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Santa Monica’s Planning Department in Your Living Room

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 5, 2013 -- Gone are the days when the curious citizen had to trek to Santa Monica’s City Hall to get the latest information on projects popping up around town or to thumb through the latest planning documents.

Today, Santa Monica’s award-winning website places thousands of pages of development agreements, project specs, zoning ordinances and other information at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection and a desire to know more about City planning.

It’s all part of what Santa Monica's Chief Information Officer Jory Wolf calls the “Internet Town Hall,” a digital space where information is accessible to residents concerned with -- or just curious about -- planning, zoning and development issues in the bayside town.

The new site, which launched last spring, “is a lot easier to navigate,” said Francie Stefan, the City’s strategic and transportation planning manager.

For one thing, at the top of the Planning Department’s new website there is a link to the most recent planning-related news.

On Wednesday, there was a blurb about the City’s Draft Zoning Ordinance that included upcoming Planning Commission meeting dates and background about the document.

“This is the first major Zoning Ordinance Update since 1988 and will contain provisions to implement Santa Monica's Land Use and Circulation Element, adopted in July, 2010,” it reads.

It also lists links to digital copies of the Ordinance and, for those who prefer paper, places to pick up hard copies.

And, Stefan said, the site can help those who want to look at the big picture.

Clicking on “Plans & Projects” on the site’s top menu takes visitors to a map of the bayside city complete with color-coded pegs that indicate approved, pending and inactive development projects, both by private developers and the City.

From the City's website, an overhead view of pending development in Santa Monica

Visitors can find out more about an individual project by simply clicking on a peg that will take them to a page listing the City planner working on the project, the company behind the project and its contact information as well as the address and the project specs.

The increased navigability of the site, Stefan said, leads to greater transparency.

“You can stumble upon new information that you’re interested in but may not have been aware of,” she said.

It’s also created an opportunity for City Hall to better broadcast some of its programs, Stefan said.

There’s an entire page dedicated to biking in Santa Monica, another for public transportation. There’s a whole section dedicated to motorists and another for pedestrians.

“It sets the stage for the continuing of our improvement of technology around transportation” like the parking smartphone app called ParkMe and upcoming real-time bus information, Stefan said.

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