The City of Berkeley has launched an online commenting platform to solicit more varied opinions into its decisions.
Berkeley Considers is run by Peak Democracy, which says it delivers “online citizen engagement that builds public trust in government.”
“Read what others are saying about important Berkeley topics, then post your own statement,” states the Berkeley Considers website. “Comments will be submitted to City officials as part of their decision process.”
City staff has already used the platform to seek out comments on the city’s strategic plan. Almost 450 people left their thoughts.
Now the City Council is trying the platform. The first question posed: what do residents think of the new comprehensive plan to address homelessness introduced by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn? The Council is scheduled to consider the item at its April 4 meeting.
“Should the City Council direct the City Manager to implement Emergency Interim Measures to provide stability, navigation and respite to homeless individuals, as well as pathways to permanent housing and services, and create a 1,000 Person Plan to address the homeless crisis in Berkeley?” is the question on the website.
With five days to go before the Council meeting, the topic has had 123 visitors and 22 responses so far. As the site notes, “That’s 1.1 hours of public comment @ 3 minutes per response.”
So far, more than 68% of the respondents think the City Council should adopt the plan. “Homelessness in Berkeley is a major concern,” wrote one respondent. “I would like to see businesses that have parking lots, like REI, Wholefoods etc. make those lots available from 1 hour after closing until 1 hour before opening, to homeless who live in their cars. I would like the City to provide clean portapotties for those staying in parking lots.”
The deadline to comment is noon on April 4.
City spokesman Matthai Chakko said Berkeley Considers is an attempt to provide one more way for residents to give feedback. Many people already write emails to City Council members (firstname.lastname@example.org), call them, meet with them, or attend meetings.
But waiting to comment at a City Council meeting can require stamina, as they often go on until as late as midnight. Berkeley Considers is another way to give an opinion.
“This isn’t scientific polling,” said Chakko.“This is just one data point for people to consider. It’s providing a different type of venue for people to provide input.”
Not all items on the City Council agenda are open for comment, said Chakko. He said Berkeley wanted to avoid “survey fatigue,” and decided posing one important question was the best way to start. The City Council’s Agenda Committee decides which question will be posted on Berkeley Considers, said Chakko.
That might mean that the City Council avoids posting controversial items. The question about whether the City Council should remove two members of the Board of Library Trustees, for example, is not open for discussion on Berkeley Considers, nor is the April 4 agenda item about whether the City Council should appoint former Rent Board Commissioner Judy Hunt to BOLT.
When people decide to post a comment, they must sign up for the site using their name and home address – neither of which is displayed publicly. It will only be used by Peak Democracy “to identify statements from residents in and near Berkeley — so that users know which statements are from local residents.” The information will be kept confidential, according to the site.
If people don’t want to register, they can still comment. Those comments will go to staff, not on the site, said Chakko. Staff will then send those unregistered comments to City Council members. All comments will be made part of the official record and open to view in the Council’s supplemental communications.
Berkeley Considers has issued civility guidelines and posted an example of how to respond to someone or an issue without making a personal attack: