The City: The Nexus of Government

Daniel Fields with Brisbane City Manager

During a recent lunch meeting, Deputy City Manager Stuart Schillinger asked myself and the other interns working for the City of Brisbane two questions: What is the most significant thing that I have found in my work, and what am I stuck on that we can work through together? These questions lead me to reflect on my time here, and I would like to share the answers to these questions in this blog post.

The most significant thing that I have realized while working for the City of Brisbane is that the success or failure of much of state and federal legislation is dependent upon the active cooperation of local governments in working with them, and with each other. It is incredible how many state initiatives are dependent on local government actors. For example, I recently compiled a report on SB 375, a bill often touted as California’s landmark climate change legislation. In this report, I discussed how state and regional agencies are dependent on local governments to change land use policies in order to further state goals, such as increased affordable housing near public transit. However, local governments are under no legal obligation to do so, which often results in the infamous “Not In My Backyard” mentality reigning supreme. Safe to say, it will be interesting to see how this local-state government tension ultimately gets resolved in the era of climate change and overpopulation in California.

On the flip side, I am stuck on how to get in contact with the right people. Nearly every time I work on a project and get in contact with someone in the relevant agency, they seem to direct me to the public records request form, or to a number that is a voicemail box. While bureaucracies are notorious for this type of communication, I did not realize it would be such an issue when working for another government agency. This has enlightened me to the importance of networking in the public sector, so that you have a contact person for various agencies that may be able to assist you or refer you to the right person for future projects.

Overall, I feel incredibly grateful to be working for a city that takes the time to actively develop its interns. Everyday at work, I feel like I am assisting Brisbane’s elected officials or city staff by carrying out research projects across several key areas, namely hazardous waste remediation, transportation analysis modeling, legislation, and sustainable practices.