Negotiating Protest: A "Mediation" the Community Doesn't Want?
Here's a local community protest being "handled" -- in part -- as a community-wide "mediation," "facilitation," or "public dialog."
We have an attempted engagement here over the apparently unwanted "gift" of a new Home Depot in the Sunland-Tujunga community. It appears that the community would like to see an Environmental Impact Assessment conducted and an EIR filed before the Depot moves in (if ever).
The City Attorney stepped in to help -- recruiting community mediators and facilitators to conduct a community dialog. It's my understanding that Home Depot representatives were not present at this dialog (please correct me if I'm wrong about this). For that reason alone -- a missing critical stakeholder -- a suspicious or hostile community response is unsurprising.
Let me say, however, that we/** are new at this -- making an effort to engage an entire community in a facilitated conversation about the issues giving rise to a protest. We're bound to make the type of errors highlighted by community members below. So let's not call this a failure but an opportunity to learn.
Here, for instance, is a recent blog entry calling the "community meeting" a facilitation rather than a mediation -- correctly noting that mediators have no allegiance to one side or the other and no agenda. See the Zuma Times -- LA Daily Blog coverage with one or more YouTube videos here.
For background, here's a late April '08 Los Angeles Daily News article on the issue -- excerpt below.
SUNLAND - Amid a contentious battle over a proposed Home Depot, city officials tried to cool tempers Saturday by hosting a community dialog aimed at finding a middle ground between warring factions.
About 200 community residents attended, although organizers had been expecting up to 1,000.
Although a few supporters, including Home Depot employees, noted the project would likely bring more jobs to the community, most in the crowd were against it.
Asked for opinions, most listed complaints such as traffic and an increase in day laborers. Some even used the term "community assassination." . . . .
Some residents sat and listened patiently as mediators engaged them in dialog in an effort to understand their concerns and to work toward constructive solutions.
Billed as "the Sunland/Tujunga dialog," the meeting at Mount Gleason Middle School was set up by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office as part of an agreement with The Home Depot Inc., which suspended a $10 million lawsuit against the city while it seeks a building permit.
The company is seeking to build a store on the old Kmart lot on Foothill Boulevard . . .
Attorney Barbara Goldfarb, a volunteer facilitator with the dispute-resolution team that conducted the meeting, made sure everyone knew that she and her staff had no connection to the home-improvement company.
"I do not have a Home Depot credit card," she said before people split up into 27 groups. "I do not own Home Depot stock."
Goldfarb said the dispute-resolution program is funded by grants and funds from the city and county.
"Certain times (these types of efforts) don't work. Other times, they work out wonderfully," Goldfarb said.
"There's always an answer to conflict if people will talk."
And here's a mis-step "we" won't make next time as reported by the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance blog.
Lots of folks have comments and questions about the evaluation form we were asked to fill out at the end of the small groups. I have some of my own, too. I was shocked and horrified at some of those questions. I thought the questions showed a slanted, pre-conceived idea of what someone thought our issues should or would be, not what our concerns really are. I spoke with Barbara Goldfarb, the lead facilitator, about it. Yep, the evaluation form was written by the RAND Corporation, just as the pre-questions were. Ms. Goldfarb agreed with me that some of those questions were way off the mark, too complex to be answered by just checking a box, or unrelated to our actual concerns.
I just want to add that I am so proud of us, all of us who showed up yesterday. We were well prepared, and participated with a mature and honest approach. Also, to those who wrote intelligent, well thought out answers to the questions, I applaud you. There were a lot of people who let us know that they were unable to attend the “dialog” due to other commitments, but those of us who were there, carried the message loud and clear! No Home Depot in Sunland-Tujunga! Home Depot must follow the rules! We want our EIR!
I invite comment from participants in the community. For their information, I am not affiliated with the City of Los Angeles in any way. I serve as a volunteer mediator for the Los Angeles County Bar Association Community Mediation program in West Hollywood, on the Los Angeles Superior Court's pro bono mediation panel (for litigated cases) and as a Settlement Officer for the local federal trial court (also for litigated cases). Otherwise, my work is entirely in the private sector.
/** When I say "we" I'm referring to mediators in general who are part of a theory and practice of facilitated dialog as well as many other strands of the mediation movement including consensus-building, prejudice-reduction, settlement conferences, mediations of litigated cases, community mediation, restorative justice and the like. I personally have had nothing to do with the community "dialog" or facilitation or "mediation" arising from the dispute over the development of a Home Depot in Sunland-Tujunga.