WHEN IT COMES to political influence over county affairs, insiders know that the Marin homeowner isn't a particularly powerful player. That's counterintuitive because the almost 100,000 individual homeowners easily compose the largest group of voters in Marin elections.
What homeowners don't have is a continuing voice in how the county is governed.There are few neighborhood representatives who follow daily actions of the Board of Supervisors, county commissions or obscure supervisor-appointed ad hoc committees that have real power.
If homeowners want control over their destiny regarding zoning, development, traffic and taxes, they need to do what every other sophisticated group does — organize. Until they learn this lesson, they will continue to be amazed when elected officials ignore their desires.
To learn how political muscle is exercised look at public employee unions, cyclists, environmental advocacy groups and larger businesses including the Realtors.
They understand that the key to political clout is organization. They have members who pay dues and have professional staff or passionate volunteers who follow every governmental action.
During elections, they bestow coveted endorsements. Many make campaign contributions. Between balloting, they are in constant contact with supervisors, their aides and sympathetic county staffers.
Few homeowners perform these tasks or even understand their importance. It's not that Marin has corrupt county officials. They are actually a cut above the statewide norm. The dilemma is that, like politicians everywhere, they and an often ideologically minded county staff need to be constantly reminded whose interests come first.
Marin's public employees have leaders who understand the process. After all, the continuing prosperity of their members depends on electing their bosses, county supervisors, and then ensuring they honor pro-labor campaign commitments.
Marin cyclists present another textbook example of successfully understanding the civic process. Small in numbers, their impact is great. They stay on top of bike-related issues, mobilize their members to appear at meetings and understand lobbying is about educating decision makers.
Compare those politically influential groups to homeowners. Other than the occasional activist motivated over a hot issue, regular folks have no one who follows county initiatives, much less maintains constant relationships with county supervisors.
Homeowners do have impacts on town governments where campaign money isn't as critical. It's easier to follow specific issues in smaller communities. City council members are far more closely in touch with their constituents. If homeowners have any clout, it's at city hall.
That's why unincorporated areas like Strawberry have many frustrated residents and just across the freeway Mill Valleyans feel empowered.
Homeowners need to do three things: organize, recruit and support neighborhood leaders and finally, to take an action.
Understand that even many small individual contributions given collectively are not forgotten by politicians.
A tried-and-true way for homeowners to influence civic affairs is to join their local neighborhood association. If one doesn't exist in your community, start one. Print a letterhead and you'll learn a lesson long known by many seemingly powerful groups. Politicians pay attention to organizations, no matter how tiny, that focus on their actions.
Once that's accomplished, neighborhood associations should band together within their town or unincorporated district. Their next move — something that's rare — is then allying with similar groups in adjacent towns.
That's how influence is accumulated. Those who understand the drill are players. Those who don't find they have little influence.