A lot of the work I do with the California Voter Foundation is focused on how California can set a good example for the nation and world when it comes to responsible use of technology in the democratic process.
There's good reason to think California will have an impact -- it traditionally does. Whether it's property tax revolts, term limits, electric cars, recycling, smoking bans, electronic filing of campaign finance disclosure reports, paper trails for electronic voting....well, you get the idea. The influence is so persistent that in DC there is at times a bias against anything California.
Like it or not, California is no doubt a trendsetter in numerous ways, and within the state, the city of Berkeley is the place where trends begin. Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle featured this story by Carolyn Jones about Berkeley's long history of "firsts". A few excerpts are below.
Sometimes Berserkeley isn't so berserk after all.
Many ideas spawned in Berkeley - and roundly mocked by the rest of the country - have taken root and have been adopted by cities everywhere. Among them: police radios, a ban on Styrofoam, health benefits for domestic partners and a switch to biodiesel for city cars.
These and other Berkeley firsts are part of a painstakingly researched show at the Berkeley History Center that chronicles the city's long history of civic innovation. "Berkeley, a City of Firsts" covers dozens of ideas that started there, including some that flopped and a few that Berkeley claims credit for but really happened elsewhere.
"There's no small city in the U.S. more known in the nation and world - for better or worse - than Berkeley," said Charles Wollenberg, chair of the history department at Berkeley City College and author of "Berkeley: A City in History" (UC Press, 2008). "For a city of 100,000, it has a huge influence."
Berkeley's creative approach to government goes back to the city's early days, when the University of California moved there from Oakland in the 1870s. The mix of academic intellectuals and Bohemian castoffs from San Francisco's Gold Rush era made for a very independent, quirky population, Wollenberg said.
Besides the innovations from City Hall, Berkeley has been the birthplace of less tangible ideas, such as the Free Speech Movement, the disability rights movement and California cuisine.