Point Loman Hopes Phone App Will Bring Power to the People

by on May 20, 2019 · 5 comments

in Ocean Beach

Photo: L to R: Cory Plasch from Polco, Michael Winn, Norm Katz,. All photos by Geoff Page.

By Geoff Page

For the past two years, Point Loma resident Michael Winn has been working on creating something Point Loma does not have, a town council.  OB, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and many other communities have town councils – but not Point Loma.

It has been a tough road because the reception by existing community groups has been chilly, to say the least.  Some of this was made apparent by a special event Winn organized on Tuesday, May 14 at a private home in Point Loma.

The invitation-only event was attended by a collection or people from Point Loma, Clairemont, La Jolla, and downtown.  This was an immediate indication that the event was not solely about the Point Loma Town Council Winn has been working to create.

What was notable was the absence of anyone from the various Point Loma community organizations.  Winn invited the Peninsula Community Planning Board, the Ocean Beach Planning Board, local leaders such as former OB Town Council president Gretchen Newsom, and the PLA.  None were in attendance.  Winn stated he contacted the OB Town Council on several occasions but never received any response.

Winn went before the PCPB in 2017 to present his idea and the reception was surprisingly unfriendly.  The PCPB seemed to believe Winn was just duplicating what they were doing and a PLA representative expressed a similar opinion.  What it looked like was a severe case of territoriality.  The lack of any Point Loma representation at this event, other than by a few private citizens, was a shame.

Although it originally appeared the meeting was called to discuss the Point Loma Town Council, it actually focused on a phone application Winn and some others are creating to enhance and empower much more community participation than is seen in any of the other community organizations.   Winn stated:

“The purpose of a forum is for people to present their ideas and evidence. The theory of democracy is that people will see what is in their own best interest. The [town council] app makes it possible to have a forum that includes the voices, priorities and ideas of people of all sectors of the community.”

“When I began this project, it was to create a way to engage the majority of the population of the peninsula in decisions that will affect our lives–such as, waiving building heights, adding 50,000 people in Midway, and so on.  Because the software is expensive and could be used by other communities, it made sense to expand the vision to include communities in San Diego where there are common concerns.”

Winn has partnered with a political polling company, Polco, and a software engineer Norm Katz to create the software. Their idea is to beta test it here and then see if it will go national.  Winn claims there is nothing currently like it out there.

Winn stated:

“Polco’s current software is aimed at top-down government users, and is designed to do statistical analysis rather than engage participation.

Town Council App is a design to learn and reveal to everyone, what is important for the community about any issue, which could include criticism of the public agency. 

Polco’s current products offer statistical analysis from sampled groups that show the public agency the probability of consensus on ideas generated by the city.  But this consensus doesn’t reflect concerns that aren’t included in the polls.

The city can do a poll about affordable housing designed to promote development rather than protect affordability. And the city’s poll engages and informs participation of a sample of residents that responded.

There is no effort to engage a majority. Engagement is an end in itself–as important as the poll subject to the way people take responsibility. Priorities of a majority of the community are often not reflected in the issues described by public agency polls.”

Winn explained that town council members from PB, MB, La Jolla, and Claremont Mesa suggested people to invite to this event. It appeared he received a more favorable reception outside of Point Loma.

There were critics at the event.  One man from the downtown area appeared to dismiss the idea early before Winn’s presentation had gotten very far.  He had a distinct English accent and said this had already been done in Europe.  It was hard to understand how he could be so sure of this having heard very little of the presentation.

Another critic also dismissed it claiming he could do the same thing easily on WordPress.  It is doubtful that he fully understood what Winn and his group is trying to accomplish.

Winn hopes to have the app fully functional by spring 2020 with a beta test sometime this year.  For more information go here.

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar korla May 20, 2019 at 11:36 am

The timing was poor for his event as it was the same night as the PLA Community Conversation. That was a packed house with standing room only.

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Avatar Bob Goldyn May 20, 2019 at 11:52 am

As chair of the Peninsula Community Planning Board (PCPB), I would like to state that myself personally nor the PCPB email address was contacted, invited, nor informed of this event. I would have distributed the invite to the full board with recommendation for attendance if that was the case. I can not confirm Mr. Winn’s outreach for other Point Loma organizations, but the PCPB was not contacted directly.

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Avatar Geoff Page May 20, 2019 at 2:14 pm

Thank you for that clarification, Bob Goldyn. You are correct in that Winn did not send an offical invitation to the chair but rather he invited two board members, David Dick and James Hare. He was having trouble getting responses so he asked me if I could help. I contacted both men. David Dick stated he did not see an invitation from Winn and that he had a conflict that evening anyway. I found my invitation to the event under the “Updates” tab in my gmail, not the Primary tab. Dick’s invitation may have gone to junk mail.

When I asked Hare, his response was “Saw it. Did not plan to attend.” When asked if he had responded to Winn, Hare forwarded our email exchange to Winn with “FYI.” As I wrote in my article, Winn has not received a warm reception. Hare’s perfunctory response, that he did not have the courtesy to send to Winn, was illustrative of that attitude.

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Avatar Kevin H May 29, 2019 at 12:17 am

I’m unaware of any invites sent to the OB Planning Board. I don’t think any of the officers were available that evening although some members would’ve attended. Winn or anyone willing to put in an honest effort deserves consideration and the time of day.

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Avatar Geoff Page May 29, 2019 at 9:11 am

Thanks, Kevin, I don’t know how Winn contacted the OBPB or who for that matter, but your comment is very gracious. As a volunteer yourself, it’s clear you have an appreciation for community activism is all of its manifestations, thanks.

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