City of Imperial Beach to Get New Website, but for Now It’s a Mess

Published March 16, 2011 by Imperial Beach Patch as part of Sunshine Week, a week to encourage openness and transparency in government.

A new website will take the place of the current site this summer, a city official said.

“We’re in the process of developing a new website and through that process are trying to fix a lot of broken links on the current website because we do realize a lot of links are broken or incorrect,” said Michelle Posada, assistant to City Manager Gary Brown.

The city’s current site, however, does a poor job of keeping city residents engaged and informed.

On the homepage, links to current or past City Council Agendas and Minutes and Contact Us don’t work. They do work on any other page within the site.

Once you do find the link to Agendas and minutes of past City Council meetings, this is perhaps the most informative part of the site, with information going back to 2005.

But beyond these items, it appears much of the website hasn’t been updated since 2009, and the agenda or minutes of the Design Review Board and Tidelands Advisory Committees are not published.

The city does not currently have a Facebook or Twitter account.

In a Feb. 9 workshop to draw out the city’s goals in the next few years, Councilwoman Lorie Bragg said, “I would like to see us really get with it and be on Facebook and be on Twitter and I think that in these days and times, by not doing it … there’s an entire group of people out there that we are missing out on.”

Bragg went on to say Facebook and Twitter are the way an entire generation of people are communicating.

“They don’t read our newsletters, they don’t read our fliers,” she said. “It’s time for us to participate in that because we’re just totally behind the times.

“Shame on us for not taking advantage of every opportunity, every vehicle that’s out there to get the message out.”

In the same workshop, Fire Chief and Public Safety Director Tom Clark supported the idea of a new website.

“I’d like to see the city have a great website, an interactive website that you can click on and get a dog license and fill out a special request application for a permit. And you can pay for it online. That would be a great move,” he said.

The city’s calendar has a few items but generally only lists City Council meetings and a few other events around town.

The calendar for the IB Sports Park has never been updated, and a Sports Park employee who attempted to make a Facebook page for the IB Sports Park was ordered by the city two weeks ago to shut it down.

The employee was ordered to shut it down because the city doesn’t currently have a social networking policy, Posada said.

“Once we get some sort of policy in place, we would go from there,” she said.

Since the start of 2011, three special meetings have been called with 24 hours of public notice. The agenda was posted at City Hall but few local residents attended.

More people may have participated if they knew about the meeting.

Lack of Information

The latest city news release was published in 2009. Same for city notices.

There are useful sections to the city’s current website, like a place to file various complaints, explanation and contact information for city departments, the ability to sign up for e­mail updates anytime there’s a city council meeting, the municipal code and more.

The city’s newsletter, published quarterly, most recently in December 2010, has lots of useful information, but it doesn’t make much mention of issues that have become the City Council’s major focus, such as redevelopment.

The Redevelopment News page was updated five times between 2004 and 2006. The city’s redevelopment agency has existed since 1996.

A portion of the site dedicated to the Ninth Street and Palm Avenue redevelopment project has not been updated since 2009 but has been on City Council agenda several times in the last year.

A cornerstone of redevelopment is support of low income housing. By law, a portion of redevelopment funds must be committed to low income housing.

However, a link to affordable housing units contact information doesn’t work. Neither does a link to the San Diego Fair Housing Survey.

The link to the U.S. Open Sandcastle Committee, which organized the year’s biggest event in IB, does not work.

Phone numbers are listed but links do not work for several other community services listed on the website, from the water company to mental health counseling to the San Diego Domestic Violence hotline.

Very worst of all may be that video of City Council meetings and other city meetings are not published online.

Every city bordering or within near distance of Imperial Beach—from Coronado to San Diego to National City, Chula Vista or Tijuana—publishes video of its City Council meetings online.

The city began broadcasting City Council meetings last year on Thursday mornings at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. on Channel 24.

But that’s only for Cox Communication customers, and despite the best efforts of cable companies, the national trend is that cable subscriptions are in decline.

A copy of the video can be obtained by public record request from City Clerk Jacqueline Hald.

“At this time, council has only approved broadcasting on the government channel due to costs so we don’t know if at this point it will be streamed online but we don’t have plans as of right now,” Posada said.

In the present day, to not have a website that provides coherent, easy to find information about the city’s actions and no video online of meetings is a way to, directly or indirectly, deny citizens access to their government, and a surefire way to ensure a lack of engagement.

Along that same line of thinking, the city of Imperial Beach and its businesses must be losing money by not doing a better job of showing off all the picturesque things this beautiful city has to offer.

At least the website has a sense of humor.

Before and after pictures for the outdoor surf museum are still under the redevelopment agency portion of the website.

The before picture is real, but the after picture is a bit posterized, and looks more like a painting or artist rendering. People are added to the after scene, and I’m pretty sure the Beatles are crossing the street.

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