Sunnyvale City Hall, a 4-floor window mostly covered in glass windows with large solar panels on top
While numerous Santa Clara County governments are dealing with budget shortfalls, Sunnyvale is able to set aside funds for future use. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Sunnyvale is in the market for a better way to have residents flag issues in their neighborhoods online.

The Sunnyvale City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously, with Councilmember Omar Din absent, to request bids on a management system residents can use to report potholes, graffiti and other problems. Councilmembers also voted to pause work on a streamlined mobile application for residents to communicate with the city until this system is upgraded. When complete, the app will consolidate Sunnyvale’s three existing mobile applications for its library, street sweeping and garbage and recycling scheduling.

“This is going to be, we hope, the most heavily used mobile app that the city has,” Chief Information Officer Kathleen Boutté Foster-Gee said. “It’s our one place to hopefully get everyone to give us feedback, let us know what’s going on.”

Sunnyvale residents can file reports with the city on Access Sunnyvale, which came online in 2017. But Foster-Gee and councilmembers have received complaints from residents about the website, noting there are problems when accessed on a mobile device. City employees also have difficulties while accessing certain kinds of data behind the scenes, prompting a search for alternatives.

The city went out to bid for a possible mobile app in January, but Foster-Gee said proposals varied greatly in scope and price. The city is also hoping to look at neighboring cities’ versions of similar mobile apps, such as San Jose 311.

City employees suggested pausing work on the mobile app until a new management system is selected, because the system would have to be integrated with any future mobile app anyway, and councilmembers agreed.

“As a user, I knew our existing system was difficult to use. I didn’t realize quite how bad it was for staff as well,” Councilmember Richard Mehlinger said. “Lets get this done as quickly as we can … In the city that’s at the heart of Silicon Valley, there are really more modern ways to be doing this.”

Councilmember Murali Srinivasan told San José Spotlight it will be more efficient for the city to work on the mobile application after switching the management system and that he’s glad for city employees’ suggestions. He added the mobile app will have more capabilities and options for residents, such as making it easier to upload photos and use geo-location to say exactly where a problem is.

The app may take a few years to develop, and a timeline is hard to iron out at this stage, Srinivasan said. Across the city’s three existing apps, he said there are a few thousand downloads each, out of a city with more than 150,000 residents. He hopes combining the apps’ functions and improving how residents can report neighborhood issues will help more people engage with the city.

“Democracy is not just elections, it’s the citizens participating in the government and policymaking,” Srinivasan told San José Spotlight. “The more you engage with the residents, your policies will be very appropriate to your residents because they are contributing to the policy making.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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