Kliewer pointed out that, as exciting as these technological advancements were, they weren't going to improve business in Oakland on their own. "Technology doesn't bring change," said Kliewer, "unless you use it appropriately to serve a business practice." To foster actual change and improvements to Oakland's economic base, the city merged the Department of Planning and Building with the Economic Development, Housing and Redevelopment departments.
The mergers created CEDA, which has reengineered how the city supports economic development. "We can now offer the whole development picture from the standpoint of the community and the developers," Kliewer pointed out. "It has allowed us to focus on development by planning areas, not political boundaries."
In 1996, Kliewer began working with his staff and vendors to assemble a dynamic Web site where the public and developers could find up-to-date economic data on the city at no cost, 24-hours a day. The Oakland Computer Company worked as general contractor on the project, identifying the data needed and developing the system that would run the service.
According to Mike Corse, vice president of Oakland Computer Co., his firm installed a TCP/IP network and Microsoft's NT Internet Information Server as the architecture for the Web application. Corse said the trick was building dynamic HTML pages based on maps from the UNIX-based ESRI software and zoning data from the DB2 databases on the AS/400. Using Web browsers, users would view data and maps that contain up-to-date, rather than static information.
Costs were held down by CEDA's use of software from Microsoft, which has been freely distributing its code for Internet components in order to build up market share over rival firm Netscape Communications. Corse estimates the savings at nearly $10,000.
Overall, Oakland Computer put in approximately 500 hours building a system architecture, 250 hours developing the application, and 100 hours setting up and installing the system. Kliewer did not give a total figure for the system's cost, but said expenses were kept low thanks to freeware and vendors' willingness to lend support to the innovative project.
Today, anyone can visit Oakland's Online Map Room, which is located on the Internet at
"It's all point and click," said Commissioner Tagami. "You can get zoning and parcel data, the names and splits for each parcel, a digitized photo and any zoning regulation information for that area of the parcel." Tagami uses the site when he's preparing for a planning meeting or a meeting with a client. "I can use it on the weekends or at 2 a.m. in the morning," he added.
The Web site also has saved CEDA staff a tremendous amount of time, saving minutes off every phone query or office visit they must handle. Kliewer believes some staff were worried that the self-service system would put them out of a job, but instead it has freed them to handle higher-level tasks. "We find that with developers now answering many of the routine questions themselves, we can redeploy our staff to deal with more complex problems," said Kliewer. "Staff can use their interpretive and analytical skills instead of handling rote questions all the time."
In the near future, CEDA hopes to add several enhancements, including a demographic search engine, an improved interface and a parcel permit history database. Query options will expand to cover parcel status, parcel size, zoning status and distance of parcel from freeways, fiber-optic lines and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.
Kliewer, who hopes to publish a "cookbook" for other jurisdictions interested in building similar Web sites, sees the ongoing project as the ultimate fulfillment of the city's role to taxpayers. "We're the custodians of these records, but they belong to the public," he explained. "It's our obligation to provide the most efficient access to the records as possible." Judging by the overwhelming response to the system so far, Kliewer has made public access as efficient as it gets.
PROBLEM/SITUATION: Oakland wants to stimulate economic development while making public records more accessible.
SOLUTION: The city put valuable zoning, planning and permit information into an Internet-based geographic information system.
JURISDICTION: Oakland, Calif.
VENDORS: Oakland Computer Co., Microsoft, Netscape, IBM, ESRI, California Commercial Investments.
CONTACT: Frank Kliewer, CEDA,
[ February Table of Contents]