Your vision for the city's future? - Morgan Hill Times: City Local Government

Your vision for the city's future?

City plans to engage community on Internet site, Facebook and Twitter for future plan update

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Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013 9:00 am | Updated: 7:03 pm, Wed Feb 27, 2013.

The update of the City’s General Plan and other longterm planning documents will be a long, drawn-out process consisting of dozens of meetings of several different invested groups of residents, but City staff and Council members think the effort is so important that they plan to use social media and a specialty Web forum to keep people informed and solicit public participation.

The first meeting of the 17-member General Plan Advisory Committee is Feb. 28, and from there it will be about another two years before the City’s General Plan is fully updated, as it is required to be every 10 years or so by the state.

In the duration, the City, assisted by consultant The Planning Center/DCE, will use Facebook, Twitter and a public Internet forum site designed specifically for cities known as Open Town Hall to gather public input and keep residents informed of important events along the way.

The City plans to have a completed updated General Plan – essentially a visioning blueprint for the City’s growth, conservation and development goals for the next 20 years – by the beginning of 2016, according to another website set up earlier this year to track the efforts, morganhill2035.org.

Until then, the GPAC will meet 16 times, and throughout the process will rely on information not only from the general public, but from stakeholders – such as housing and commercial developers, property owners, businesses, and government and nonprofit agencies – who will be heavily affected by the General Plan, according to Morgan Hill project manager Mitch Oshinsky.

Facebook and Twitter accounts titled “Morgan Hill 2035” have already been established to disseminate and gather information, and the Open Town Hall message board will ideally be established before the first General Plan public workshop in June, according to Planning Center associate planner, Carey Stone.

Open Town Hall is a web service offered by the nonprofit Peak Democracy, which allows residents and users to register and submit comments about public business related to their own community 24 hours a day, according to Peak Democracy’s website. Nine hundred nine communities across the country currently use Open Town Hall, with more than 103,000 users registered to those sites.

Individual cities can choose whether to allow anonymous comments on Open Town Hall, and all users are required to register, though their information is not shared on the site, Stone said.

Morgan Hill officials have not yet decided if its Open Town Hall site will allow anonymous commenting.

In the Bay Area, the cities of Fremont, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, San Ramon and Vallejo have Open Town Hall forums.

These communities use the service for general public participation, while Morgan Hill plans to use it – at least initially – for the General Plan update efforts. If the forum generates the public participation the City hopes to get, they might expand the service to solicit engagement on general City business, according to Mayor Steve Tate.

“More participation is what we’re hoping to get,” Tate said. “People are very busy, and we get a few (residents) at the meetings but never as many as we like. (Using) every possible way to get people to participate, we hope, will generate more excitement about the whole process.”

The City of Santa Clara initiated an Open Town Hall “test run” last year, after the Council established a goal to encourage more public engagement through the Internet, according to Santa Clara Public Communications Manager Dan Beerman.

The City “never really gave it a chance” to keep the forum going permanently last year, but they hope to restart the effort this year, Beerman said.

“The program offers a good methodology of getting people involved while providing some sort of monitoring of what people are saying,” he said. “We found that it’s probably the best program out there that fit into the needs we have.”

In Morgan Hill, members of the GPAC which will meet Feb. 28 are Katie Hardt-Mason (chair), Susan Fent, John Moniz, Jill Kirk, Matt Wendt, Tara McLaughlin, Pete Kutras, Jeff Dixon, Julie Hutcheson, Mario Banuelos (vice chair), Shelle Thomas, Kyle Windsor, Dan McCranie, Adam Escoto and Lisa Aragon.

At the Council meeting Wednesday, the Council was scheduled to consider appointing Erin Gil, owner of the Grass Farm and member of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau, to the committee. Gil is propose to replace John Kent on the committee. Kent was appointed by the Council last month, but subsequently resigned, according to a City staff report.

The Council was also set to consider adding three proposed alternates – small business owner Liza Garibaldi, retail and commercial real estate professional Charlene Lai and retired resident Dan Auclair.

The appointments were considered after the Times’ deadline, but they were on the Council’s consent calendar for Wednesday’s meeting.

The committee members were selected after careful consideration by the Council to represent a cross-section of Morgan Hill’s various interests, including development and real estate, education, youth, agriculture and business interests.

The General Plan update process is estimated to cost about $900,000, according to City staff.

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