Innovation, Environmental Asset Management, and Public Engagement
How the City of Carlsbad, California, gets it done
Located in the greater San Diego area of sunny Southern California, the coastal City of Carlsbad has long been a popular destination for golfers, surfers, and tourists seeking to bask in the warm weather and dip their feet in the Pacific. Because of its desirable location and mild climate, Carlsbad has experienced nearly 40% population growth over the past decade. As a result, city staff sought innovative digital tools that would help them engage more effectively with all residents — both recent transplants and those who have called Carlsbad home for generations — while simultaneously maintaining responsible environmental stewardship and keeping pace with the growing demand for local resources.
Initial Digital Experience Development – Early Challenges and Successes
The City of Carlsbad received a Municipal Storm Water Permit from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) in 2013. In accordance with this permit, the city is required by law to protect local water quality by installing treatment control best management practices — structures that prevent pollutants from damaging area waterways and protect this increasingly precious resource.
Like many municipalities throughout California, Carlsbad’s first challenge involved how to implement comprehensive data driven programs that meet regulatory requirements while maintaining sustainable levels of efficiency, resources, and communications with the public. With increasing demand to go paperless/digital, the quality and quantity of data needed to manage municipal programs has increased exponentially. Local governments understand the growing need to develop streamlined software models that create an interactive experience for the public and foster greater transparency.
Launching a New Digital Service
In collaboration with several internal departments, staff developed the Automation, Compliance, Tracking, Inspection and Owner Notification (ACTION) System, which is an innovative comprehensive asset management platform that improves data collection, increases the City’s ability to respond to public inquiries, decreases staff time, reduces paper documentation, streamlines compliance tracking, and creates better situational awareness between the City, TCBMP community, and regulatory agencies.
The most innovative feature of the ACTION system is the use of GIS technology to provide an interactive experience for the TCBMP community. The ACTION System creates a “big picture” perspective of watershed compliance using a rich set of cross-site analytics that enables the City to prioritize sites, schedule inspections, interact with the community, and review maintenance records throughout the City’s network of privately owned TCBMPs. The system expands the existing GIS deployment by configuring web applications, developing new data scripts, and integrating backend data with reporting and analysis systems – packaged all into a single user end point. This combination resulted in a completely digital and cohesive asset management platform, with technical architecture designed solely by leveraging internal resources.
Creating an Interactive Experience
Maintenance of privately owned TCBMPs is a shared responsibility between the City and the community. The TCBMP community maintains their portion of the storm drain system by keeping it free of trash, excessive vegetation, and other pollutants. In 2013, there were 714 structures on the City’s TCBMP inventory. Currently the City provides oversight for 1,625 privately owned TCBMPs, a 127% increase in less than 10 years. Under the old asset management system, information was siloed into different departments with no real ability to view data as a cohesive program. Effective program management became unsustainable because of cumbersome, time consuming, and paper driven processes, the use of six disparate software systems, frustrating customer experiences, overlapping workflows, and outdated procedures for addressing backlogs. The innovative approach of the ACTION System was in the creation of a comprehensive digital platform which allows the TCBMP community to access data previously available only to city staff. The ACTION System includes tailored editing applications specifically developed for the TCBMP community. These tailored applications involve three key components:
- Complex ID: The City developed a Complex Identification (CID) number to create a digital relationship between TCBMP structures and related responsible parties. The CID merges with an email-centric interface to send a unique URL to each member of the TCBMP community where they can access their personalized ArcGIS Dashboard.
- One-Link Access: Prior to the development of the ACTION System, the City used in-house mailers to send annual verification of maintenance forms and outreach materials. This process required 10,000 sheets of paper and 600 mailers each year. Using the CID embedded link, the TCBMP community can access the Self-Verification Portal online, no postage necessary.
- Self-Verification Portal: The major component that sets the ACTION System apart from other asset management programs, is the integration of the Self Verification Portal. When using the CID and one-link access, the TCBMP community is re-directed to the portal where they can view an interactive map of assets under their control. Responsible parties can document the condition of each structure, update contact information, and upload photos and maintenance records. Information collected through the Self-Verification Portal is uploaded to the ACTION System and a notification is sent to the program manager when new data is ready for review and approval.
Building Awareness in the Community
Prior to the implementation of the ACTION System, TCBMP outreach was limited to a few printed brochures and an annual verification letter, with no web presence. TCBMP community members had to call or email city staff if they wanted information about their property or the program. The ACTION System has improved communications with the TCBMP community, created a transparent end-to-end customer service experience, reduced requests for information, provided a more professional service delivery platform, and created a robust online presence. The City of Carlsbad has promoted the ACTION System through a broad array of channels, including:
- The ACTION ArcGIS StoryMap, a web-based application that allows users to improve public outreach and increase public engagement by sharing links, maps, and other information.
- CURRENTS, a newsletter featuring community updates, surveys, and additional tools.
- Contributions to more than 20 professional conferences and events since March 2021, including the American Public Works Association, Tri-State Seminar, the California Storm Water Quality Association, and the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance.
According to Shawnetta Grandberry, Senior Program Manager of NPDES Compliance Construction Management and Inspection, “I wanted the system to be simple, without too many clicks… Its greatest unexpected benefit has been the amount of time we’ve saved, which has translated into improving the program and finding better ways of doing things. There’s more time to focus on the resource and prioritize public outreach and engagement.”
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, both among City of Carlsbad staff and members of the community. Staff appreciate the operational efficiencies they’ve gained through the ACTION System, and users have called the platform “a huge improvement to the paper forms we have used in the past” and a “super creative approach.” Overall, the ACTION system achieved impressive results throughout its first year, including:
- Reducing the cost of the inspection and verification program by 44%.
- Reducing the usage of paper/files by 73% and the cost of paper/files by 57%.
- Reducing staff time for verifications and inspections by 40%.
- Increasing the number of verification submittals by 24%.
- Reducing inspection time by 34%.
- Reducing the time to complete and submit verifications by 75%.
- Uncovering an additional 150 TCBMPs that were not previously inventoried.
- Saving the City approximately $100,000-$350,000 by leveraging existing resources and eliminating the need to contract out inspection services.
- Eliminating eight full-size file cabinet drawers by converting the backlog of paper files and spreadsheet information into GIS data.
The City of Carlsbad has already made remarkable progress, which is why their ACTION System implementation earned them a 2022 Granicus Digital Government Experience Award. We’re excited to see what the future holds for their ACTION System.
The combination of a strong web presence, self-service portal, and digital communications led the City of Carlsbad to success. Learn more about how to transform your resident experience through the power of one platform.