City of Palo Alto overhauls its website | May 11, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 11, 2012

City of Palo Alto overhauls its website

New site includes more social features, customization options

by Gennady Sheyner

The City of Palo Alto on Monday, May 7, launched its new website, capping years of tweaks, frustration and ridicule from the city's tech-savvy community about its existing site.

The new website, which the city "soft launched" Monday, is available at Unlike the prior version, which can still be accessed at, it is loaded with a wide array of multimedia features, videos and options that allow users to customize their experience.

The two sites will both be available for the next 60 days, the city announced. During that time, the city will consider feedback about the beta version of the new site and make further tweaks as needed.

The multi-year effort to overhaul the city's site was conducted by staff and a dozen community volunteers known as the Website Advisory Committee. The committee will be officially recognized by the City Council in the coming weeks, City Manager James Keene said Monday.

Bob Harrington, a member of the committee, lauded the city's decision to get the community involved in the redesign.

"To their credit, the City responded to website concerns by inviting citizen-volunteers to help improve the site," Harrington said in a statement. "The Committee was formed ... and it's paying off."

The new site's homepage greets visitors with a video in which Keene and Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental describe their vision for the new site. Reichental, who is leading the city's multi-pronged social-media effort, called the new site a "virtual community of Palo Alto" — one that becomes more valuable the more people use it.

"It should be a place in which, when there are updates to progress, when there are issues to be discussed, this is a place where the information can be stored and get possibly debated," Reichental said in the video.

The site also includes links to other videos, the city's agendas, budget documents, local nonprofit groups and city departments.

Keene said the rise of social media in recent years has given the city new opportunities for informing residents and getting their feedback. For the next 60 days, residents will have a chance to offer feedback on the new site before the new site becomes official.

"The day of one-size fits all is actually long over for consumers and the same is true for government," Keene said in the video. "Social media in particular allows us to build a much more individuated connections between our residents and the city."

Talk about it

What do you think of the City's new website? Share your opinion on Town Square, the online discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by Hope-Springs-Eternal, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2012 at 10:17 am

Who is on this Advisory Committee? The same people keep showing up on every board and committee. There is very little diversity on these groups. The decision process for membership inclusion seems to be more often than not: 1) living North of Oregon, and 2) being a friend of someone associated with the City. Far too much is done in secret in this town.

It will be interesting to see if this redesigned web-site meets all of our needs, or just the few who managed to find themselves on the "committee". It will also be interesting to see how this group handles criticism of their approach to providing the public information about the City.

Oh, and we also have to wonder how they dealt with City Attorney Don Larkin's claim: "you can't believe anything (or was it everything) you find on the City'w web-site." Will we be able to get meaningful, and reliable information now?

At least the fact that the site that cost over $250,000 some years back wasn't as useful as the Benest team, with his supporters on the City Council, claimed it was. It will take some number of weeks for the public at large to dig through this offering. Hopefully the Cit will post criticisms, and compliments, on the new web-site, so that people can share their observations with the rest of the town, rather than the kind of "you'll use what we give you" approach to our City web-site that has prevailed in the past.

Posted by Cyber Flop, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2012 at 10:39 am

This officially confirms that the expensive City web site re-vamp pushed by former Administrative Services Director Carl Yeats was a complete flop, just as the residents maintained all along. Meahwhile, Yeats was able to slip out of town with his retirement bag of gold, one step ahead of the sheriff.

Posted by U Got It, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 8, 2012 at 11:22 am

True about Carl Yeats. True about same old people (managers which control the city at a 'different level'). Yep about Benest and kronies. And again, yet another example of the complete unnecessary expense(s) which should have been done correctly the first time - remember the black background, tiny grey fonts, and horrible graphics? Not to mention the wasted COSTS associated with that. And how Palo Alto officials think they are fooling everyone that things are so great in the city is beyond me. More like laughing stock - seriously! As long as council continues to be bam-boozled by manager, and manager(s) keep getting to 'line their pockets', all will remain the same. No accountability is shameful.

Posted by rem, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 8, 2012 at 11:36 am

rem is a registered user.

Old web site - OUTSTANDING

New Web site - HEE HAW !!!!

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2012 at 11:45 am

Home Page photo caption: "At the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto is 30 minutes from San Francisco, 30 minutes from the beach, and 3-1/2 hours from the snow."

Somebody's speeding.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Not at all, we're just anticipating customers for the airport we'll soon be managing.

Posted by Disapointed, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm

The first picture that greets you is the face of the City Manager.
Not a good sign.
Benest used to do that too. Come to think of it, this manager was recommended by Benest.

Posted by moi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I think they need spellcheck.

Even autofill would be an improvement.

I hereby submit my application for the apparently-vacant position of City of Palo Alto Proofreader, generous salary and bennies TBD?

Posted by Maya, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 9, 2012 at 6:47 am

Improvement? No. Just no.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2012 at 8:38 am

Wow this city is full of a bunch of angry people who just want to lash out at anything they can. How many of you actually have ever tried to participate on a committee? I think I know the answer. It is far more gratifying to sit and spew a bunch of angry nonsense about the city YOU CHOOSE to live in.

All committee members home addresses are public information, prove your claims about all of them living in north pa or find a new soap box, one with some validity.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2012 at 10:33 am

Just wondering what the cost for this UNNECESSARY crap was? The old website works fine, and if Palo Alto really cared about anything but directing money to cronies and favorites.

IT costs are some of the most inflated nonsense I've ever seen, and I used to manage them in a large local corporatation a while back.

If it ain't broke - don't frickin' fix it, and when you do, design in ease of content change and demand modularity, documentation and simplicity so that you do not pay these inflated rates regularly.

I'd sure love it if at least once I would see a story in the Palo Alto news where our local city government acted competently and efficiently … I don't think I've seen one in years … maybe decades, but then I have a funny definition of competent and efficient compared to the Palo Alto City government I guess.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2012 at 10:42 am

AND …. by the way a simple improvement to the PaloAltoOnline website would be for the width of these forums to be narrowed slightly so that the columns can scale and be read easily on ALL DEVICES.

On my screen this column is hardwired at 127 characters across which is totally ridiculous - especially here in Palo Alto where we have people with iPhones and IPads and other portable devices as well as people with older technology and low resolution displays that have to scroll horizontally to read a full line.

This is so obvious and such a no-brainer, and I have never gotten a response on any of the comments on this that I have made or the emails I have sent to PaloAltoOnline.

Fix it like a newspaper column at a reasonable width so people can read these on regular and small displays without having to scroll right and left, just down as they read. Yes, the columns gets longer, but they are easier to read and comment on and you just have to scroll downward to read the content.

And that should not cost much at all to improve

Posted by Still a problem, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm

There is still a fixed page width problem on the Palo Alto City web site.

The technology solving this problem is so clear and available, most web sites work even on mobile devices without resorting to a special app.

PLEASE fix this severe usability problem. It's simple to fix!

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