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When & Where
Wed, April 28, 2021 - 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
Remote (Zoom information forthcoming)

Public meetings allow constituents to comment on matters before local governments, providing signals of public opinion in an otherwise low-information environment. Recent advances in the availability of administrative data have shown inequalities in who participates by race, age, and homeownership status. On housing and development issues, which occupy a large portion of local governments’ activity and deliberation, comments at public meetings are significantly less likely to support new development than the voting public. Does the demographically unrepresentative slice of opinion presented at these meetings lead policy to be out of step with mass opinion? I investigate these questions using a novel dataset of over 30,000 comments made at the San Francisco Planning Commission between 1998 and 2018, matched to information about proposed developments discussed in hearings and administrative data on commenters at these meetings. In this article I find that unrepresentative participation translates to policy: commenters at public meetings are demographically unrepresentative along racial, age, and homeownership lines, even in a large, diverse city; NIMBYism motivates not just opposition but increased likelihood of participation; and there is a strong association between public comment supporting or opposing developments and their approval. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that public comment contributed to blocking 9% of total new housing units and delayed 52% of the units that were approved between 1998 and 2018 in San Francisco.

Training Keywords: 
Primary Tool: 
Training Learner Level: 
Not Applicable
Training Host: 
D-lab Facilitator: 
Aaron Culich
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