Burlingame City Council meetings may go online

Residents clamoring to keep up with city politics and deliberations may soon be able to watch City Council meetings on the Internet and download them onto iPods.

As part of a larger effort to become tech-savvy, the City Council is expected to vote tonight to open a relationship with Granicus, a San Francisco technology firm that provides live video streaming of public hearings on the Internet. The objective is to expand accessibility to local government, City Manager Jim Nantell said.

If approved, video of council meetings will be live on the city Web page, and free archived video would be divided by topic for users. Burlingame provides video and audio copies of past meetings for a price. A VHS copy costs $20 and a DVD copy costs $25, city clerk Doris Mortensen said.

“Right now, when we give people a videotape, you have to find what you are looking for by fast-forwarding,” Nantell said. “It’s not really user-friendly.”

The project would cost $30,000 initially for equipment upgrades for the council chamber and could be ready by the end of the year. Granicus has 109 municipal clients in California, which includes school districts, said Lauren Alexander, a company spokeswoman.

“It’s part of a trend to go paperless at all levels of government,” she said.

The project follows in the footsteps of Menlo Park and San Carlos, both of whom use live online streaming. Last month, San Carlos won a National Technology Solution Award from the Public Technology Institute in Washington, D.C.

“What we find is that more people are watching portions of meetings and not whole meetings, and that can be expected,” San Carlos Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said.

Moura said San Carlos spends about $10,000 a year for the service, which includes maintenance costs. The Web site features podcasts, a five-minute summary and announcement show by the mayor, e-packets of staff reports and a mailing list that sends e-mail announcements to about 6,000 people.

“It’s better to err on the side of more information than less,” Moura said.

Nantell said it is unknown how many people watch Burlingame council meetings on television. However, the city is participating in the National Citizen Survey, which will send out a questionnaire to 1,200 random residents, with one question asking if they watch or attend meetings. The questionnaire will be mailed out this week.

Burlingame resident Stephen Hamilton, who regularly attends council meetings, welcomes the idea.

“You’ll be able to access it from anywhere in the world, which is useful for me because I travel a lot,” he said. “But it’s nothing like the real thing,” noting that showing up in person allows one to participate and address the council.

bfoley@examiner.com

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