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Palo Alto Website is STILL pathetic!

Original post made by Frustrated, College Terrace, on Sep 15, 2007

I just tried to find "commissions" from a search- no dice. Then I tried "city commissions" - no dice. Both searches took 11 seconds (on a weekend day, when servers are not as busy!).

This has to be the most pathetic excuse for a municipal website that I have EVER seen.

I tried a few more things, and gave up. This website is FAR worse than what it replaced; the usability experts shuold use this as a case study of what NOT to do when building a web site.

We've been promised "upgrades and improvements". I don't see them. What? Is this supposed to take a year, or more? Absurd!

Do something! Like DEMAND your money back, find a decent vendor, get some local experts involved, and build a FUNCTIONAL website!

Sheesh! What an embarrassment, in the MIDDLE of Silicon Valley, no less.

Comments (24)

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Have to agree with you, Frustrated. For kicks I tried you search (useless) then something easier, like "Arts Commission." 7 seconds later I got the usual hard-to-figure list of items by category - the LAST one of which (16 items, 3 screens down) was a link to a to a page in the "Know Zone" (ugh) for the Public Arts Commission. Now it gets better - that page does NOT contain a link to the Public Arts Commission web page!

A search on Google for "Palo Alto Arts Commission" (time 1 second) serves up as the first item the Public Arts Commission page on the OLD city web site, which still resolves to a blank screen (can't somebody fix this - either take down the site or redirect pages to the right place. It's been that way since the launch.).

Lesson learned - skip the city "Search" fiasco, just use Google.

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Posted by Peter
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 15, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Better yet, just call City Hall every time you have a question. Tell the operator, or whoever, that you're calling because you can't find it on the web site.

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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2007 at 4:48 pm

Regarding the Public Record Only:

Today, I tried to find a full set of city documents on two land-use matters I was involved in beginning three years ago. It was not easy, although I eventually found them.

It appears to me that much of the public record of the past 5 years is now up there -- does anyone out there see still see any major ommissions within that time frame?

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Posted by Frustrated too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2007 at 5:01 pm

You guys better get used to it. The new City website isn't going anywhere and the old one is not coming back. City Hall believe people will get used to it and learn to navigate around, and finally we'll stop complaining. In fact, the staff person who picked the web designers for this project I believe has just been hired on permanently.

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 15, 2007 at 6:11 pm

It cost $240k. Yes, a quarter million dollars.
No sane organization would ever consider spending a fraction of that on a website (broken or not).
Someone is laughing somewhere.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2007 at 8:10 pm

The vendors who took this city for a ride are laughing- that's for sure.

Heck, I can start up a COMPANY with $240K. Sad.

It's unreal that they hired whoever was responsible for this mess on as a permanent employee. The only reason for that HAS to be that that person will be working full time to fix the mess that s/he created. Absurd!

There is simply NO excuse for this sort of thing in this day and age, here in the middle of tech country.

I am normally supportive of staff, but this is one snafu that curdles the milk.

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Posted by bdaul
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 16, 2007 at 1:28 am

240K...I thought that we were insulated from the ineptitude at this scale. I expect this from the federal and state government...not my city. Someone (or more than one) should befired and the firms involved sued to recover cost for this pile of manure. Perhaps they can add the website to the compost pile at the dumps. The city should be beyond embarrassed...they should be responsible and MAD AS HELL. High school kids could have done a better job.

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2007 at 8:06 am

The library website, which used to be wonderful, is now a first class mess.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2007 at 12:52 pm

I agree, I was just trying to search about something related to the Palo Alto Library, and it was a nightmare using the new city website.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 17, 2007 at 3:45 pm

What an EMBARRASSMENT! I also tried to use the city's library site, for the first time in quite a while, to no good avail.

This website is almost criminal. How can a municipla website "makeover" result in such a MESS?

How can anyone make a LIBRARY website as inaccessible as ours now is?? Unbelievable!

I am a rabid supporter of our library, but how on earth do we expect to get patrons exited about the library if they can't access its assets on online, in the HEART of SILICON VALLEY!


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 17, 2007 at 3:51 pm

OK, I just managed to get into the LIbrary site; it seems functional once you're there, but GETTING THERE is a chore. Sad, and utterly inexcusable, in this place, and time.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by karen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 18, 2007 at 12:58 pm


There was detailed info on the old web site about the heritage trees - arborists reports, photos, etc. I know because I got heritage tree status for one of my trees and so pay attention to that section. That info is not on the new site, at least not on the heritage tree page. I reported it using their form when the new site came up, and also about two ago. Nada results.

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 18, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Another feather in the cap of Mayor Yoriko and the city council--more wasted money, while our infrastructure needs go unanswered. I am sure one of the retiring city council members can claim the new city website as their "proudest achievment", since the Homer Street tunnel has already been claimed by another council person.

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Posted by long time resident
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 18, 2007 at 6:17 pm

The new website is awful. It has all the faults of the old system and a million more. Change it!! And it is ugly. It is hard to find the library. Change it!!

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Posted by Trenchant Observer
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2007 at 8:29 pm

I think it's time for Frank Benest to issue another statement on the website.

How about something like this: "Many citizens have provided feedback on the new website. Some like the fact that the website has not actually killed anyone yet. Many enjoy the site because it contains no trans fat. Others note that the website has not caused any earthquakes. And we've also received some constructive criticism, which we'll assiduously ignore, as is our long-running policy regarding all criticism."

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Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Sep 18, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

I must join this fray. My turn:

Well, today I tried to find Glenn Roberts, the director of Public Works, telephone number. I sawnothing on the home page for staff contact information or telephonenumbers. So I searched for "Glenn Roberts" to no avail. "No search results."Then I did "Glenn Roberts" "telephone" and that was useless. Then I reiws "telephone
list" and couldn't get a staff directory. Then I did "phone list" to noavail. So I tried public works under departments and under "public works departmnet" it said Phone: see telephone directory. But that was not a link. So I tried telephone directory and finally got a public works office outside of city call. Called that and they gave me
Glenn's number. When I called him I was told he was at a meeting so I
left a voice message.

All that for one phone number!

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2007 at 5:32 am

Diana, thanks for that gem. I put in "Public Works" just to see the result - it was indeed horrific - search results without rank by relevance or importance truly are useless, and that's what we have.

I did try my back up - Google. Search term was ("Glenn Roberts" public works telephone). On the first page - a link to the PA Online "Palo Alto Government" page, including department head phone numbers! Thank you Google and PA Online!

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Posted by Frustrated too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2007 at 5:37 am

Diana, I don't think it is an accident that it is now very hard to get City employees telephone numbers. The website has been deliberately designed to put distance between residents and Staff.

To Trenchant Observer who says: "I think it's time for Frank Benest to issue another statement on the website." Since Frank Benest has been on vacation then out of town at a City Manager's Convention, he probably doesn't know what is going on.

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Posted by Bebe
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:05 pm

This really is a joke. I thought all the complaints about the website were whining from the usual malcontents until I went there myself. I started by trying to find the location of PA's library branches. Several search terms, after delays of 4-10 seconds yeilded NOTHING useful at all.

Interestingly enough, Google found the page I was looking for in .12 seconds using the term "Palo Alto Library Locations". Why didn't PA just link to Google for search rather than spend 240k trying (and failing) to reinvent the wheel.

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Posted by Cant find
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 3:30 pm

Today's home page has these items on top:
This Month in Palo Alto
Jim Stevens, Folksinger
9-80 Friday: 09-21-07 - All Administrative Offices Closed
As I said on another thread, you just couldn't make this up.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2007 at 7:31 pm

I needed to sort something out with the city last week and was told that the offices were closed last Friday. Now I see that they are closed tomorrow from the above post.

Does our city take off all Fridays? Do they only work a four day week? Am I missing something?

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Posted by speak up
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 19, 2007 at 10:20 pm

RE Bebe's comment: "I thought all the complaints about the website were whining from the usual malcontents until I went there myself. " So true!! But remember, if all you do is vent on this forum about how bad the city's website is, the IT wizards and consultants who seem to have violated nearly every rule of good web design will never be held accountable. And only minor patches will be made.

That's why it's very important that every one of you who has posted a comment here also takes a few minutes right now to send a short message to the city council that gives a concrete example (or two or three) about how the vaunted "content management system" and search process is the opposite of user friendly. Here's the address:

Note: As hard as it will be, just document the non-functionality without sarcasm or derogatory comments.

Also, ask the candidates who are running for city council what they are going to do to fix this problem!

Like this comment
Posted by also a resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2007 at 11:24 pm

To answer Resident's question about city offices being closed on Fridays: Whoever told you that City Hall was closed last Friday was mistaken. City Hall administrative offices were open last Friday, they will be closed this Friday.

What "9/80" Friday actually means is that many city staff work a modified schedule, working 80 hours over two weeks, but spread over 9 days (not 8 days like conventional office jobs). I think it's Monday-Thursday 7:30-5:30, Friday 8-5 for the first week, then Monday-Thursday 7:30-5:30 and Friday off for the second week.

This schedule does not apply to "front line" jobs interfacing with the public (libraries, community centers, the place you pay your utility bills, the Development Center where you get building permits etc). But most of City Hall is closed every other Friday.

Of course, whoever created the city calendar feature on Palo Alto's home page has been working in City Hall so long they don't even realize that the vast majority of residents have no idea what "9/80" means. And of course, attempting to use the city's search engine to find out what it means is no help at all -- try it and see for yourself.

But this form of compressed workweek is actually fairly common for non-front line employees in California municipal governments, as a simple Google search will show you. It's supposed to be environmentally friendly (9 round trips instead of 10, and on the 7:30-5:30 days you would theoretically have less congested commutes). Supposedly, morale is better and it helps with employee retention too.

Amazingly enough, on other cities' web sites, this new concept is explained clearly and simply, or the official policy documents pop up easily. A few examples:
On the City of Santa Barbara website:
Web Link
On the City of Santa Rosa website:
Web Link
On the City of Pasadena website:
Web Link

Yet another example of how this City of Palo Alto's website redesign utterly fails to be helpful, whether you're a resident, visitor or businessperson.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2007 at 9:30 am

I was the one who thought that it was last Friday the city offices were closed, on thinking it through it was the previous Friday (don't the weeks pass quickly as you get old). However, this is just a great example of how the city works. This process has obviously been going on for yonks and we didn't know or understand. It is only when we want to contact the city about it for some reason or other that we find out about it.

I remember in my working days our company went on "flex time" which was all the range then. Yes, we could come in late, go home early, have longer lunch hours, etc. as long as we did our basic hours and the work got done. However, we had to ensure that the phones were answered and there was someone to deal with any problem that may arise during all business hours. I think it is a step backwards if the city is closed every other Friday for the convenience of their staff. It certainly isn't very convenient for the public if say an urgent power problem can't be dealt with on a Friday before the weekend. This was my problem, and although there was probably someone somewhere dealing with emergencies, my potential emergency problem query was unable to be dealt with as I could not get anyone on the phone to speak to.

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