After the launch of a new website for the city, Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday to restore and improve accessibility to the website due to difficulties accessing past records and documents.
The city launched a newly redesigned website in April 2022 after five years of collaborative efforts. According to the meeting agenda, the new website features many improvements relating to online services for residents. Given the functionality, it is now easier for city residents to request services, apply for a permit or pay bills.
Despite these refinements to the website, the previous version’s utility as a searchable database of historic records and materials has been “largely extinguished,” the supplemental agenda material noted.
According to the agenda, Councilmembers Sophie Hahn, Kate Harrison, Terry Taplin and Ben Bartlett had introduced an item on June 14, seeking to further improve the website. In response, city staff had determined that the requests were infeasible or too expensive to implement.
The agenda noted that inputting years’ worth of documents pertaining to the city council, commissions and committees would cost $200,000 and take up to six months.
“The concerns are around users like ourselves and journalists and members of the public, who have traditionally come to the website to do a kind of a research function,” Hahn said at the meeting.
Echoing Hahn’s previous sentiments, Harrison also noted that the new website has notable improvements and is much better for the general public. She did add, however, that finding past documents is difficult and that this problem is felt “every single day.”
Harrison voiced support for the continual improvement of the website. She said during the meeting that the council should spend money to temporarily restore the old website or to figure out a way to access previously available data functions.
“For the purposes of finding what we have done in the past, what commissioners have done, what the city manager has done and council members … I just think it’s not working,” Harrison said at the meeting. “So, I’m hoping maybe the city manager and I could have a conversation offline about what might be possible because this is not adequate for me.”
Following the approval of the agenda item, along with others, members of the public expressed similar sentiments about the inadequacy of the website.
Public commenters noted that City Council does an “enormous quantity of work” over the course of a year and that having a website with data that is accessible to the people of Berkeley is important. They added that they cannot find information on the new website and that it has PDF files that are not searchable.