Bay area communities getting smarter

Counties, cities and towns in the San Francisco Bay area — a region that includes Silicon Valley — are becoming "smarter" communities, using more technology than just two years ago, according to a new survey.

Released by the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy group, the "Smart Communities Progress Report 2000" is the result of a 13-question self-assessment survey conducted over the past nine months. The survey was directed to elected officials, city and county managers, mayors, council members, planning directors and information technology officers.

The report revealed that most of the 109 local governments in the Bay area are using advanced telecommunications and IT to improve operations and services.

"The original survey was done in 1998 as a kind of poll as to how local governments...were using the new technologies. Since everybody at that time was very up on technology, we were wondering whether they were up to par," said Gladys Palpallatoc, the group's program coordinator.

"At that time, we had a very low return," she said. "A majority had e-mail and had Web sites up, but in terms of gathering momentum in regard to all of their city services, they were not online yet."

In the 2000 survey, 86 of the 109 local governments responded, or about 79 percent. Eight of the nine counties replied, including the city and county of San Francisco and the major cities of Oakland and San Jose.

Palpallatoc said local governments are probably mirroring the development of the area as a high-tech corridor. "Local government is on the same usage curve," she said. "They're finally on board in terms of using technology more efficiently and getting use out of their online services as well."

Among the report's findings:

    * 97 percent of the governments indicated they have Web sites, and 99 percent use e-mail as a means of communication, similar to responses in 1998.

    * 55 percent offer online transactions and services, including crime prevention statistical information and reporting, information and reservations for public facilities and classes, and library services.

    * 41 percent have an IT plan — a 21 percent improvement from two years ago.

    * Of those that had developed an IT plan, 35 percent included representatives from other stakeholder groups, such as administrators and managers, nonmanagement employees, education institutions, businesses, citizens and parent groups, community organizations and other local government officials.

    * 43 percent of respondents conducted a technology inventory to determine capabilities, such as bandwidth, penetration and access.

    * 45 percent funded at least two of their top three priorities, such as broadband access, e-government services, Web site upgrades, universal access for residents, development of an intranet and a networked workforce.

Palpallatoc said she hoped the report would be used as resource tool to compare how governments are advancing in technology usage and how much further they need to progress.

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