Berkeley residents can respond to City Council agenda items through online forum

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Berkeley residents can now provide input to City Council and city staff through an online forum called Berkeley Considers, which allows community members to respond to questions and topics related to city issues.

The forum will allow residents to virtually express opinions about specific agenda items at City Council meetings. Additionally, it will allow residents to provide feedback regarding a number of projects across city departments. Responses collected through Berkeley Considers are part of official city record, and as such they are accessible to both City Council and the general public.

“We’ll be using (Berkeley Considers) for a variety of different projects to get feedback from the public on key issues,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “This doesn’t eliminate other avenues — this just creates an additional avenue to give input for the public.”

Use of the forum by city staff began Jan. 25 for the city’s “Strategic Plan” that is intended to guide the city’s goals over the next several years, according to Chakko. Residents were able to indicate which of the city’s draft goals they wanted to be prioritized through a survey provided on the forum.

The most recent question posted to the forum asked residents to respond to Item 27 on the City Council meeting agenda for April 4, regarding Berkeley’s homelessness crisis and the Pathways Project. Respondents are able to indicate whether or not they feel City Council should direct the city manager to implement measures outlined in the Pathways Project.

Berkeley resident Alfred Twu, who has used the online forum, said he doesn’t believe Berkeley Considers will have much of an impact unless the city posts topics to the forum more frequently.

Twu also said, however, that the forum will provide community members with the opportunity to see how others in the area are responding to particular issues. Twu added that the platform may also help initiate conversation about an agenda item long before it is discussed at a meeting.

“Public comment is almost like theater. Everybody goes up and makes their big statement,” Twu said, adding, however, that he believes council members have often already made up their minds about particular items before a meeting. “There’s often not a lot of opportunity to really change the outcome.”

Berkeley Considers was created as a result of the Ad-Hoc Committee on a More Open Government that included Mayor Jesse Arreguín, councilmembers Lori Droste and Susan Wengraf and former councilmember Laurie Capitelli. The committee members wanted to increase community involvement, Chakko said.

The forum’s online platform is operated by Peak Democracy, a company that aims to increase online citizen involvement in government, according to its website.

“We’re very excited that we can do this,” Chakko said. “We hope we can better serve the community this way.”

Sydney Fix is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.