City Beat Blog

Thursday, Mar 13 2014 06:00 PM

Latest scoop on municipal government: Meeting agendas go paperless

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Californian city government reporter Theo Douglas.

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    By Theo Douglas/ The Californian

    Drivers under a buttermilk sky use the newly renovated H Street on-ramp to Highway 58 east. As the sign says, the ramp will be closed from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. March 20-April 11 while crews work on a pump station. It's part of ongoing Thomas Roads Improvement Program work on the freeway which includes widening it from four to six lanes between Highway 99 and Cottonwood Road. Improvements are expected to be completed in late 2014.

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By THEO DOUGLAS, Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

CITY COUNCIL GOES ELECTRONIC: Some day soon, fewer trees will die so a Bakersfield City Council agenda packet can live.

That's because at its March 5 meeting, the council approved a little line item on the consent calendar called "Electronic Agenda Management."

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ABOUT YOUR REPORTER

Theo Douglas covers municipal government for The Californian. He writes in this spot every Friday. Reach him at tdouglas@bakersfield.com, at Facebook.com/TBCCityGov or on Twitter @TBCCityBeat.

Some time during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which starts July 1, the city will spend $12,150 to buy the NovusAgenda software program, and then about $7,950 to maintain and update it yearly.

That's kind of a big deal. The city prints thousands of pages of documents to prepare the agenda packets for its one or two council meetings every month.

How many pages? The March 5 city council agenda packet was 482 pages. The Feb. 12 one was more than 1,000 pages because it covered the Environmental Impact Report on widening 24th Street.

It had to be packaged in two separate volumes -- a throwback to pre-recession days when booming development resulted in late-night planning commission and city council meetings with weighty agendas.

Now, multiply that by at least nine -- one packet for Mayor Harvey Hall, one for each of Bakersfield's seven council members, and one for members of the public.

That's not counting any additional packets printed up for city officials, or update pages that come in late.

And in production, even shorter meetings produce thousands of pages of text we never see -- because draft agenda items are printed and circulated at City Hall to be proofed by department heads before they make it into that final agenda packet.

The NovusAgenda contract would make all the inter-office printing go away because draft agenda items will get proofed on-screen, electronically at City Hall -- and the system will add them to the draft agenda with fewer steps than staffers currently make.

At least one hard copy of the agenda will still be printed for the public and any council member who still wants a telephone book-sized document twice a month, but yearly printing costs -- now about $8,900 -- should go down.

"It will have an effect throughout the entire organization in terms of submittal," Rhonda Smiley, assistant to City Manager Alan Tandy, said last month. (The item was continued from the Feb. 12 to the March 5 agenda -- meaning some of it was printed twice.) "That's where a great deal of the savings will come in as well."

Councilman Harold Hanson, who suggested the change, agreed.

"It will bring us into the 21st century," Hanson said, joking, "If I can use it, anyone can."

The electronic agenda packet available now on the city's website will look a little different, too.

It will be similar to the Kern County Board of Supervisors agenda packets because you'll be able to click on an agenda item and instantly be taken to the corresponding staff report -- instead of having to laboriously pore over page after page of change orders, weed abatement reports and successor agency business.

CITY IN THE HILLS SETTLEMENT

Call it one small step for City in the Hills residents and one giant step for ... well, here's the deal:

A $655,000 settlement announced at the March 5 Bakersfield City Council meeting could spell change for the Juliana's Garden area of City in the Hills. Eventually.

Situated immediately northeast of Canteria Drive and Highway 178, part of the Juliana's Garden tract wound up being a casualty of the recession.

The developer, MVB Ventures LLC, went belly-up, leaving infrastructure like sewer lines and streets undone.

The city sued MVB and Bond Safeguard Insurance Company to recover money from a bond put up for the project. The settlement would seem to pave the way -- sorry -- for streets like Perennial Place and Katydid Drive to be, well, paved and have houses built along them.

But land developers have to think about the bottom line, too.

Juliana's developer, Aaron Rivani of Global Investment & Development LLC, said completing infrastructure will cost more than the settlement.

He estimated its cost at $1.8 million to $2 million and said the company would want to be able to make back any money it spends.

"Everything really depends on the market, because if we are going to up-front the money for all these structures, the return of the money is very important," Rivani said.

Rivani's company would fix the infrastructure, then bring in a housing developer.

But Planning Director Jim Eggert said Julianna's Garden's zoning as a Planned Unit Development puts architectural and product-level requirements on it that could make it a difficult sell.

"I would say the planning commission is going to consider those folks out there, what they thought they were getting," Eggert said referring to how existing homeowners thought their development would be finished. "Whoever comes in has to continue to build pretty much that product."

WHAT YOU'RE SAYING

Earlier this week, we asked this on Facebook: "Do you agree that Internet cafes offer illegal gambling and should be closed? And how should they be closed -- by law enforcement raids or by getting a court order?"

Steve E. Swenson (yes, our longtime, now-retired cops reporter): "A court has ruled they offer illegal gambling operation. Law enforcement's job to close them."

Susan Lonsinger: "I couldn't care less."

Larry Miller: "Why is gambling illegal? To say I can't gamble is infringing on my rights. It is my money and if I want to gamble it is not the government's business."

Josh Lofy: "No. I don't think we should close local businesses because they may, with no real probability, be actually offering this service. If they are running an illegal gambling ring, then sure. Close it. But to attack local businesses because we're afraid of gaming is bordering on the absurd."

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