Marin County, Calif., Launches Open Data Portal

Marin joins the San Francisco, San Mateo County and Alameda County in using Socrata's open data software.

by Adrian Rodriguez, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif. / February 22, 2017

(TNS) -- Marin County officials have launched a new database designed to make county budget information and public health and safety statistics more accessible.

The Marin County Open Data portal, which is part of the five-year business plan the Board of Supervisors approved in 2015, is an effort to provide more online resources to residents who want to better understand what is going on in the county.

“It’s really a tool in helping the county step toward more open transparency,” said Charlie Haase, county director of information services and technology, the department that helped develop the database. “We are pretty excited about it, and hope as we go along, to add more data sets that have value to people.”

Marin joins the San Francisco, San Mateo County and Alameda County in using the Socrata-powered database. Socrata is a Seattle-based company that builds open data software and services to sell to governments.

The county paid an initial $38,352 to launch the program. The subscription to the service is $26,352 annually.

The portal publishes statistics such as food facility and safety inspections, emergency medical services including, bicycle and sports injury incidents that are broken down by city and towns, kindergarten immunization reports and county employee salaries and budget and spending figures.

When it comes to bike-related injuries, Sausalito, Mill Valley and San Rafael have the highest amount of incidents.

Haase said the information could help residents collaborate and find solutions to these and other county issues.

To help introduce this collaborative concept, the county is hosting a hackathon event on April 1, in which high schoolers from around the county will use Marin County Open Data to download and share information.

“We are hoping to collaborate with software engineers and develop things like mobile apps, and that sort of thing,” Haase said.

Southern Marin fire Chief Chris Tubbs said the information collected for emergency services is helpful in comparing incidents in neighboring communities.

“The more data tools there are, the more opportunity there is to get this information to the public,” he said. “This gives quick and rapid access to that information.”

Tubbs said he is excited to see the database grow.

So is Jody Morales, head of Citizens for Sustainable Pensions, a Marin-based watchdog group.

At a glance, the database “appears to be a great step,” but the information is “pretty basic,” she said.

“I’m glad to see transparency take its first steps into the Civic Center,” she said. “Hopefully, over time it will improve.”

Morales said she hoped to see that in the salary book that names of county employees would be published: “If the county is going to do this, they need to be at that level.”

County Administrator Matthew Hymel said the county already submits that information to the Bay Area News Group and Transparent California databases and that “we formatted our salary data to reflect our salary schedules similar to Sonoma, Alameda, San Mateo, and San Francisco’s open data portal.”

Hymel said county officials want to encourage residents to become more familiar with how local government works.

“Transparency is the key to increasing public trust and drives accountability,” he said. “The better informed our residents are about what we do, the more responsive we can be to their needs and the more effective we can be.”

©2017 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.