News Release News Release The City of Palo Alto
Communications Department
250 Hamilton Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301


PRESS RELEASE 09/10/2009
Subject :

First Phase of City of Palo Alto Website Improvements Is Released
Contact : David Ramberg, Assistant Director, Administrative Services Department    650-329-2634
Palo Alto, CA –Today, the City of Palo Alto Information Technology (IT) staff and the volunteer Website Advisory Committee are pleased to announce the release of the first in a series of phased updates to the City Website at

The joint venture between City staff and community volunteers began last Fall as part of the City's ongoing commitment to improve the City Website, while meeting the City Council's priority for civic engagement. A dozen volunteers with expertise in Web design, management, analysis, content and more rose to the challenge. The primary goal was to address concerns raised by citizens as well as enhance the overall Website user experience. This committee reviewed input from the community, "best practices" established by leading Web authorities, input from internal City providers and a myriad of ideas proposed from within the group.

“The collaboration between staff and the Website Advisory Committee has been an example of effective civic engagement,” said James Keene, City Manager. “Now the City needs to deliver. Today’s release is the first of many steps forward.”

The list of recommendations, along with an implementation plan, was presented to the City Council by the committee. The enhancements to the website include the changes approved by Council on May 18, known as the “Bucket 1” changes (CMR:246:09). The process of turning on the updated site will have minimal, if any, impact on site availability.

The recommendations focused on improving the user experience and ensuring that the site is compatible with rapidly changing technologies. The seventy or more suggestions were organized into phases. This current release is comprised of adjustments with high visibility that could be accomplished by the volunteers and City staff. It is important that the work be compatible with the City’s current contract with Civica so that there are no additional charges to the City. The most notable among these improvements are the following: 

  • Website Color – The colors have been changed to work against a white background.  This improves the site’s readability by providing more contrast.
  • Font Size – The minimum font size on the Website has been increased to improve readability.
  • Home Page Revisions – Featured content has been reorganized into four primary lists: What’s New, City Government, Other Resources, and This Month in Palo Alto.
  • 3-Column Usage – Home page space is used more efficiently for items of importance available with less scrolling.
  • Drop Down Menu – A drop down menu has been added to the top right portion of the homepage.  It is titled Quick Links and it gives users better access to key information.  The list of links corresponds with the most popular pages viewed, according to our statistics.
  • Index – The index pages have been substantially revised to provide users with more efficient, accurate access to information on the site. The link can now be found at the bottom of each page, listed as A-Z Index.
  • Search Box in Banner – The search box has been made more accessible by including it in the top banner on all pages.

Some other accomplishments accrued during this period as well. The committee served to critique new on-line Utility customer billing functions. The City followed the committee’s recommendation to switch from WebTrends to the free Google Analytics tool for analysis of Website metrics. This single act saves the City $5,000 annually. A complete Site Map was plotted down through many levels. Many broken and stale links were eliminated. 

“I would like to thankfully acknowledge the members of the Website Committee for their extended commitment of time and energy to making improvements to the City’s website, “said Lalo Perez, Director of Administrative Services. “These dedicated volunteers gave willingly of their time and expertise to make enhancements to the user experience with our website,” he added.

The City staff and the volunteers continue to work on improving search functions and adding more information on Family Resource pages. Plans for subsequent phases are currently being scoped out. These phases of improvements include non-governmental content (e.g., entertainment; business; K-12 activities; and organizations), nomenclature of uploaded documents, further data clean-up and standardization, enhancement of the application of user statistics, and improvement of layout and aesthetics. The plan for the longer-term changes, “Buckets 2-3,” will be outlined in a report to Council in the Fall.

Volunteer Carol Gilbert looks at it this way, “A City whose residents have as much technical expertise as Palo Alto should be tapping into it. We’ve had a good time and given something back to the City. Active participation is the best example of citizenship anyone can demonstrate.”