“The best thing about Code for America is that the fellows don’t know that what they’re doing is impossible — so they continue to deliver.”
- Peter Koht, Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Santa Cruz
The City of Santa Cruz has an open data portal featuring 50+ datasets and the community has helped launch some amazing startups. A current lack of a Code for America Brigade presents a unique leadership opportunity for local civic tech hackers. If you’d like to help start a Brigade, check out our list of info for Brigade Captains.
For new business owners, acquiring the right permits from their city government can be confusing — it’s not always clear which department should be contacted or what permits are actually required for a project. The process can frustrate local entrepreneurs, limiting economic development and stifling local job creation.
City contact Peter Koht and CTO Chris Stathis partnered with Code for America fellows Jim Craner, Ruthie BenDor, Tamara Shopsin out of a shared vision that citizens shouldn’t have to choose between economic development and policies that protect the natural resources, vibrancy, and character of their communities. Together, they used technology to streamline the process.
After recognizing that most small business owners are required to apply for permits from seven different departments (often in triplicate), Koht, Stathis and the fellows decided on a process that would improve efficiency across agencies and offer business owners greater visibility into the permits, entitlements, time and money required of them. The team built OpenCounter as a simple 24-7 web interface for business permit applications and tracking. And now, by removing the barriers to entry, new businesses have emerged to stimulate Santa Cruz’s local economy. The app was so successful that the OpenCounter team was accepted to the Code for America accelerator program and the app has since transitioned into a full-fledged company.
Other projects, the fellows worked on that year include launching the city’s open data portal, building Blockee – a tool that lets citizens design their city streets and modding the city’s bike lockers.
For the next year, a trio of self-professed geeks will construct an online business portal designed to be a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs who face a boggling maze of permits, fees and regulations when launching a new enterprise.
Shortly after arriving in Santa Cruz, Calif., Ruthie BenDor decided to get a bicycle permit. It wasn’t as easy as she might have hoped.
The permit, which costs $3, required a trip to the finance department at Santa Cruz city hall and filling out a form in triplicate. The finance department is only open four days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — hours that most people are at work.