Introducing ‘Watch Berkeley Gov’

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Note: due to low viewership, I’ve decided not to go forward with this experiment… its not worth the time. While hundreds of people did watch these videos, they were mostly Berkeley political ‘insiders,’ not the broader community I’d hoped to engage in local issues. I’ve concluded that people need the three minute version not the half hour version… and I’m not able to do as much editing as that would require. Dave

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Earlier this month I launched “Watch Berkeley Gov,” a YouTube channel with over 150 browsable videos from recent Berkeley City Council meetings. Now, instead of binge-watching Netflix, you can binge watch Berkeley!

I hope you find these videos useful – they’re extremely informative and occasionally even quite entertaining.  I plan to post new ones after each meeting (sign up here for updates).

Why did I do this?

Many people have told me they’re interested in what happens at Berkeley City Council meetings, but don’t have time to go.

So I decided to try making the meetings more accessible by organizing them into easily browsable, subject-specific videos. On a personal level, I wanted to understand in depth what’s going on in Berkeley these days, and this seemed like a good way do it.

My hope is that many of Berkeley’s 120,000 residents will watch a few of these, and maybe even decide to get more involved locally. National events may preoccupy us these days, but local government really matters!

How to watch.

Go to Watchberkeley.org, or type Watch Berkeley Gov into the YouTube search box. On the main page you’ll find the most recent videos, and featured playlists.

Or… just scroll down to my ‘Top 25 Must-Watch Videos‘ list at the bottom of this article.

I’ve also created several playlists you can watch, such as: Housing, Homelessness, Police and crime, Fire, Budget and Finance, Infrastructure, Streets and Parking, Parks, Peace, Justice, Equity, Cannabis, Business, Environment, ElectionsCity operations, and Commercial zoning.

And you can sign up to get notified by email when I post new videos.

More details on this project.

To distill several hundred hours of meeting video into the most meaningful segments, I had to be selective. It took many hours of watching the city council to figure out what they do, and how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

In the end I omitted the ceremonial portion of each meeting (honors and recognitions), and the ‘consent calendar’ portion (consensus items). While interesting, these two segments can take almost half the meeting.

The ‘action calendar’ is where issues and proposals are debated and voted on by council, so I chose to focus on these items and make them into individual video ‘episodes.’

Note that I’ve disabled comments on these videos, because I didn’t want to create yet another forum for online debate. Many of these episodes do include public comment – by California law (the Brown Act), anyone can speak before the Council on any agenda item, while that item is under consideration. I also disabled advertising on all the videos, because I’m doing this as a public service, not for profit.

I was inspired in tackling this project by the many creative folks around the country trying to re-invent local journalism (e.g. City Bureau, Chalkbeat, Lenfest etc.), to fill the vacuum left by disappearing local newspapers (see NYT, CALmatters, Nieman).

In Berkeley, we’re lucky to have the award-winning Berkeleyside team (I’m a big fan and supporter). But elsewhere, people need to dig in and fill the gap. To do a project like Watch Berkeley Gov, all you need (aside from time and a computer) is access to the raw video (many cities provide a download capability), and a legal right to use it. A U.S. District Court ruling in 2015 clarified that city council videos in California are in the public domain.

Finally, I’d like to thank my neighbor, video pro Kim Aronson, for graciously volunteering to teach me how to edit video.  I’d also like to thank the good folks at Berkeley Community Media and the City Clerk’s office, for recording and posting the original meeting videos – plus supplementary materials – on the city’s website as part of Berkeley’s tradition of open government.

If you have questions or feedback on this project, please email me: Watchberkeleygov at gmail. Thanks!

Highlights: My ‘Top 25’ Must-Watch Berkeley Gov Videos

Here’s 25 of my top picks, in no specific order. Enjoy! (and don’t forget you can fast forward)


Proposed 2018-19 city budget
What does the city spend its money on? (see also the PDF)


Potential ballot measures
What initiatives could be on the ballot this year? (see also the PDF)


Opposing fascism
How exactly to stand united against hate?


Porta-potties for homeless encampments
How should the city handle this?


Affordable housing action plan
What are the city’s priorities?


The 2017 crime report
Is crime up or down? (see also the PDF)


Berkeley bicycle plan
How’s progress? (see also the PDF)


Pepper spray use policy
How should the police handle violence at protests?  (see also the PDF)


Urban shield
A highly contentious special meeting


Unfunded employee benefits liabilities
Will the city be able to pay its pensions? (see also the PDF)


Cannabis regulations discussion
How should the city regulate cannabis businesses? (see also the PDF)


Vision zero traffic plan
Can the city get to zero traffic deaths? (see also the PDF)


Five-year paving plan
What streets are getting re-paved, and when? (see also the PDF)


Residential preferential parking program
What are the issues with expanding it? (see also the PDF)


Zoning appeal – 2527 San Pablo
How does the city balance its goals in an interesting zoning case?


Pathways homeless project update
What’s this project all about?


Public works capital improvements
What’s getting done, and needs to get done (see also the PDF)


Parks and rec capital improvements
What’s getting done, and needs to get done (see also the PDF)


Undergrounding utility wires
The case for undergrounding (see also the PDF)


Improving planning department customer service
What’s the city doing to speed things up? (see also the PDF)


Small business support
Is small business in Berkeley thriving, or dying? (see also the PDF)


Short term rentals ordinance
When and where are short term rentals allowed (e.g. AirBNBs)?


Board of library trustees reconstitution
What was that all about?


Commercial waste update
How’s the city progressing toward its zero waste goals? (see also the PDF)


Surveillance technology ordinance
How should the city address this issue?


P.S. Sign up for updates, please support this project!

If you found these videos useful, please sign up here to get notified when I post new videos. You can also subscribe on YouTube (the red button). The more people who watch these videos on an ongoing basis, the more worthwhile the project is…

Thanks!


Dave Margulius is a Berkeley-based writer and entrepreneur, most recently in education software. For more detail, see his website DaveMargulius.com.

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