San Francisco Opens Comment Period for Central SoMa Plan

Planners Using First-of-Its-Kind Software to Manage Data, Respond to Comments

Media Contact: Thomas Mullen
Phone: (310) 795-4196
E-mail: [email protected]

DECEMBER 15, 2016

The City of San Francisco opened a 60-day public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed redevelopment of the Central South of Market (Central SoMa) neighborhood on Wednesday, while employing an innovative public outreach effort that allows citizens to easily submit comments on the project and gives city planners powerful new tools to evaluate and respond to them.

The Central SoMa Plan marks the first city use of SmartComment's digital comment management system, which has been used to manage public comments for several high-profile state and federal projects, including the proposed $5.4 billion extension of the 710 Freeway in Los Angeles, the Nanushuk oil discovery in Alaska, and the proposed Lucky Minerals mine in Montana.

"There are over six years of public engagement reflected in the Central SoMa Plan," said John Rahaim, Director of San Francisco Planning. "We could not have come this far without the community's contributions and insight, and we look forward to taking this next step with them. This approach to public involvement should allow us to achieve a new level of public analysis and response."

In addition to written comments and emails, residents and other public entities will be able to submit comments on the plan through a website set up specifically for the project at http://centralsoma.sfplanning.commentinput.com. All comments -- whether hard-copy or received through the website -- are then converted into digital form and accessible to city planners who can work in a real-time environment with consultants from ESA to manage and respond to them.

Using the software, a letter or electronic submission can be digitally broken into individual comments, which are then organized by topic. From there, comments can be analyzed with charts and graphs, and effectively responded to through SmartComment's unique interface, giving planners and consultants a full picture of public opinion regarding the project.

"With manual comment management, planners and consultants would have had to spend untold amounts of time coordinating their efforts, gathering and organizing comments, setting update meetings, and other time-consuming tasks," said SmartComment co-founder Tim Mullen. "Now, they can simply log in to the project interface and get an up-to-the-second view of the latest input and their own individual work silo. It's the ultimate win-win for both the public and the planning department."

The comment period, which opened Wednesday, is part of a draft EIR that must be completed before the proposal can be approved. Initially drafted in April 2013, the Central SoMa Plan aims to create a mixed-income zone that raises structure height limits, and prioritizes affordable housing, historically preserved buildings, and improved parks and streets. The 60-day public comment period on the Draft EIR will close on February 13, 2017, at 5:00 pm.

The Central SoMa Plan is expected to create $2 billion in public benefits for San Francisco, which underscores the need to manage community input with the most powerful and accessible method available, Mullen said.

"The Central SoMa rezoning would impact San Francisco's landscape for generations to come, and we are excited the city is embracing our cutting-edge method for connecting with the community," Mullen said.

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