The Oakland City Council unanimously approved a policy this week requiring officials to make city data more accessible to residents.
Within a year the city must publish data already dispersed on its website to an online catalog that will allow residents to easily crunch city data with mapping and spreadsheet tools.
Advocates expect that more accessible data will empower residents to help Oakland improve services and recommend policy.
"This is an important step forward in making public information actually public," said Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who helped spearhead the policy with local nonprofits.
The city's Open Data Catalog is already up and running at http://data.openoakland.org.
Blind voters overcome legal hurdle on voting
A federal judge sided this week with blind and visually impaired Alameda County voters who said they shouldn't have to rely on a stranger to help them cast a vote.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero is allowing the five blind voters and the California Council of the Blind to pursue a civil rights suit against the county that aims to force the registrar of voters to fix its voting system to ensure blind voters can vote in secret.
The county already has machines allowing blind voters to vote privately using audio and tactile features, but problems arose during the November election when poll workers couldn't get some of the machines working. One Hayward voter was told she would have to wait two hours for a replacement.
Alameda County lawyers had sought to dismiss the suit, arguing that neither the anti-discrimination Rehabilitation Act of 1973 nor the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 expressly protect a right to vote "independently and privately." Blind voters who had trouble with the machines still had an equal opportunity to vote because a third party helped them, the county asserted.
Spero disagreed, arguing it is not an equal voting experience when the blind "are forced to reveal a political opinion that others are not required to disclose."
"One of the central features of voting, and one of its benefits, is voting privately and independently," the judge wrote in his 23-page ruling, filed Wednesday. "On any given election day in the United States, most voters at the polls cast their ballots in private, without threat of interference by poll workers, the government, or curious onlookers."
Alameda County marks its wine history
The board of supervisors took time this week to recognize the 130th anniversary of Livermore's Wente Vineyards, the oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery in the country.
Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard after buying 48 acres of land in the Livermore Valley in 1883. His descendants now run the company.
"Napa is for car parts and Livermore is for fine wines," boasted Supervisor Scott Haggerty, whose district encompasses most of Alameda County's wine country.
San Leandro workers set to get raises
The city's 256 full-time clerical and maintenance workers will see their pay rise 10 percent in less than two years, a boost that will help them pay for new pension contributions and health benefit costs.
Under a three-year labor deal approved by the council, the employees will get a 3.5 percent raise Oct. 1 and another 3.5 percent raise in July 2014. Pay will again rise 3 percent in July 2015 before the contract expires Dec. 31, 2015. The raises are on top of salary "step" increases awarded for time served.
This year the group that includes building inspectors, traffic, park and marina supervisors and police administrative specialists will also begin contributing 3 percent of their compensation toward the employee share of their pension. The amount will increase next year and reach the full 7 percent or 8 percent employee share by July 2015, depending on their date of hire.
Increases in health insurance premiums will be shared equally between the city and employees. The contract for clerical and maintenance workers will cost the city $755,578, city officials estimate.
The trade offs are similar to those agreed to earlier this year by city and police managers, police officers and classified staff and will help curtail the city's burgeoning bill for retiree benefits.
Fremont is building a burgeoning art scene
Move over tech businesses, Fremont now is promoting something besides its Silicon Valley bona fides: its art scene.
The city has partnered with a nonprofit organization, the Fremont Cultural Arts Council, to create an online map of the city's 56 pieces of public art.
On that list is the Charlie Chaplin mural in the Niles district, which KPIX-TV named last month as one of the East Bay's best murals. The list of city art pieces can be found online at www.fremont.gov/Art Map.
The Fremont Cultural Arts Council also is sponsoring its regular photography contest. The 20th annual Juried Photography Exhibit will hold its opening reception Nov. 8 at the Fremont Main Library. Nearly 35 photographers have been selected to compete, and their work will be on display at the library's reading area from Nov. 9 to Dec. 13.
In addition, Fremont's Community Services Department is looking to hire more instructors for its youth and adult arts programs, which serve nearly 1,300 people each year, said Irene Jordahl, a city recreation supervisor.
"Everyone needs a creative outlet and sometimes art gives people their only avenue to express themselves," she said.
For more information, contact Jordahl at 510-494-4322 or firstname.lastname@example.org.