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/ democratizing public works agencies and promoting civic engagement

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I’m currently in a small, ongoing battle with the city. The palms in the plaza at the end of my Park Avenue neighborhood have been dying a slow, painful death since they were planted in 2008 (at a cost of up to $20,000 each it’s been estimated). I’ve reported this to Public Works and they’ve acknowledged this and even apparently put an arborist to the task of reviving them. Their theory is that the reclaimed water being used to irrigate them is too high in salt. The palms continue to languish though and I fear will ultimately have to be uprooted and replaced … or topple over on a windy day and destroy a car (or worse!). Maybe it’s a character flaw on my part but I generally don’t take people for their word in matters like this. I want a receipt, a trouble ticket, a reference number, something I can refer back to make sure my issue is not just being stuck into a pile and ignored (and nothing makes me personally more determined than being ignored).


A huge part of the mission of The E’ville Eye is transparency, accountability and generating more resident involvement. We want to make it as easy as possible for busy professionals who don’t always have the time to attend long meetings but like to stay informed … but we need tools and resources to facilitate this. We’ve lauded former Councilmember (and current candidate) Ken Bukowski for tediously posting videos of council & other civic meeting on his YouTube channel that are not only mobile-friendly, but shareable. is another handy site that I’m using to help post and map monthly crime statistics. Another tool I’ve been coveting for the city to incorporate is, a civic tool I happened across through my dealings with our neighbors in Oakland. I’ve used it in Oakland with success, and I want the same for us and our city as I’ve seen the way it can spur resident advocacy.


I don’t know what the distinction between a pothole and a sinkhole is but whatever it was, the axle on my Subaru didn’t like it. I got used to just avoiding it while driving down Mandela. I mean, it would be pointless try to contact Oakland and complain about a pothole, right? Wrong. I decided to give the app a try after hearing about it through Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s Twitter handle. The interface is pretty straight forward. After registering, you snap a pic with your smart phone, give it a title, a description, assign a category and it automatically maps the GPS coordinates or you can hone them in by dragging around a cross-hair on a map.


When you submit your “ticket”, it sends you an email to verify it’s been received and a follow-up email when the public works agency of the city responsible has received and acknowledged the request.


It also enables the rest of the SeeClickFix community to vote, comment and share the issue. Issues like graffiti, dumping and of course potholes can all be neatly documented, prioritized and resolved (Now THAT is civic engagement!).


I wasn’t holding my breath that the City of Oakland would actually address this, but lo & behold, they not only acknowledged this … but actually fixed it (albeit, it did take a few months)! All from the convenience of my phone, without waiting on hold, without following up a half-dozen times and with the transparency you’d expect from a city government. Oakland, yes the neighboring city that Emeryville often measures itself against is waaay ahead of the game in civic transparency. There’s something very gratifying and empowering about the entire process.


Oakland “partners” with SeeClickFix, which means in exchange for an annual subscription, these reports are routed to the relevant department or individual and input into a backend system through which the city can track “Open,” “Acknowledged” and “Closed” reports. SeeClickFix not only handles reporting, it also provided analytics and creates data visualizations so Public Works Departments can spot trends, better anticipate demand and prioritize. Cities that lack the resources and wherewithal to develop these tools themselves have enabled SeeClickFix to step in and address this need.

“With diminishing resources this system can help City staff work more effectively and enlist more citizens to get involved. One of my favorite neighborhood leaders says that ‘Grime equals Crime’. Together we can make Oakland more beautiful and safer.”
-Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland, CA

Oakland isn’t the only neighbor that has embraced this tool. SeeClickFix is also currently partnering with our neighbors in Berkeley, San Francisco, South San Francisco, San Mateo County, Walnut Creek and Vallejo. Below is module that lists open tickets in our city although they are all marked “Open” as they are not currently recognizing by our Public Works Dept. Currently in Emeryville, if you notice a dangerous nuisance within the city, you’ve got to locate the number for Public Works, call them within normal business hours (M-F, 9-5pm), leave a message describing the problem, and wait for them to get back to you (you can also email them). For a city that prides itself as being an East Bay Technological hub, this seems a bit antiquated after using a smart phone app.

Now I’m not saying that Public Works isn’t doing a good job of maintaining our city. They are. Public Works was hit pretty hard by the loss of redevelopment and suffered layoffs but new revenue sources and an improved economy are allowing them to staff-up. Now is the time to consider incorporating new tools for enlisting residents in combating blight and engaging citizens in the process. A “Boots on the ground” approach to patrolling our 1.2 mile city would form an impressive city/resident tandem. According to SeeClickFix, citizens who report issues and see them addressed are more likely to get further engaged in their local communities. This is referred to as a “self-reinforcing loop”.

“I agree that having a tool like this would be a real help to our staff. Best way to have many eyes on the street!” – Councilmember Jennifer West

“A picture’s worth a thousand words.” – Councilmember Nora Davis

After speaking with City Manager Sabrina Landreth, the city is in midst some hiring and a reboot of their aging website by Civic Plus (in fact a partner of SeeClickFix), and expressed that there may be an opportunity to incorporate this or something similar. “Conceptually, we’re totally on board with it” commented Landreth in a recent interview “but we have to look at mechanically what makes the most sense with our work management software”. The price for a municipality of our size is about $6,000 per year which is a pittance compared to many services. Would you like to see this implemented in our city? Let our City Manager or Public Works Director know by emailing them directly:

Email City Manager Sabrina Landreth:
Email Public Works Director Maurice Kaufman:

You can watch The E’ville Eye advocating for the City to recognize SeeClickFix at the 9/2 Council meeting:

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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