Marijuana, Drones and Couch-Surfing: 2017 Hot Topics for Public Engagement

April 18, 2018 – OpenGov

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot engagement surrounding food trucks, backyard chickens and plastic bags. Of course, the new year ushers in a whole new crop of hot topics. Based on the trends we’ve seen so far, here’s a quick rundown of what we expect to see more of in 2017 when it comes to online civic engagement:

Marijuana


Following a round of recent ballot measures, marijuana is now legal in some form across 26 states and the nation’s capital. A lot of eyes are on California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine, which just joined Washington, Oregon and Colorado in making the recreational use of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.

Local jurisdictions in these states will be charting new territory as they decide how to best regulate the emerging marijuana industry. Of course, this presents a huge opportunity to engage the public so that ordinances reflect their surrounding community.

The City of Klamath Falls, OR, proved this when it used its Open Town Hall forum to ask residents how they felt about taxing medical and recreational marijuana. The majority of respondents said they thought taxes should apply to recreational use, but not medical use. And ultimately, that’s precisely what City Council decided to do—opting for a 10 percent tax on recreational use only.

Over the coming year, we expect many agencies will be engaging their stakeholders on this topic, and with several more states predicted to pass marijuana laws by 2020, we anticipate this trend will see an uptick.

Drones

Small unmanned aircrafts—commonly called drones—are being used for everything from tracking hurricanes to transporting blood to delivering pizzas.

You’ve likely spotted a drone, or soon will. Consumers are buying the popular aircrafts in droves. In fact, the Consumer Technology Association estimates that sales hit 2.4 million units in 2016, an 80 percent increase from 2015.

That spike in drone use has presented a real challenge for local governments. That’s because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates all commercial use, but lets local government regulate the non-commercial use, which is largely still a grey area.

In response, the National League of Cities has produced a wealth of information on the topic in its report, “Cities and Drones,”—and in 2017, we expect to see more local agencies engaging their communities to help shape regulations.

The Town of Atherton, CA, recently began that process by using its Open Town Hall forum to ask residents for their thoughts about hobbyists who fly drones. That online feedback, which included concerns over privacy and noise, will be considered by City Council later this month—and we anticipate many other agencies will soon be following suit.

Couch Surfing

Once upon a time, vacation rentals were primarily booked via print ads, timeshares or word of mouth. Then came the Internet. Thanks to the ease of online booking, the cottage industry, now commonly called “couch-surfing”, is booming to the tune of $100 billion—with the US accounting for just over a quarter of that, according to travel industry news group, Skift.

Across the nation, local government agencies are now grappling with how to best regulate this emerging business sector. For many, the struggle comes down to reaping the economic benefits while also protecting quality of life for residents who live near these vacation rentals.

The City of Indian Wells, CA, used its Open Town Hall forum to engage the public on this very issue. After a robust dialogue that included 116 statements, the City Council was able to use that online input to form an ordinance—ultimately opting to have property owners register with the city and curbing rental bookings to a week at a time.

With the vacation rental industry expected to hit $179 billion by 2019, we fully expect to see this topic remain on the front burner.


This year, we look forward to helping our customers continue to engage their communities on hot topics, and other important local government issues. If you’d like help getting started, or simply want to brainstorm a few fresh ideas to involve more of your stakeholders, we encourage you to contact your Customer Success Manager.

Category: Civic Engagement