Former Encinitas councilwoman Dr. Lisa Shaffer believes so.
Shaffer’s book, “Potholes, Parks, and Politics: A guide to getting things done locally (without having to run for office yourself),” hands over the local government playbook to all citizens, of all political beliefs, in towns anywhere across America.
Following a contentious election season with historic voter turnout both nationally and locally, Shaffer seeks to offer impassioned voters a roadmap to enacting change in their own backyard, sharing her own experiences as a citizen, candidate and elected official.
A one-term councilmember, Shaffer holds a doctorate in public policy, working in management, negotiations, marketing and policy analysis for over 40 years prior to her council appointment in 2012.
Shaffer was inspired to run for a council seat due to the lack of diverse opinions and her perception that every resident’s voice wasn’t properly represented or respected.
“After four years on the council, I spent a lot of time thinking about who was effective and what strategies caused us, as decision-makers, to listen,” Shaffer said. “Some people we really listened to and others were just forgotten. I’ve tried to understand why that was and the key to success.”
According to Shaffer, the book is a non-partisan guide to influencing local policy decisions without the hassle of running for office, providing readers with step-by-step instructions on how to morph a personal grievance into tangible change in one’s community.
Written in layman’s terms for easy reading, the book is divided into three sections, including a how-to guide on taking action, basic civics lessons and a “toolbox” section with templates and tools for activists.
“This book isn’t just about Encinitas politics,” Shaffer said. “This is applicable for any local government and a lot of it is common sense.”
Shaffer walks readers through the step-by-step process of working through each issue, defining the problem, identifying the players and rules, working with the city, putting concepts into action, building the case and going public.
In choosing to play out three scenarios, all of which are currently relevant to Encinitas — housing development, infrastructure improvements, and environmental conservation — Shaffer intended to create a timely and useful tool for local activists.
“The whole world works better when people understand how government works and that it ought to be responsive to what the citizens want, but if citizens can’t express themselves in a constructive way, it doesn’t work well,” Shaffer said. “So, one of the big messages here is civility, clarity, and communication.”
According to Shaffer, civility is the key to success.
“I hope the anger and nastiness of the campaign will dissipate. I think everybody was made conscious of how bad it feels when people are that angry and don’t want to go back there again,” Shaffer said.
Like many, Shaffer felt the intensity of Encinitas’ divisive 2020 election season, filled with online and in-person harassment, and sees her book as an antidote to the political toxicity.
“If residents feel like they’ve been heard — and they will be heard better if they are more effective, thoughtful, and organized — the hostility and division can be reduced,” Shaffer said.
Written with the assistance of former Encinitas Mayor Teresa Arballo Barth with illustrations by Sharon Belknap, the book is available for purchase online and can be either shipped or delivered locally by Shaffer herself.