Open data is coming to San Diego, but not quite yet.

City Council’s Rules and Economic Development Committee unanimously voted in support of creating an open data policy, which would make it easier for the public to access and analyze government information with free online tools.

But the committee did not adopt a policy that Councilman Mark Kersey had already developed with a group of local technology entrepreneurs and open government advocates.

The reason: The committee wants to appoint an open data advisory group to review that policy along with a recent report from the Office of the Independent Budget Analyst before submitting the final policy for a full City Council vote.

Here’s what you need to know about Wednesday’s vote:

Why the Kersey Plan was Shelved

Kersey’s fellow committee members—David Alvarez, Sherri Lightner, Marti Emerald and Kevin Faulconer— expressed support for many parts of the policy — most notably the appointment of a chief data officer, who would be responsible for putting it into practice citywide.

But they wanted a broader group of city officials and outside experts to weigh in on the policy and the independent budget analyst’s research before moving forward. As proposed, the open data advisory group would include:

• Up to three City Council office representatives

• Two private-sector technology experts

• A representative from Code for San Diego, a volunteer group of information technology experts that helped Kersey draft his plan

• One representative each from the mayor’s office, the city attorney’s office, the information technology department and the independent budget analyst’s office

The committee has asked city agencies for input on who should be part of the group. A vote on the group is expected at the committee’s Dec. 11 meeting.

Kersey told VOSD that he expected the hearing to turn out this way, but he was optimistic that his draft policy would provide a solid foundation for the final plan.

What the Independent Budget Analyst Found

In July, the Rules Committee asked the city’s independent budget analyst to research other cities’ open data policies.

The IBA generally agreed that open data could benefit San Diego by spurring economic development and providing the public and city officials with information that could help them make informed decisions.

But it said those benefits should be weighed against the “potential public benefits of other unmet city needs,” including the backlog of sidewalks and roads in need of repair.

“In order to be successful, open data requires a strong organizational commitment and resources which we have preliminarily estimated to cost approximately $1 million annually,” according to the report.

The IBA recommended that the city establish an open data advisory group and hire a chief data officer.

Still, the IBA noted that many San Diegans do not have “the education, aptitude, resources or inclination to extract and utilize information from an online data repository to become more involved in government.” It also pointed out that the city’s TV channel broadcasts and website content are already providing information to the public in a cost-effective way.

What We Know About the Chief Data Officer

The Rules Committee has urged interim mayor Todd Gloria to include funding for a chief data officer in its mid-year budget revision, which is due in February 2014.

Gloria’s office has not taken a stance on the issue yet, but Gloria has expressed support for open data in the past.

Joel Hoffmann

Joel Hoffmann was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government, the San Diego Unified School District and the...

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