The City Attorney’s Office officially jumped on the technology bandwagon when it announced a new smartphone app that allows users to report non-emergency violations directly to code enforcement offices.
Officially launched April 1, the app, UP2CODE uses pictures and GPS to help agencies easily identify potential violations. Many posts are of vandalism, illegal dumping, businesses operating without a license and building violations like peeling paint. With the app, a user can see a list of reported issues near their location. For example, near the SF State campus, most reports were of vandalism violations showing pictures of stickers on parking signs.
“If we don’t know about the problem we can’t fix it,” Assistant City Attorney Yvonne Mere said. “Getting us involved the earlier, the better.”
For the last ten years, complaints were taken by phone. While the hotline works fine, Mere said it was time they reevaluated the process to include the latest technologies.
The app’s platform is almost identical to other apps that request government services already used in cities nationwide, like Fix 311 and SeeClickFix. But UP2CODE is specifically tailored to the city’s municipal code and all complaints go through the City Attorney’s Office.
Once a complaint is uploaded the code enforcement team collects the data and sends the issue off to SF 311, a data portal, which then sends the complaint to the appropriate city department.
The City Attorney’s Office investigates and enforces through court action public nuisance issues, which are defined as anything that could injure a person’s health, including the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, according to California law.
According to their offices, the 311 app doesn’t send complaints to the City Attorney’s Office, so if the case does go to court, attorneys have to track that information down from other departments.
“Already having the data will help us if the issue goes to litigation. It saves time and money,” said Kevin Easton, community relations coordinator for City Attorney’s Office. Litigation for the City Attorney means going to court either because the city is being sued by someone or the city is suing someone.
The app was in the makings for a year, Easton said, who worked during that time with community groups gathering feedback. He said that most people liked the app and found it useful. However, he refused to name any of these groups.
Robert Davis is an outspoken figure in the Bayview. He hates blight and spends much of his time cleaning up the neighborhood. Davis was at a meeting where Easton presented the app for community testing. Davis took one look at the app and wasn’t impressed.
“The utility of the app is extremely marginal,” Davis said. “It’s a complete waste of time.”
He added that the app seemed eerily similar to other apps the city used. He decided not to use it and to stick with his favorite method of complaint: calling the relevant department directly and speaking with an expert on the issue.
“People have different levels of comfort,” said Mere, referring to the app’s utility. “Some people will love it, and others would rather pick up a phone and talk to someone.”
Another Bayview resident, who asked to remain anonymous because he said he feared retaliation and in the Bayview it is hard enough getting complaints resolved.
“UP2CODE sucks to begin with,” he said, adding that he beta tested it for six or seven months. “When you report something it goes into a black hole.”
He said he reported a business operating without a license, but never got an update.
Mere said that each complaint got a reference number that could be tracked. Plus, she added, users get updates on the app.
Davis said the app is result of city officials wanting to feel like they are in touch with technology, an ongoing trend among government officials.
“It’s a complete smoke and mirrors job,” he said.