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When government wants to know what to do next, the best move involves asking citizens’ advice. After all, they will be the ones most directly affected by change.

Unfortunately, that procedure isn’t followed frequently enough. Government officials plow ahead, essentially cocooned in an information vacuum, which by nature and inclination will produce limited or no positive results.

That’s not the way the city of Santa Maria operates, and a perfect case in point is the ongoing effort to determine an optimum future for the city’s parks and recreational facilities.

This particular process is called the Leisure Needs Assessment and Action Plan, an unnecessarily long-winded, bureaucratic way of saying, let’s go forward by doing the thing members of the community want done.

The action plan was last updated six years ago, and the feature request at that time involved the city providing more open space in general, and more playing fields specifically.

Flash forward to today, and the focus ideas remain essentially the same, with a few tweaks. Still, city officials are taking a fresh look at the parks-and-recreation issue, and continue to search for funding to make citizens’ recreational dreams come true.

To that end, the city and its hired consultant will be mailing out survey questionnaires to from 3,000 to 3,500 Santa Marians, chosen at random, and are hoping for at least 500 of those surveys to be filled out and returned.

In fact, we see no valid reason why every survey shouldn’t be filled out and returned. Another fact is that if you aren’t one of the randomly-chosen survey recipients, you can still make your voice heard by contacting City Hall, the Recreation and Parks Department, or at special meetings around the community to gather citizen input.

That input is vitally important. As we mentioned earlier, not much has really changed since the 2013 study, but modern data is needed when the city applies for matching funds that could help build the facilities Santa Marians say they want.

The city held several community meetings last month, which averaged about eight attending citizens per event, which is not really a good-enough sample of the overall community. But those meetings did produce results. Attendees identified sports fields, pickleball courts, senior programming, additional teen programming and community arts as main needs for the community.

Just driving around the city on a weekend, or weekday evening will tell you Santa Maria desperately needs more playing fields. A typical league soccer match will have teams on the field, and teams waiting on the sidelines for their turn to play.

City officials have already prepared one grant application, and are working on a second request. Every grant application needs up-to-date data from citizen input, because that is a key factor when governments and foundations consider the validity of a request for funding assistance.

A city usually has a laundry list of wants and needs, and not enough money to do everything on the list. But aside from public safety, we can’t imagine a better use of tax dollars — especially when they attract matching grant money — to create more recreational space for a community’s residents. For one thing, getting a kid involved in organized sports reduces the likelihood of him or her getting involved in a youth gang.

All of which boils down to citizens — that means you — getting involved in Santa Maria’s Leisure Needs Assessment and Action Plan. If you receive a survey in the mail, please fill it out. If you don’t get a survey, let city officials know your thoughts anyway.

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