Like so many other public agencies, the City of American Canyon in Napa County faced a daunting task in early 2020: figuring out how to conduct business safely during an unexpected global public health crisis. In addition to successfully solving the challenge, the City has been recognized internationally for their innovative efforts.
In March 2020, when the first stay-at-home order was issued in California, the City fast-tracked a “Virtual City Hall” to minimize physical contact between staff and the public. The Virtual City Hall lives on the homepage of the City’s website and offers quick access to key services that previously needed to be completed in person. The tool has increased efficiency across a number of city services and significantly reduced the amount of physical papers that staff needs to handle. Most notably, the City’s building permit application process is entirely digital now.
On the page, residents and local business owners can instantly report issues, pay utility bills, request building and construction permits and apply for business licenses. For the first time, applicants can submit a variety of building permit and planning applications entirely online including permit extensions, temporary certificates of occupancy, electric vehicle charging systems and planning entitlement applications. Submitted applications are sent directly to permit staff. Once an application is approved, staff emails the approved plan and/or permit to the applicant. The City processes issue reports through SeeClickFix, an online tool that guides users through a step-by-step process for reporting a variety of problems and then automatically sends the report to the appropriate staff member depending on the category of the issue. The City has always offered SeeClickFix and online bill pay but over the last year have seen a spike in the use of the tool due to the pandemic.
Later in the year, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department created an extensive reopening plan for the Phillip West Aquatic Center, which had closed to the public in March. In November 2020, Aquatics International Magazine named the Center “2020 Best of Aquatics” for its response to COVID-19. The team responsible for the reopening plan created one of the first-in-the-nation COVID-19-compliant lifeguard training programs that now serves as a nationwide model. The Center remains open, offering aquatics programming with firm safety protocols in place.
Aquatics Supervisor Joedy Michael developed the Center’s operational guidelines, which outlines extensive sanitation procedures, reduces the Center’s capacity and requires instructors to work on-deck rather in the water. After local officials approved the guidelines, the aquatics management team quickly brought back furloughed lifeguards and trained them on the new sanitation procedures, which require thorough disinfection between class sessions. Staff also changed the facility’s layout to allow for social distancing and one-way traffic flow.
In December, the City was the only California public agency named as a finalist for the international 2020 Laserfiche “Run Smarter” Award in the COVID-19 Response category. The category’s prompt was: “Over the past months, we’ve all worked valiantly to keep others – inside and outside our organizations – safe, healthy, informed and employed. This award recognizes organizations that are using Laserfiche to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic – including improvements in public services and public health, philanthropic efforts or solutions to social challenges. Laserfiche selected finalists based on innovation, organizational impact and exemplary use of the company’s technology.”
The City was a finalist in the COVID-19 Response category for the strides they made in digitizing forms–a critical step in getting the City’s virtual City Hall up and running. The digitization process has led to decreased physical contact between staff and the public. Reducing physical interactions between people and taking paper out of the equation has had two big impacts for the City: (1) improving staff’s ability to work remotely, and (2) cutting down on disease transmission in the community.
Nearly a year later, American Canyon continues to serve residents with strict safety measures in place, and has become a model for other public agencies to follow. For more information about the City of American Canyon and its response to COVID-19, visit cityofamericancanyon.org.