Releases Policy and Scenario Report on the Future of California's Governance

The research team led by Francis Fukuyama and Michael Bennon examined where California has been, where it’s at, and where it’s headed when it comes to possible scenarios and policy alternatives for the future.
Governance in California
California 100

The Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and Rule of Law released today its Future of Governance, Media, and Civil Society in California Report made possible by a grant from the California 100 Initiative. For several months, the research team led by Francis Fukuyama and Michael Bennon examined where California has been, where it’s at, and where it’s headed when it comes to possible scenarios and policy alternatives for the future.

“California faces big governance challenges in which collective action is too easy to veto, and needs to change basic institutions if it is going to deal with issues like climate change and housing,” said Fukuyama. “The state was at the forefront of the Progressive Era governance reform movement and remains there today,” added Bennon. “This project is an evaluation of California’s current governance and an envisioning of potential reforms.”

California faces big governance challenges in which collective action is too easy to veto, and the state needs to reform its basic institutions if it is going to deal with issues like climate change and housing.
Francis Fukuyama
Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI

The research proposes four alternative scenarios for the state’s future and provides policy options:

Scenario 1: California Technocracy
Administrative state grows in size and authority

After a series of crises including rampant homelessness, water shortages, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods that required invoking emergency powers, Californias citizens delegate more authority to elected officials. Direct democracy is regarded as a relic of the Progressive Era, a corruptible process subject to the capture of special interests. Californians support reforms for more independent, technocratic governance and decision-making at the state and local levels. Silicon Valley works to make the California civil service more skilled at every level, but as local media sources dwindle and as Californians increasingly rely on the state for services and information, hints of an authoritarian government spread.

As California's state administration grows, new regulatory agencies are established to combat climate change, expand charter and private school options, and supervise the states healthcare system. Along with this development, the governors power extends, and the new agencies are run by political appointees under their direct control. A united legislature reforms CEQA to limit its scope and impact, and raises the signature thresholds for recalls and elections. Although things get done, some groups argue that California has become a technocracy uninformed by and unresponsive to popular concerns.

Scenario 2: Government Rethought
Governance reforms bring a wave of state action and development

Following a succession of crises, a New Public Compact streamlines government decision-making processes. New election financing laws ensure public involvement while reducing veto points. The government funds nonprofit organizations to mobilize the entire community, strengthens the local media, and holds well-attended deliberative polls to engage the public. Reforms lead to a boom in public works and private property development. Through the referendum process, Californians rethink Proposition 13 and develop a new system for property taxes and graduated income taxes.

Silicon Valley and public schools across California work to improve the technical competence of the civil service and to develop exciting online tools to engage the public. California undergoes a set of reforms and overhauls similar to the New Deal, and local communities build out their information infrastructures, including local media, to connect residents with local resources and services. Californians become increasingly informed about the democratic process as more reform options become available, and their engagement increases through political activism.

Scenario 3: California Vetocracy
Supporting status quo with limited information yet increased direct participation

In California's crisis-ridden landscape, voters are frantic to fix government, making progressive era direct democracy increasingly popular. As veto points increase in state decision-making, so does the difficulty in making significant decisions and developments. Due to the loss of newspapers and media outlets, the public knows little about government. Small groups of reformers become powerful as they use direct democracy to propose one partially thought-out initiative after another. NIMBYism and narrow interests are fueled by CEQA, which applies to every government and private action. Recalls of elected officials increase significantly throughout the state. Each governor faces recall attempts. At all levels, the civil service is weak, poorly paid, untrained, and overwhelmed by the chaos it faces. Trust in government spirals downward.

The California State Supreme Court finally rules against SB 9, which restricted local control over housing developments, and settles the matter for the time being. In response to crisis situations, decisive action is episodic, with one movement after another that leads to new initiatives or recalls, but to no real results. Despite greater local control and increased direct citizen participation, access to information continues to rely on online, national news sources. In the absence of local and community information, misinformation flourishes about the effectiveness and impact of veto points.

Scenario 4: Burbclave California
Local governments demand control for governance over statewide leadership

There is a local demand for action in response to California's environmental, housing, and other crises, in concert with a strengthening of citizen participation. The burbclave movement arises as local communities start demanding greater local control and authority to cope with statewide problems like affordable housing, access to healthcare, and strong education. Through reform of Proposition 13, local governments gain more control over public actions and state finances.

As local control becomes more prevalent throughout the state, local and community media outlets emphasize the immediate benefits of locally-driven solutions. Some communities have solved the housing crisis, water crisis, and other crises, but the solutions are limited to those communities. Additionally, some communities become exasperated when their residents feel they have to participate so much, and residents become burned out due to constant information. Local decisions are usually determined by those with the loudest voices. Some communities flourish, but others struggle to solve issues, particularly poorer communities with limited resources. Consequently, their public infrastructure, safety, and educational systems suffer. Some people can solve this problem with gated communities, private schools, private roads, and private policing, but others who lack resources suffer from bad roads, inadequate housing, and poor schools.

The researchers at CDDRL propose the following policy alternatives for the future:

  • Policy reforms to improve the transparency and adjudication of CEQA disputes and litigation. 
  • Reforms that will better empower California's elected representatives to take action to address the state's challenges.

Bennon notes that “it has long been recognized that CEQA has a dual purpose in both protecting the environment and promoting informed self-government in California. As we evaluate CEQA practices and policy alternatives today, we should do so against those two original goals of the law.”

Discussing the policy alternatives, Fukuyama adds that “the decline of local media creates particular problems for local participation, and needs to be bolstered if citizen civic capacity is to evolve to meet the state’s governance needs.”

After months of diligent research by our partners across the state, we are excited to share their findings with the public to kickstart a conversation about the policy options we can take to create an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable California.
Karthick Ramakrishnan, PhD
Executive Director of California 100

“After months of diligent research by our partners across the state, we are excited to share their findings with the public to kickstart a conversation about the policy options we can take to create an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable California,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, PhD, executive director of California 100. “Our research partners engaged a diverse group of stakeholders in their work and it will take all of them and all of us to take this work and make it actionable today – to influence tomorrow.”

California 100, incubated at the University of California and Stanford University, released today its next three policy and scenario reports focusing on the future of health and wellness, immigrant integration, and public safety in the golden state. In July, California 100 announced grants to 18 centers and institutes across California to examine future scenarios with the potential to shape California’s leadership in the coming century, with a focus on 13 priority research areas (listed below). In March, California 100 released its first four policy and scenario reports focused on the future of advanced technology, energy, housing, and transportation. 

These research reports were produced as part of California 100’s research stream of work led by Henry E. Brady, PhD, Director of Research for California 100, current professor, and former Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy. 
California 100 announced its diverse and intergenerational Commission in October and its Advisory Council in December. California 100’s core mission is to strengthen California’s ability to collectively solve problems and shape our long-term future—through research, policy innovation, advanced technology, and engagement—by identifying, mobilizing, and supporting champions for innovative and equitable solutions.