Dear Management Doctor,

Over the years, I have attended a number of your programs, primarily related to Planning Director training. Presently, I am the Community Development Director for the City of San Bruno in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our City is preparing to complete a comprehensive website update.  San Bruno is a community of approximately 42,000 residents and over 11,000 dwelling units.

The Community Development Department includes Building, Planning, and Code Enforcement.  I have been asked to suggest possible upgrades for my department.  I would appreciate it if you could suggest other Community Development Department websites to check as part of my research.

Thanks so much,

David Woltering, AICP

Dear David,

Take a look at our website under free information, look for websites and you will get lots of ideas from me and also our readers. Recently, I have come across several cities that are revising their websites and are using a Google type search engine. This can be useful but doesn’t replace the need for a well-designed site.

Additionally, it is useful to have virtually everything on the website which can make the site very unwieldy. One community has handled this by placing all the highly technical material in a separate attached file. However, the Google search engine didn’t pick up the items in the attachment. In that case we recommended that at least the table of contents from the technical site be added so that items would show up in the Google search engine.

I won’t repeat everything from my prior articles so I suggest you take a look at them. However, here are a few key ideas and hope our readers will give you a few more.

Best wishes,

the Management Doctor

  • INDEX: An index by function. While it may be useful for each city or county planning department to have its own pages, its specific functions and permits should be accessible across a website that includes all city or county functions. Ideally the site should also have a search function.
  • DESCRIPTION: A brief description of the department including address, phone number, fax and email address. The email address should be coded for instant use.
  • ORGANIZATION CHART: A department organization chart. When we do customer focus groups and show them a department organization chart, the customers always want to know how they can get a copy. The chart should be in   detail with all staff names and titles.
  • NAMES: Names, primary functions, telephone numbers and email addresses of all the staff. We have even seen sites with pictures of the staff. I like this feature but some of our readers object to this item. Some show each staff member, some just have a group photo.
  • GIS: GIS maps.
  • POLICY DOCUMENTS: The comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance and related other plans and ordinances. These all need good tables of contents or indexes.
  • STUDIES: A list of studies that are underway with some background information. Sophisticated sites would also have a way for citizens to participate or provide information, perhaps via a survey form.
  • HANDOUTS & FORMS: Handouts and forms for various permit or other activities. The customer should be able to print out the form and use it. Even better, the customer should be able to fill out the form on the computer and email it back to the department.
  • E-GOVERNMENT: E-government applications. You should be able to order anything the department sells via the website. This means you will need to accept credit card payments. If you have any permits that do not need plans, you should be able to issue these over the web site. Even if a plan is required, you can accept the application via the website with plans to be mailed in or dropped off. Many communities now do this for the simple type of building permits. The good sites today also accept all types of plans electronically and no longer accept paper applications.
  • APPLICATIONS: A list of current pending applications and status should be available.
  • MEETINGS: Dates for upcoming meetings should be listed.
  • AGENDAS: Agendas for near-term meetings should be shown.
  • MINUTES: Minutes from planning commission or similar meetings.
  • UP-TO-DATE: All data must be current.

I have yet to find a site that meets all of this criteria. Another problem I see is that most planning sites are now embedded in the city’s site. While this is good, you may have to fight to obtain easy access to your site. In answering this Management Doctor, I pulled up a few sites. Generally I found many of them hard to navigate to even find planning. I suggest that you just start pulling up sites from surrounding communities. I also hope that our readers will tell us about the really good sites. Here are a few sites to start you out.

     Denton, TX                     Rockland, NY

Seattle, WA                     Mesa, AZ

      San Jose, CA                    Sunnyvale, CA

San Diego, CA                   Solano, CA

   Colorado Springs, CO      Fremont, CA

Washoe County, NV        Salem, OR

The Municipality of Anchorage has added online features, including postings of cases online, and is implementing a list-serve for people who would like notification of cases or actions coming up within Community Council areas. Click here to take a look.

Angela C. Chambers
City of Anchorage, Alaska

Arlington, Texas has a departmental website that I am proud of. I cannot take credit for it, but have talented staff who are constantly working on ways to improve its efficiency and make it more productive to the customer. Click here.

Michelle Hardin
Arlington, Texas

Reader Response

Thank you for your extremely helpful response to my request for information related to website design.  We have established an internal working group to discuss operational needs prior to hiring a firm to work with our City of San Bruno staff to complete a comprehensive update to our City’s website.  The information you provided will help us expand our discussion and better clarify our needs.  Thanks for your service!

Best regards,

David Woltering, AICP
Community Development Director
City of San Bruno