New Decision-Making Tools Available

The nuts and bolts of agency decision-making are the subject of two new Institute for Local Government (ILG) publications, Getting the Most Out of Public Hearings and An Ounce of Prevention: Best Practices in Making Land Use Decisions.

Getting the Most Out of Public Hearings

Public hearings are a key part of the decision-making process for local agencies; they give the public an opportunity to offer their thoughts on matters that are before an agency. How can decision-makers maximize the opportunities presented by such hearings?

Getting the Most Out of Public Hearings: Ideas to Improve Public Involvement offers practical ideas to maximize the public’s input — and the quality of that input — during the public hearing process. Among the points addressed are:

  • How to ensure the fullest participation and opportunity for expression at public hearings;
  • How to effectively inform participants and the broader community about the issues at hand;
  • How to encourage clear and reasoned presentations and informed exchanges of views at the hearing;
  • How public hearings can provide more useful feedback that takes into account hard choices and trade-offs; and
  • How to better ensure and demonstrate that public ideas and recommendations are taken seriously.

This pamphlet explores the points listed above and suggests ways that public hearings can be more inclusive of community voices, more flexible in terms of format and comments, and more directly useful to decision-makers.

Getting the Most Out of Public Hearings is a product of ILG’s Collaborative Governance Initiative and was produced with the generous support of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the League. It has been mailed to city and county officials throughout the state and is available in hard copy and online.

An Ounce of Prevention: Best Practices in Making Land Use Decisions

These days, it often takes more than a good California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) document to withstand a legal challenge to a land use decision. Indeed, local agencies must abide by a number of notice and hearing requirements when they reach a decision. Equally important, however, is the staff work that goes into preparing the decision-maker, including:

  • Drafting ordinances that say what the agency means;
  • Developing administrative records that will withstand judicial review;
  • The “ins and outs” of processing land use applications;
  • Elements to consider when making the decision; and
  • How to draft staff reports and findings.

An Ounce of Prevention details many successful practices employed by local agencies around the state that lead to thoughtful decisions while minimizing the risk of litigation. This project was made possible through a generous grant from the Public Entity Risk Institute ( A complimentary copy has been mailed to the planning department of each city and county in the state as part of the grant.

To Obtain a Copy

Getting the Most Out of Public Hearings is available online at

This article appears in the March 2006 issue of Western City
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