By Norma Damashek
For the first time ever, the San Diego public has been awarded the Keys to the Kingdom.
The grantor of this unique gift to the people of San Diego is former councilmember Donna Frye and her Open Government project, developed during her three-month stint in the office of Mayor Bob Filner.
Finally, regular citizens and ordinary folk (you and I) have ready access to just about everything we wish to know about the ins-and-outs of City Hall.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to how you can get formerly-hidden public information, including ingress to the services and attention you expect and deserve from your city government. Okay now, time to follow the bouncing ball.
- First, go to the city’s website at www.sandiego.gov. Once there you’ll find the downtown skyline and Mayor Filner’s engaging smile amidst a cluttered hodgepodge of disparate offerings. Ignore them all and let your gaze wander to an oasis in the middle of the screen that says Open Government.
- Then click your heels together three times. An additional click of your mouse on the Open Government box will transport you instantaneously to a serene page where you can calmly pick the path you want to pursue.
- Could be that the only thing you wish for is to be able to watch the City Council in action. Or replay reality to check on how your council member voted a few months ago. Let’s say you’re wondering what your neighborhood planning group is arguing about (presumably on your behalf). Perchance you want to know what the city’s 50 or so appointed Boards and Commissions are up to. It’s all there at your fingertips — click where it says Meeting Agendas and Minutes to begin your journey toward enlightenment.
- Information about the California Public Records Act? The ‘open government’ Brown Act? Easy as pie — click on the Outside Resources link.
- Now, not everyone wants to know the size of San Diego retirees’ pensions but if you do… read on. I’m guessing some of you might also be curious about who has filed a lawsuit against the city. And who among you wants details about city contracts and labor agreements? Or the progress of neighborhood construction projects? Or which lobbyists are actively selling their agendas to your elected officials. Or who’s been giving money to whom. For access to this kind of information all you need do is click Required Document Postings on the wondrous Open Government page.
- Do you want to know how to teleport your opinion to a City Council meeting when you can’t be there in the flesh? Or get hold of your community planning group? Maybe even get appointed to one of those prestigious Boards or Commissions? Simply click on where it says Public Participation.
- Haven’t found what you want yet? Is a particular CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) document what you’re hunting for? Maybe some information on a pending development project on your street? (Just checked for myself and I’ll be darned! … on the street one up from mine there’s an application “for a Coastal Development Permit, Map Waiver and Variance to demolish an existing duplex and construct three, 3-story, detached single family residences ranging from 1,929 square feet to 2,185 square feet on a 9,225 square foot lot…” Hmmm…)
- Any interest in the date of a Planning Commission hearing related to new city laws for opening microbreweries in your community? Click onto Public Notices.
- Almost done… let’s say you have a library bill that’s overdue. Or want to make good on your water bill. Or renew a business tax permit. Look toward the bottom of the uncluttered Open Government site and choose your heart’s desire from where it says Make Online Payments.
- Want to receive email updates from your councilmember? Mayor’s office? City Attorney? Auditor? Park and Rec board? Ethics Commission? A click on Sign Up for Email Updates will do it.
- Unsure where to find what you’re looking for? Graffiti removal? A catalog to the library system? Zoning map? Availability of a particular park facility? Trash collection schedule? Street service? Submit a police report? A list of city bids and contracts? Fulfillment is guaranteed when you go to Access Online Services.
The city’s official Open Government site is a breath of fresh air, a burst of sunshine in the previously dark passageways of City Hall. Through her down-to-earth sensibilities and longstanding commitment to open government, Donna Frye has successfully created a unique opportunity to navigate city functions, increase government ‘transparency,’ and make Open Government a hallmark of the Filner administration that affirms local government as an institution that not only serves but also must actively answer to the public.
Dorothy Lee says
The door may be unlocked, but the room is empty: the OB Planning Board has no minutes to go along with the agendas:
Who is going to fix that? Who is responsible for writing up/publishing the minutes?
The last time the minutes were uploaded to the City web page was June 2011! Let’s see a big change and start publishing the minutes, please.
Frank Gormlie says
Dorothy Lee – the Ocean Beach Planning Board keeps its own minutes; the City is only responsible for sending out the monthly agendas. See the OBPB’s link here:
Norma Damashek says
I believe (and fervently hope) that there are new expectations and standards in the making that would provide better public access to the city’s recognized planning groups. Agreed — it’s essential to get those minutes online for all to see.
Frank Gormlie says
Norma – they are online for the OB Planning Board. (See my comment above.)
norma damashek says
One of Donna Frye’s goals was to enable the public to find the information we want and/or need with a minimum of hunting , pecking, and ferreting out. It’s a work in progress…
It would be a lot handier if I could read my own planning group minutes (or anyone else’s, for that matter) on the Open Government website instead of having to track them down one by one.
A CALL TO ARMS: INFORMATION SEEKERS — UNITE!!!!!
Dorothy Lee says
No minutes on the OB Planning Board website for 2013. Just the agendas. Most recent minutes there are for Nov 2012.
Many of the planning groups’ city-maintained web pages DO include minutes, as they should. Why make anyone search all over the place just to read about what went on?
I agree with Norma on this. Also, public money is invested in the planning group meetings, and public officials attend. The minutes belong on the city web page. I’ll be contacting the OB group members, councilman Faulconer, and the D2 rep, to request timely uploading of minutes on the OB Planning Group page.
John Anderson says
Norma – great post! Busy exploring now, thank you! (fyi – I think the link in step one to http://www.sandiego.gov is broken)
Doug Porter says