Government / Politics

Council rejects city’s initial request for tech upgrade

Staff will research what systems other cities are using before making an $800K investment.

The Hollister City Council denied a funding request from the city’s Development Services and fire departments at its March 7 meeting to purchase a data management system for processing applications, permits and inspection requests filed by businesses and individuals. The system would provide interconnectivity between the city’s planning, engineering, building, code enforcement, cannabis affairs, housing, fire departments. 

Development Services was seeking $812,885 to implement and license the Accela Civic Platform from Carahsoft Technology Corp of Reston, Virginia.

The council agreed the departments need better tools to control their data, but Mayor Ignacio Velasquez and councilmembers Rolan Resendiz and Tim Burns urged staff to research what nearby cities similar in size to Hollister are using before investing in a new system. 

Councilmembers Rick Perez and Dolores Morales supported the request.

San Benito County currently uses an Accela product which allows the public to access applications submitted to the planning department.

The council unanimously agreed to withdraw the Development Services’ request for funds until research on the programs 10 nearby cities are using is completed. 

Development Services Senior Planner Eva Kelly told the council that all of the city’s divisions (planning, engineering, cannabis affairs, housing and code enforcement) currently track and process applications using Excel spreadsheets or file folder trees in their network. 

“It’s difficult to pull reports on anything that they have,” Kelly said. “All of the divisions in the Development Services are intricately connected, and the department would strongly benefit from the incorporation of a permit tracking system that would not only allow the individual divisions to track and review their own projects and permit applications, but be able to link those applications to other divisions’ applications.”

Kelly said the investment in a new platform would allow each division to have full mobile capabilities so that staff, such as the building inspectors, “could work directly in the field and update applications or complete their reports without the need to return to the office.” 

Burns said the cost of the system was concerning, as 44 city staff members would need to be licensed to use it at $9,920 per-license fee for the first year, and over $4,000 in subsequent years. 

“It seems to me there are other programs that would be far more manageable and more financially responsible,” he said. “It sounds like we’re trying to buy a Cadillac when we should probably be trying to buy a used car. I want to support you guys and move Hollister to the 21st century, but I don’t think Acella is the right product for the city of Hollister based on my experiences.” 

Burns recounted his experience using Acella, saying that one former workplace required four information technology specialists and a manager to work on Acella on a daily basis. He said his current employer has an information technology specialist who “spends a lot of time dealing with fixes all the time and workarounds. And so I’ve had really mixed experiences. And for those reasons I can’t support it,” Burns said. 

Morales asked the City of Hollister’s Information Systems and Technology Director, Paul Da Silva, for his opinion. Da Silva said he had worked alongside planning and staff to evaluate other solutions such as iWorks and OracleTyler Technologies. 

“We started down the road with Tyler Technologies only to find that it didn’t do half of what the departments needed,” Da Silva said. “It’s not just the Accela piece, but it’s also the project management piece. Out of all the ones that we looked at, Accela was the one that can answer all those questions and kind of put everything together.”

Da Silva said Accela was the only program that allowed every division in the city to easily access and manage data.

“There was a lot of time put into this project to get something for Development Services, who really do a lot of things manually,” Da Silva said. “I’m pretty confident with the project team that put this together. I completely support what they’re going for.”

Morales said she looked at the Accela program as an investment to help a small staff. 

“Even though this is expensive, in comparison to everything else, I don’t think it’s that expensive because it sounds like it’s going to be a customized program,” she said. “We’re not going to get more staffing and they need to be able to handle the workload.”

Resendiz said he did not feel comfortable adopting the program yet and asked to look at different terms.

“I do appreciate all the hard work you’ve done and I do trust you, I’d just like to get more options and get more information on those options,” Resendiz said. 

Using a Honda versus Cadillac analogy, Velazquez said he needed reliability over luxury and that the city should hear not only from people who have good things to say about the program but those who’ve had bad experiences.

“I can tell you that if it was your group only, you’re not going to have a problem [learning the program], but I can almost guarantee you that 50 to 60 percent are going to have a problem, a big problem. So go back and survey 10 cities and see what’s going on.”

Da Silva defended the departments’ staff, telling Velasquez, “This is not just a bunch of new users going to use it, they’re all going to be involved in setting this thing up.”

“I just want to point out that 40 to 50 people are going to be coming to you,” Velasquez said. 

Da Silva responded: “Hundreds of people come to me every day. It’s not just a number. It’s actually people that are currently using whatever systems they are, and they have to work together. They’re going to be working intimately with setting this thing up to work for them and also for the city as a whole.”

Perez said he supported investing in the program because he deals with industrial builders who are frustrated with the city’s permit tracking system. 

“We need to start supporting our employees and getting them the tools that they need. And we need to respect them and honor them and encourage them and train them. This is what they’re asking for, and we’re not giving it to them because [Velasquez] can guarantee that 50% or 60% of the people are not going to be able to do this?”


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Jenny Mendolla Arbizu

Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She is a graduate of San Benito High School, and received her BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and MA in Education from San Jose State University. Jenny is a former elementary school teacher and has written for the Hollister Freelance, San Benito and South Valley magazines. She enjoys bringing informative and educational news to San Benito County, as well as spotlighting local community members and businesses. On any given day, she can be found performing with SBSC, singing with the Hollister VFW, or working out at Cold Storage CrossFit.