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April 20, 2017

Interview:
Deborah Acosta, Chief innovation Officer, City of San Leandro

1. What are the biggest issues you see facing cities today?

Of course, the biggest issues facing cities today really depends on the City. Where is the City located? How large is it? Is there a diverse tax base? Are the businesses located in that City relevant to modern technologies, or are these businesses struggling to engage in a larger global economy? How large is the budget compared to the goals and aspirations of the community and its elected officials? What is the condition of infrastructure – transportation, water, power and the newest form of City infrastructure – fiber optics telecommunications?

These questions alone suggest the biggest issues facing American cities today – the high cost of serving our communities and the scarcity of sufficient resources to accomplish the goals identified by elected officials, residents, businesses and visitors. The adoption of technology to solve specific city challenges is often suggested. Makes sense, but what if your telecommunication infrastructure doesn’t support the recommended technologies? What if you are a city in the middle of the country where technology companies do not thrive? Most American municipalities are organized around regulations, not innovation and technology, often resulting in built-in resistance to change.

Conclusion: The biggest challenge for American cities, in my view, is figuring out when and how to use technology effectively to reduce costs, improve service, engage their communities and take on the more universal challenges like fixing roads and Climate Change! How can we develop roadmaps for cities engaged in learning so that they are not prey to the overtures of vendors? This is such an important question that San Leandro is engaged with the Smart Cities Council and National Institute of Science and Technology under the Global Cities Team Challenge to help develop the roadmaps for Energy and Wireless.

2. Which smart city initiatives is your city implementing (or hoping to implement)?

Thanks to San Leandro’s Bay Area location and the foresight of San Leandro leaders over the past 15 years, both public and private, in 2012 San Leandro began construction of what is now a 20-mile commercial fiber optic ring that connects businesses and non-profits to the internet at speeds up to 10 gbps. Known as Lit San Leandro, the fiber optic loop also gives us the infrastructure needed to look forward to a Smart City future.

What does being a Smart City mean for San Leandro? Simply put, Smart City applications will provide the City with the right data, visualized for easy analysis, needed to make better decisions that improve the quality of life for our residents, businesses, visitors and the City organization. Our initiatives reflect that focus. Examples include:
• Now under construction, the City is undergoing a $5.2M makeover of City lighting systems that will swap out inefficient street lights and lights within City properties to LED fixtures. All of these lights will be managed through a self-healing wireless mesh grid through sensors placed on City-owned street poles and internal building systems. Most importantly, energy savings will cover all costs of financing this project.
• A public private partnership that includes OSIsoft, San Leandro’s largest tech company and one of the globe’s original IoT companies, which resulted in a $1.5M grant from the California Energy Commission under its Accelerated Energy Communities program to create a model for scaling renewable energies in cities across California. Data generation is key to creating a scalable system, one that allows local utilities to be able to collect energy from thousands of sources (Distributed Energy Resources) and distribute the energy when and where it is needed.
• Collaboration with the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and West Sacramento under the Startup In Residence program to attract agile startup tech companies to help cities solve civic challenges through software/cloud solutions. In 2016, we worked successfully with two startups, LotaData and SyncFab, to create dashboards/data-driven analytic tools for Recreation and Human Services and Economic Development.
• In March 2017, the City launched an RFP to help create a Fiber Optic Master Plan (aka “Smart City Strategy”) that meets the needs and priorities of the City and its residents, businesses and visitors in alignment with the Smart City goals articulated in the City’s recently updated General Plan.

3. How and why did your city decide to invest in smart city initiatives?

Investment in smart city initiatives was the natural next step for a City with a fiber optic network and OSIsoft as its corporate resident and partner. The City also took an important step in 2012 to create the position of Chief Innovation Officer. As CIO, it’s my job to ensure my work is in step with City Council goals, including the undertaking of “programs and projects that promote sustainable economic development, including transforming San Leandro into a center for innovation”. Interest by San Leandrans in Smart City initiatives was a natural step for a City wanting to become a center for innovation. We began to publically explore Smart Cities potential in January 2014, and in 2016 the City Council included specific Smart City aspirations into the City’s updated General Plan, intended to set development goals for the City through 2035.

4. What are the biggest challenges that come with your smart city initiatives? And the biggest opportunities?

The biggest challenges include the rapid pace of technological advances combined with relative ignorance of City staff regarding technology and the ever present need to make sure traditional services are maintained (aka “who has time to learn something new?”); and the need to educate our community on the benefits of Smart City applications while also being sensitive to concerns about security and privacy.

The biggest opportunities? Transportation (self-driving cars, smart street systems), energy (renewable energy, energy efficiency, microgrids for ultimate energy self-sufficiency), more efficient use of City assets to lower costs and improve service, improved citizen engagement through use of social media and platforms that collect data to ensure we are meeting ever-evolving needs of the community and revenue generation through new uses of City assets (like street light poles).