Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Letter to RRROC & CDC regarding the RRROC Web Site

Below, please find a letter I wrote to officials in regards to the RRROC Web site, & how it might be revamped with an emphasis towards actually providing information. The letter which I printed out & posted via "snail mail" includes "Before" & "After" pictures of the RRROC Web site, which are frequently referred to throughout the text of the letter printed below. Alas, the platform afforded to me by the kind folks at BlogSpot.com (now owned by Google.com) has limitations in regards to the placement & layout of images. I hence provide a screen shot image of my "new & improved" RRROC Web site, & invite my readers (both of them) to compare it with the current RRROC Web site located on the Sonoma County's Community Redevelopment Commission's Web site at: http://www.sonoma-county.org/cdc/RrrocMain.htm

Above, please see an image of my proposed New & Improved RRROC Web Site. To view a larger version of the image, please click on it. You can return to this page by clicking on your browser's BACK button (UGH! Anathema!). The text of my letter will follow.

Boris Sztorch, CDC Redevelopment Manager
Kathleen Kane, CDC Executive Director
Dan Fein, Chairman of the RRROC
Community Development Commission
1440 Guerneville Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

March 21, 2007

RE: Proposed RRROC Web Site Enhancements

Dear Mr. Sztorch, Ms. Kane, & Mr. Fein:

I regret being unable to attend the March 15th RRROC meeting during which a discussion of “Web site enhancements” took place. As a graphic designer & information architect, this agenda item is of great interest to me. The RRROC Web site holds great potential as a powerful & potentially money-saving communications tool for providing information to the community; promoting the accomplishments of the RRROC & Community Development Commission (CDC); & getting people involved in the process.

Alas, the current site – although well-intended & full of information – is difficult to navigate & also looks cluttered & uninviting. I believe that the RRROC Web site is more in need of some re-organization & clarity (both visual & editorial) than it is of a major redesign, technical bells & whistles, or any other “enhancements.” I have reviewed the RRROC Web site & made a list of suggestions for improvements. I have also provided a sample re-design with “Before” & “After” pictures (please see Figure 1. BEFORE: The current RRROC Web Site & Figure 2. AFTER: A “new & improved” RRROC Web Site.). In the following pages, please find my feedback. I hope you find it constructive & useful.

I do understand that the RRROC Web site is maintained by the County as part of the CDC Web site, & have tailored my input accordingly. My sample re-design preserves the Sonoma County Web site’s color schemes & typography, & allows flexibility for the RRROC Web site to be navigated as both a frame within the CDC Web site (as it is now) or as a stand-alone entity. My suggestions also take into account the technological standards & capabilities of the Sonoma County Web site.

This is also to let you know that although I will not be able to attend the next couple of meetings, due to a scheduling conflict, I would be happy to meet with folks from RRROC, the CDC & the people responsible for maintaining the Web site to lend a hand. Please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your time & consideration.


Russian River Rattina (Suggestions for RRROC Web site continues on following pages).


BEFORE: Feedback on the Current RRROC Web Site

The current RRROC site (shown in the image above) exists as a “sub-site” of the Community Development Commission’s (CDC) Web site. Its individual pages reside within a set of “frames” (the green navigation bar on the left & the beige-colored CDC site page header on the top) from the CDC Web site. The RRROC pages have no cohesiveness or navigation of their own – only a semi-coherent list of links. When you click on the links, you can’t get back to the main page except by clicking your Web browser’s BACK button. When you click on links like “About Us,” & “Mission Statement,” & “Contact Us,” you are taken to CDC pages, not pages with directly relevant RRROC information.

The structure of this site makes it difficult to easily distribute RRROC-specific information & electronic files (audio- & PDF-formatted meeting transcripts, for example) even though these files do currently exist in digital format. Snail-mailing meeting packets & audio CD’s every month seems unnecessarily expensive, labor-intensive & inefficient for all involved.

Proposed “New & Improved” RRROC Web Site

The RRROC “home” page (which I have titled “Overview”) should immediately communicate RRROC’s purpose & what information visitors can expect to find on the Web site, as shown in the image above. To facilitate navigation, each page should contain the following elements:

  • Title Bar: The text in the title bar (the white letters in the narrow blue field on the top of your Web browser) can tell visitors where they are on the Web site, as shown in the image above. Abbreviations should be used so that all of the relevant information fits on the title bar. Full organization names can appear after the main title bar text to fulfill whatever legal requirements may exist.
  • Navigation Bar: Two rows of text links at the top & bottom of each page for each section of the site. The link to the current section should appear in a different color from the other links & a bold typeface so visitors know that this is the current page.
  • Page Header: The page header – or name of the Web site – should appear below the navigation bar on each page in a different color from the rest of the text & links for consistency.
  • Page Title/Headline: The page title/headline should appear below the page’s default navigation elements (title bar, navigation bar, page header) & should correspond to the appropriate navigation bar item (for example, the “Overview” link goes to the “Overview” page & the title/headline is “Overview,” as shown in the image above).
  • Headlines, paragraphs, & bulleted or numbered lists: For visual & editorial clarity, the content on each page should be grouped into headlines followed by explanatory paragraphs & (when applicable) bulleted or numbered lists of additional items.

I propose that the navigation bar contain the following items, which would point visitors to the following corresponding pages (this also provides a brief outline of how the site could be organized & what information it would contain):

  • Overview: This would be the main RRROC Web page. It should begin with a brief summary of the redevelopment process & RRROC’s mission; provide links to the Mission & Resolution documents (um, what is the purpose of the ancient 2005 Election document?); & announce the next RRROC meeting (with the obligatory text about everyone being invited & postings of the agenda). The Overview page can also provide a bulleted list that summarizes content on the site.
  • Our Vision: An overview of the redevelopment & planning process with links to the Draft Design Guidelines document & Strategic Plan Web site (Why isn’t the Strategic Plan Web site part of the RRROC Web site?).
  • Calendar: A list of upcoming Committee, Subcommittee, & visioning meetings with (hopefully) links to PDF files of the relevant meeting agendas & other documents. It may also helpful to include other community meetings that are related to redevelopment issues, like the Water Board, Parks & Rec., etc.
  • News: Updates & status reports for RRROC-funded projects so we can see how things are progressing. Images & PDF files of photographs, architectural plans, etc. would also be nice. The black & white photocopies distributed at meetings often do not do justice to the proposals & other documents they represent (& I do know that providing color hard-copies would be too expensive).
  • Members & Subcommittees: A list of members & subcommittees with brief member biographies & summaries of the purpose & accomplishments of each subcommittee & ad-hoc subcommittee would make things a lot less confusing for many of us. An explanation of why members are elected to represent the three categories of home owners, tenants, & businesses could also be enlightening.
  • Past Meetings: Links to files with complete MP3-formatted audio recordings (tracked by agenda item) & PDF-formatted complete transcripts, along with the currently-offered PDF-formatted Meeting Minutes.
  • Community Links: A list of links to community organization Web sites (or contact information for those that do not have Web sites) – particularly ones that have received or are in the process of applying for RRROC funding – with descriptions of the organizations & their projects. This would be a good place for Sonoma County Parks & Recreation, River Keepers, Monte Rio Parks & Rec, KGGV, the Guild, Eco Ring, the Monte Rio Sewer District, etc.
  • Participate!: Encourage members of the community to participate & tell them how they can participate (attend meetings, volunteer for clean-ups & the like, write or email letters, submit project proposals for grants, etc.). Refer visitors to the appropriate resources – mainly the Calendar, Community Links, Contact Us & Committees & Subcommittees page. Provide PDF files & MS-Word-formatted templates for submitting proposals. Tell individuals seeking mini-grants or redevelopment loans how to apply. Explain how the process works.
  • Contact Us: A complete list of CDC & RRROC members with contact information (including email addresses) & explanations of who visitors should contact for what.

Making electronic versions of meeting transcripts & audio recordings available online is of particular importance. Many people (like myself) often cannot attend meetings due to work, academic, & care-taking responsibilities. I would also like to see the audio recordings organized into “tracks” with titles (like commercially-produced music CD’s) for each meeting agenda item, so people can listen to discussions which are of particular interest to them.

I also strongly believe that the meeting minutes should include summaries of what citizens say during Public Comments periods – not just a list of their names. RRROC & CDC used to include this information back in the Meeting Minutes from 2005 … why did you discontinue this practice? Omitting the substance of public comments from the public record (& the Meeting Minutes are currently the only easily-accessible public record which exists) is a possible violation of the Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to speak (&, I assume, be heard by more than the handful of folks who actually attend meetings). Perhaps electronic file distribution can address this issue in a cost-effective manner.

Cc: Vicky Stacksteder

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