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.