Intentional Forums for Accidental Collaboration

It is not just about meetings. A major part of the role of local elected officials is to convene people around issues and challenges. Thinking back on my years in service, I recall the many special focus groups and task forces that I was lucky enough to form with others to address time-limited topics and problems. Yolo County is populated with so many talented and knowledgeable people that we are always able to bring world-class expertise to any problem.

Occasionally, we have also had to convene in response to a crisis or a deep injury to the community. Sometimes these responses are simply to provide a space for us to be together in our anguish; sometimes they serve as the impetus of a long-term collective response. These convenings have brought us together for many reasons, including to mourn the loss of Davis Police Officer Natalie Corona, raise relief funds for the victims of the Paradise Fire or the earthquake in Haiti, stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, or express our shared concern over the diminishment of voting rights.

To me, some of the most significant and remarkable convenings are the ongoing, standing forums – all coalitions of the willing. It has been my pleasure to cofound and convene many of these groups, including:

  • Saving California Communities – an issues forum founded by Davis Campbell, Lucas Frerichs, Susan Lovenburg, and me. For several years, we hosted occasional public forums on key policy topics.

  • Yolo Climate Compact – a coalition focused on climate sustainability topics. Since 2012, I have served as a County liaison to this group, which includes representatives from Yolo County, cities, school districts, UC Davis, and the community. For the past decade, we’ve been meeting about five times a year.

  • Gatherings Initiative – a community group established in 2016 by Gloria Partida, Tracy Tomasky, Anoosh Jorjorian, Helen Roland, Deema Tamimi, Lucas Frerichs, and me to host workshops and launch actions to address the deep fissures within our nation.

  • Yolo Food Connect – an initiative I created in 2012 to address food system issues within Yolo County. This effort has been focused on strengthening farmers’ access to markets, celebrating and learning about food system innovations, and reducing food insecurity in Yolo County. Food Connect originated as I became immersed in the realities of Yolo County having the highest poverty rate of all California counties, farmworkers not having access to the food they work to produce, children in our schools lacking enough good quality food, and Yolo County having one of the lowest participation rates among eligible families in the country in food assistance programs. Clearly, something needed to be done. As the region proclaimed our brand to be “Farm to Fork,” we declared that Yolo County is the “farm” to the region’s “fork” and that our call to action must be, “Farm to Every Fork.” We hosted a series of quarterly gatherings for several years and launched a host of spin-off actions. This work continues.

  • Designing a Sustainable and Innovative Davis Economy (DSIDE) – a partnership launched in 2009 by Bill Alger, who was the Davis Chamber of Commerce President at the time, and me, as the Mayor Pro Tem of Davis for 2009-10, to develop economic development strategies for Davis to emerge from the recession.

While the policy topics for these various standing convenings are varied and seemingly unrelated, there is a common thread: these ongoing policy convenings are intentional forums for accidental collaboration. Sometimes magic happens when we gather a group of concerned and knowledgeable people with good intentions to address a broad policy matter like improved food systems, climate sustainability, or even community mourning. In the presence of others, in deep conversation and reflection, we find ourselves filled with energy and creative impulse. Barriers are reduced, new partnerships are formed, and projects are launched. For many of these convenings, I counted it as a success when the participants clustered into smaller groups to continue the work or arranged to continue the efforts together. Reflecting on the arc of my service, I am grateful to have been part of the creation of countless intentional forums for accidental collaboration.