Time to Allow YouTube Testimony at City Hall

By: Phil Ting, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder

Reset San Francisco Youtube TestimonialsWhen you look at some actions our San Francisco city government takes – do you ever say to yourself, “What were they thinking?”

I do.  And I work at City Hall.

I personally like just about everyone else who works here, too. But I see one of the chief problems that can bring about some of these head scratching decisions. The information that arrives at City Hall is incredibly narrow because almost all of it comes from the same roughly 1,000 people. And when it comes to important decisions, they are only as good as the information they were based on.

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These 1,000 “Usual Suspects” give elected officials, boards and commissions the most feedback, because those are the people who already work here, who are paid to come here, or who can get time off from their jobs to come here and lobby because their employers have an interest in an outcome.

There is nothing wrong with people expressing their enlightened self interests.  And almost all the people who come to City Hall on a regular basis are very dedicated activists, with a great base of knowledge. The problem is, not everyone can get time off work to come to City Hall to express his or her views.  And this is a problem made more acute by the reality that almost every single one of our boards and commissions, including the Board of Supervisors, meet during the day when most people are at work or in school.

So I want to propose a simple idea to make our government better – make sure more people have the tools to be heard by our city government as we make decisions. That’s why I am proposing that San Francisco government adopt a new tool to make sure more voices are heard.

It’s time for YouTube Testimony before City Government.

This proposal to help Reset San Francisco might seem basic – but I do think it will go a long way toward bringing about better decisions. Because it will make it easier for most San Franciscans to be heard, it will make it easier for elected officials and commissioners to understand what most people want from their government (as opposed to the ubiquitous 1,000).

Here are the details of the idea. Ask the Board of Supervisors and each commission to change their rules to allow up to 10 minutes of YouTube testimony, which would be heard in the same way other public testimony is heard. Any San Francisco resident could submit these videos.

We could make it social, and draw on the power of web 2.0 tools by creating a system where only the top 5 videos would be shown if more than 5 were submitted, with the top 5 being determined by how many “likes” each video received.

This would cost nothing. Virtually every hearing room already has video hook ups. And YouTube is free.

We need to acknowledge, this still wouldn’t allow everyone to be heard. You need a web link to use YouTube, and some kind of camera. But with cell phone cameras more and more prevalent, and free Wi-Fi and web hookups in most of our libraries, this is a tool that almost everyone could use.

We know what the same 1,000 people think. Now let’s give everyone else a chance to be heard.

What about you? Do you think it is time for YouTube Testimony at City Hall? Log in and comment below.

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137