City Readiness Hub: Spotlight on West Sacramento, CA

One of the distinctive features of our Smart Cities Weeks is that the events are largely about bringing cities together to share knowledge, and our new City Readiness Hub sessions have more established smart cities mentor promising up-and-comers.

Last week, we shared the story of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Today, we’re highlighting West Sacramento, CA, a relatively young city that has elected leaders and the community as a whole that see the potential of smart cities strategies. Chula Vista, CA, provided some advice to help it develop its plan. Watch highlights below.

Want to participate in a future City Readiness Hub? A great way is to participate in our Readiness Challenge. Step one: Go to our website and create an account if you don’t have one already, making sure you add the Readiness Challenge as an interest. — Kevin Ebi

West Sacramento, CA, has had residents since the Gold Rush, but it’s only been a city for about 20 years. It incorporated to have a say in its own destiny, rather than have land-use policies and other requirements forced on it by the county government.

Today, the city of 53,000 is thriving, although it has been able to maintain somewhat of a small-city feel even though it’s next door to the state capital. Residents and city leaders alike believe that embracing smart cities principles and technologies will help it address key issues like homelessness and mobility.

While city leaders are committed to a smart cities vision, Deputy City Manager Jon Robinson says in some cases, city staff are trying to keep up.

Where do you start?
There is no shortage of projects that a city could launch, so, where do you start? Dennis Gakunga, chief sustainability officer for Chula Vista, talked about his city’s Smart Cities Strategic Action Plan. He said it doesn’t describe a particular end-stage, but rather serves as a roadmap.

The plan was developed with input from the community — residents and businesses. To avoid issues arising from the digital divide, the survey was both electronic and on paper. It was also in English and Spanish.

Gakunga also described the plan as a snapshot in time, reflecting current priorities and the ability to address with them with available resources.

It’s all about connectivity
Regardless of the pain point you’re starting with, you do have to make sure that the fundamental backbone is in place.

“It starts with connectivity,” Gakunga said. “Everything, when we start talking about smart cities is really about having that communications and networking backbone that you can place all this other stuff on top.”

Chula Vista is working on its communications master plan, a likely 9-month project that will include an inventory of the city’s communication assets, gaps and potential partnership opportunities.

What about risk?
“Don’t be afraid to fail.” That was a common theme throughout sessions at Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley. So how do you actually do that, Robinson asked.

Gakunga says that since you are entrusted with public funds, you have to strike a reasonable balance. You can’t just try any crazy idea and hope that it works. But you also can’t be so afraid that you don’t try anything. Work with your leadership to figure out where that balance is — and don’t be afraid to try.

“When you are so risk averse, what that does is shuts down innovation,” Gakunga said. “It shuts down anyone who is trying to think outside the box.”