Website aims to create civic dialogue in San Mateo 

San Mateo has devised a new way for residents to make their voices heard on community matters.

At the website SanMateoTownHall.org, people who are unable or not interested in attending meetings at City Hall can provide input on civic projects. Four separate topics have drawn hundreds of comments on matters including public parking facilities and the renovation of Beresford Park.

Commenter Nicole K5 suggested moving the playgrounds for toddlers and older children closer together so that parents with multiple children don't have to split up when they let their kids play. Nan D2 suggested that the enclosed dog park be opened up for use at any time of the day instead of its current, restrictive hours.

The site is gradually being used by more and more city departments. The City Manager's Office is the latest to embrace the platform, seeking feedback on potential improvements to the downtown area.

"We wanted to start a conversation about what people liked about the downtown area," said Rebecca Zito, a management analyst in the City Manager's Office. "How they would like to see it grow and change. And so we're trying to get feedback that is somewhat positive but also thought-provoking to help us look at the downtown differently or help us identify different events that we could bring to the downtown."

She said the topics will be generated on an as-needed basis in response to timely issues affecting the city and its residents.

Anna Kuhre, a president emeritus of the San Mateo United Homeowners Association, said the site will allow a different demographic of San Mateo residents to be heard.

"This will be attractive to younger people," she said. "That's where they go. That's a quick response and they contribute. I think we have a lot of that in our city because we have a lot of startups in downtown San Mateo."

That target audience is one Kuhre said is important to the future vision of the city.

"There's a lot of change now, a lot of push with these dot-coms expanding into larger spaces," she said. "Our community also wants to keep these dot-coms in our city. There might be ways to engage the public to support that concept. Those are dollars for us. We want these young people to work in our city and to live in our city."

For now, Zito said, there are four more topics the city plans to roll out over the summer. The first will ask residents what types of events residents would like to attend downtown. San Mateo also plans to ask shoppers what types of resources they would like to see that are not currently available. The city will then seek inspiration by asking what makes its downtown special, and then request photos of downtowns outside the area that include things travelers would like to see back home.

While Zito said she couldn't guarantee every trend on the site would be implemented, the feedback given will be a significant part of shaping the vision for the future of San Mateo.

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