Our View: A pledge for civic engagement

Bruce Fortine, The Signal’s new director of civic engagement, thanks supporters Tuesday during a farewell party at Robinson Ranch Golf Course as he retires from 36 years of service on the College of the Canyons board of trustees. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Nov. 8 election, along with its divisive aftermath, shows the necessity for greater grassroots involvement in American democracy.

Already battle strategies are being drawn up in Washington, D.C., by each side of the hyper-partisan fight. We have little reason to believe the needs of the citizens will come first.

A fresh look at American democracy is called for. And that movement is under way on a number of fronts at the grassroots level – as community-based as is American democracy itself.

One of those movements is called “civic engagement.” According to concept founder and Professor Thomas Ehrlich, it “means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.”

College of the Canyons has embraced civic engagement with a program implemented across several disciplines.

For nearly 98 years The Signal has provided news and information in the Santa Clarita Valley, telling readers what’s going on and how it affects their lives. Today we commit to take it to a new level, providing enhanced opportunities for education on issues, to engage in active problem-solving and to work for a solution at the grassroots level.

Bruce Fortine, a 36-year trustee for College of the Canyons, lifetime resident of the SCV, businessman, veteran and civic leader, has agreed to join us in this endeavor as a member of the Paladin Multi-Media board of directors in charge of civic engagement.

Fortine’s position is the second dedicated to community service created by Paladin Multi-Media since it bought The Signal nearly a year ago. It will be separate from the role of Russ Briley, co-owner of The Signal and executive vice president, whose task is to strengthen and develop Santa Clarita Valley nonprofits.

Fortine will represent The Signal as liaison with the community and work to promote engagement in governance, nonprofits and economic matters.

Certainly the Santa Clarita Valley is not lacking in issues that cry out for civic engagement: the aging of the valley’s leadership and lack of preparation among potential successors; the future of the valley’s biggest brownfield, Whittaker-Bermite; drugs in our schools and high domestic violence rates, to name a few.

What do residents want done about these issues?

Last September The Signal hosted a summit on domestic violence and COC’s civic engagement program hosted a conference on human trafficking. Together, the two forums drew nearly 600 people to engage those two community issues.

More such issue-oriented sessions are planned in 2017 for Santa Clarita Valley residents to educate themselves and become engaged in issues that affect us right here at home.

Among those planned by The Signal is a session aimed at preparing prospective local elected leaders for the roles they wish to assume.

Of course, none of this will be possible without involvement by you, the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley.

A November study released by the Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media notes: “Overall, the civically engaged are indeed more likely than the less engaged to use and value local news.” Local news habits are particularly linked to a strong connection to one’s community and consistently voting in local elections, the study found.

So we invite you, our readers both print and online, to take the first steps toward civic engagement right now by sending us your thoughts on homelessness in the Santa Clarita Valley. Civil discussion is where everything begins.

A Nov. 30 letter to the editor called on SCV residents to acknowledge, recognize and find solutions to the local homeless problem.

This week two Los Angeles County supervisors, including our own Kathryn Barger, called for a countywide special election in March to consider hiking sales tax to help the homeless. They also called for a countywide emergency declaration due to widespread homelessness.

How do you think homelessness should be dealt with? Is it an issue to be addressed countywide, or should the citizens of the SCV devise a plan for this valley’s homeless population?

Is homelessness rightly a government issue to solve at all, or should private industry consider this a potential market – or nonprofits a calling? If so, how can this goal be realized?

Does a countywide sales tax hike sound like an effective way to fund the issue? What might work better?

Let your voice be heard. Let’s join together for solutions right here where we live.

Send ideas to [email protected] for publication next Saturday.

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