San Francisco passes open data law to release more city information 

A Rec and Park app is one example of information distribution. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • A Rec and Park app is one example of information distribution.

San Francisco committed this week to boost its open-data movement, but the impact of the decision will depend on the information released and how tech companies and advocates put the information to use.

After admittedly falling behind in the open-data movement, the Board of Supervisors approved legislation this week that officials say will put The City back on the frontier.

Currently, The City has publicly released and maintains 500 data sets on The City’s open-data site, The information includes such things as historic film locations, crime maps, bicycle parking sites and restaurant health scores. But city departments have their hands on thousands more data sets.

The legislation approved Tuesday, which was introduced by board President David Chiu with Mayor Ed Lee, will require city departments to provide a list of all their data sets and then create a timeline for their release.  

What can be expected from the release of more data depends on numerous factors, such as the data specifics and how it’s used by technology businesses and government reformers.

Some recent examples of how city data has been used is a locator for picnic tables and other Recreation and Park Department facilities by mobile app developer Appolicious. Plans are under way to enable people to reserve picnic tables using the app.

Chiu has called on city departments to release tow times related to special events so drivers using an app can receive alerts about whether their vehicles are at risk of being towed.

Taking that further, Alex Maxa, a founder of the CurbTXT texting program, wants access to The City’s tow data in real time about when a request is made to tow a vehicle. The information from The City could be used to alert the owner, thereby avoiding the costly towing fees.

The City Controller’s Office launched this week on its website SFOpenBook at the request of Chiu to track government spending. It remains a work in progress as there currently is no data about city workers’ salaries, for example.

“San Franciscans want more transparency in their budget to be able to drill down on exactly how and where every dollar of our $7 billion city government is spent, on salaries, contractors, programs goods and services,” Chiu said.

The City will now hire a chief data officer, as required by the legislation, who will be appointed by Lee, to spearhead the open-data law and ensure compliance. City departments must now nominate an open-data department coordinator to assist in the effort.

The new law builds on the 3-year-old open-data law that had encouraged city departments to release data.

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