President, Great Valley Center
by Jerry Blair
According to Great
Valley Center president Carol Whiteside,
when the Central Valley think tank first started she was using a card
table for a desk. Today the GVC has thirty employees and her desk is
a little more utilitarian. The organization she heads is arguably the
institution serving as a beacon for others to key on regarding issues
of growth in the Great Basin.
Ms. Whiteside founded
the GVC in 1997. Before that she served as Director of Intergovernmental
Affairs under Governor Pete Wilson, was Assistant Secretary of the California
Resources Agency, and was elected Mayor of Modesto in 1987. Having served
in both government and private sectors, she has clear views on how each
can serve the cause.
Whiteside sees indications
that the cohesive strategy lacking at the GVC's inception five years
ago is beginning to gel. And as the Central Valley turns the corner
into a new year and New Valley begins another season tracking its progress,
Carol Whiteside and the Great Valley Center maintain the dream.
When we first
spoke in early 2001, you said that there was really no cohesive strategy
that you saw in terms of solving the issues of growth in the Valley.
Are we developing one, or is there one in place now?
There are encouraging
signs. I think it is unrealistic to assume that we'll ever have one
for the whole Great Valley. The Sacramento area has the six-county process
going on through SACOG, which is really looking at housing, and land
use, and transportation, air quality... Mayor Allen Autrey in Fresno
has convened the eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley to begin to
look at how to deal with the air quality in the San Joaquin Valley.
I think that just a few years ago that kind of multi-county, big picture
look would have been impossible here.
Are we looking
at the right things?
Well, I think we're
looking at the things we have to look at and I think we've all learned
that once you start looking at traffic or once you start looking at
air quality that pretty soon you're talking about jobs, and transportation,
and housing, and education -- and it's all connected to everything else
and so it really doesn't matter where you enter the circle; you eventually
will get to everything.
What kind of
impetus is it going to take to get these things to happen?
I think it will
take two things -- and I honestly think and I'm sorry to say, but I
think it takes a galvanizing event. Something that is so stunning and
so unavoidable and so dramatic that it galvanizes people into action.
The environmental movement came out of the burning Cyanoga River, or
the Santa Barbara oil spill. I don't know what that will be in the Valley
but I think that's one way to get people's attention. The other thing
I think it will take is a strong person who has a "big picture"
view, who hopefully is above politics, who can work with people on both
sides of the political aisle, who understands all the cultural diversity
of the region, and can somehow earn the trust of people to function
in a leadership role. Now, that may or may not be a formal leader. Sometimes
those people are informal leaders and they don't have titles or roles
and they just assume the mantle and go.
You say they
have to be above politics...
I think so. I think
that part of the problem is that the political system has become so
entrenched with seeking votes, worrying about the next election, raising
money that that becomes a distraction from what it seems to me to be
a straight march down the road to get the region into a better position
for the future.
Does it take
some sort of catalyst in these various regions of the Central Valley,
something like a UC Merced, to bring about some positive change?
I think all the
things like UC Merced, like the SACOG process, like discussions on water
which are enormous in the region, all of those help. But they still
haven't kind of grabbed the attention and the imagination of people
that say, "Here, this is where we really want to go." And
just this week I was talking with people who said, "You know, we're
really interested in the Central Valley because the Central Valley is
still unformed. In San Diego or Los Angeles or Orange County we are
just tinkering at the margins and there are so many choices that can
be made in the Valley." And that leadership, that catalyst, that
whatever it seems to me has to be way up here, kind of like the guiding
star and says, "Here is what we are going to do. We are going to
become a competitive region. We're going to function on parity with
everybody else in the state and the nation. We're going to raise our
educational levels. We're going to increase our economic prosperity.
We're going to protect our environment." And those things have
to happen by everybody giving a little. We can't just all be takers.
In the first
interview we did, you referred to "capturing the vision".
In your view has the vision changed at all?
I think the vision
is pretty easy to see if you think about it. But I don't think many
people are looking. Lots of people have their heads down. They're worried
about tomorrow, they're worried about next week, they're worried about
pay checks, they're worried about families, they're worried about retirement,
or vacation. They're not looking up and they're not looking at the vision.
And that's why I say that people just have to be willing to share in
developing a community. It's a community vision, it's not a personal
vision. And so much of our lives today are based on personal things.
And so it requires a really big shift for people to say, "I want
to be part of this bigger process. I want to build a community for my
kids. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it."
Now it's my personal hope, based on these gray hairs, that as people
get older they begin to think about legacies. As the baby boomers age
they begin to think about what they're leaving and this may be an opportunity
for us to really work together on that instead of being so internal
and selfish in our actions.
Are we doing
the right things to attain that?
I think we're starting.
And I think the budget crisis for the state will be a big test for us,
because then people have to decide whether or not they're going to be
competitive and clawing over every nickel or whether they're going to
look at a bigger solution by working together. They're going to have
to decide whether they can still afford planning, whether they can still
afford vision. And sometimes I think people make false choices and say
those things have to go away because we can't afford it, we don't have
the money, we don't have the time, or whatever it happens to be. But
I think I would argue that it's that kind of long term vision and long
term view that gets us past these crises.
Over the five
years how have your goals changed and what kind of differences are you
seeing in your organization?
We started off saying
we wanted to improve the social, economic, and environmental well-being
of the region and now we really mean it. We started off believing that
we could really be productive acting in the intersection between the
environment and the economy. We were worried about farmland conservation
and economic development/community development and what we found is
that has to take place in an environment in strong communities, strong
non-profit organizations, that young people have to be engaged so now
instead of just working on land use and planning and technology and
farmland, we're working in leadership development and working to build
the capacity of non-profit organizations. We're working on youth development
so that we have a much broader way of trying to impact the Valley and
a much broader agenda, again because everything is related. How can
you improve the lives of kids in the region if you don't have communities
that support them? How can you have a healthy economy if you don't deal
with education? So, it's that same issue about once you get into something
-- they're all connected. And so GVC's agenda, I think, reflects that
as we try to support communities in a variety of ways wherever they
are in raising the bar, helping them become more competitive, and giving
them resources so that they can get more effective.
What kind of
hand-holding do you have to do? What do you have to do to keep these
goals at the top of people's agendas?
We do a couple of
things. First of al,l we have a big mailing list and anybody can be
on our mailing list if they want to be. We mail most things to about
32,000 people, which out of five million isn't very many, but it's pretty
expensive when you're paying postage. So what we try to do is say, "Here
is what's available and if you're not interested, it's okay: go work
with somebody else. But if we've got something that is useful or helpful
or can be of benefit, then we're here to help." And so I think
what we've found is that not everybody wants to work on our issues or
wants to work at GVC or with GVC any day, but we're here for the ones
that are and it's really like building blocks. You build this one for
a while and then that one is okay and you build this one up for a while
and that one is okay and you just keep doing that as you're raising
things. We find there are communities like the Sacramento region that
are really engaged in regional processes and to the extent that we can
provide technical support or help focus foundation resources in that
region, we're there. In Redding and Chico, they're not even sure they're
on the same planet yet. They're not working together yet. And so we're
not doing much there, but when they're ready, GVC will be ready to try
to support them in some way that they're doing it. So we're really a
resource rather than a
we're certainly...hopefully not dictators
and I tell everybody that we're not advocates. We have a point of view,
we believe in balance, we believe in a lot of things and you can find
that easily. We'll never stand up in front of the city council, or the
board of supervisors, or the state legislator, and tell people what
they ought to do. We'll help them decide.
Are places like
Sacramento sharing the wealth? Are they going to other areas and saying,
"Look, this worked for us and it might work for you too"?
I don't think there's
a lot of cross-pollination yet, but I think what Sacramento needs to
do is get some successes under its belt and then it will become a model
for other regions. I think Sacramento is looking at Salt Lake City,
and Salt Lake City looked at Atlanta, and so there's a lot of learning
that takes place over time. I think Sacramento is just entering that
process and everybody will watch to make sure they can actually do it.
Can they get a consensus out of six counties? Can they change the base
case and change the assumptions about what land use looks like in California?
Boy, if they can, they'll be teaching a lot of people how to do it.
Let's end this
on a projection. What are we looking at five years from now in your
view -- if we continue on the course we're on now?
The economy will
drive a lot of what happens. My dream is --it's never a prediction,
it's a dream and it's what we work toward -- is that people will begin
to understand how important their individual decision-making is. For
instance, there's a huge controversy in the San Joaquin Valley right
now over air quality and the potential that people will be regulated
or asked not to use fireplaces in the wintertime on bad air nights and
people are angry about that."How dare you tell me that I can't
use a fireplace in my home and I can't do whatever
of thinking, "Wait a minute, there are kids that can't breathe,
there are parents or grandparents who are sick." All of a sudden,
you know, I'd like to believe in five years that we begin to understand
that we all have a share in this, and that we all have a stake in what
happens, and that we all share in making it better.
Do you think
that their loss of trust in government aids that feeling?
I think there's
a significant erosion in people's confidence in government, and so what
that means is they're less willing to trust what government tells them
to do and that comes back to your question about informal leadership
and whether it's coming from the civic sector or whether it's coming
from educators or business. We haven't found a new set of leaders yet
that we're really willing to buy into and follow in a willing way. I'm
hoping that will change. I think young people are tremendously important
in this because...boy, those twenty- and thirty-somethings have a lot
cynicism about government, but they would like to help. Many of them
volunteer. Many of them do things. So figuring out how to engage them
in this new challenge, it seems to me, is a big part of the issue.